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Moving Forward in a Post-Colonial World

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MPLA guerrillas and Cuban Soldiers During the Angolan War of Independence, circa 1970 (colorized)

Brief History

The modern state of Angola was founded as a Portuguese colony in 1575 and continued to expand until the 20th Century.  The Republic of Angola gained independence from their Portuguese overlords in 1975 after 14 years of brutal warfare.  Immediately after independence the fragile alliance between the three main rebel factions: UNITA, MPLA, and FLNA, splintered along ethnic lines.  The MPLA had its base of support among the Ambundu, UNITA among the Ovimbindu, and FLNA among the Bakongo.  The conflict became entangled in the overall Cold War with the United States backing UNITA and FLNA.  Meanwhile the U.S.S.R and it’s allies supported the MPLA, Cuba in particular sent tens of thousands of soldiers to assist the rebels under orders from Fidel Castro.  The war ended in 2002 with the MPLA victorious and the various factions re-branding themselves as political parties.

Politics and Government

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João Lourenço: Current President of Angola

The MPLA has dominated Angolan politics since their rebirth as a political party, every president since independence has been a MPLA member.  The party also controls the unicameral National Assembly giving them unchallenged authority.  The modern MPLA abandoned their Marxist-Leninist roots under the leadership former president Eduardo dos Santos to become the party of unrestrained capitalism, cronyism, excess, and corruption.  Despite also belonging to the MPLA, current president João Lourenço has  cracked down on governmental corruption, according to Alex Vines of Chatham House; the president has earning the nickname “the Terminator” after firing many top officials.  Since taking office in September of 2017 he has particularly focused on going after the powerful dos Santos family whose members include Eduardo, and his daughter Isabel: the richest woman in Africa with an estimated net worth of 3.3 Billion USD according to Forbes. She was removed by the president from her position as CEO of Sonangal: the national oil company.  Despite these measures president Lourenço has been criticized for opposing the graft trial of former Vice-President Manuel Vicente in Portugal.  According to the BBC “Mr Vicente paid $810,000 (£650,000) in bribes to shut down corruption investigations that he was facing” and “The alleged bribes were made to Portugal’s former public prosecutor Orlando Figueira, who also faces charges as part of “Operation Fizz”.”  The Lourenço administration blasted the trial as “revenge by the former colonial master” and “neo-colonialism”.

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Isabel dos Santos: The Richest Woman in Africa

Oil Based Economy

Post-colonial Angola’s economy has been dominated by its abundant oil reserves, high oil prices between 1988 and 2014 have allowed the economy to grow at a rapid pace.  However the recent crash in oil prices has severely hurt the economic growth of the second-largest oil producer in Africa. The dos Santos administration was characterized by unchecked economic growth, massive amounts of corruption, and blatant profiteering.  According to Transparency International Angola was the tenth most corrupt country in 2016.  Angola is a highly unequal society with an extremely wealthy class ruling over an impoverished population.   According the the BBC “Despite its oil wealth most people in Angola survive on less than $2 a day and child mortality rates are among the highest in the world”.  Isabel dos Santos was and still is the richest woman in Africa with Forbes estimating her wealth as 3.3 Billion USD.  Nowadays the breakneck growth of decades past is now just a memory, in the capital city of Luanda uncompleted skyscrapers dominate the skyline, and housing projects designed for a  non-existent middle class remain empty.  Foreign investment has also dried up, the largest investor: China, has pulled tens of thousands of workers from the country according to the Angola-China Industrial and Commerce Association.  One of the major goals of the new administration is to break from the dependence on oil by expanding other sectors such as mining.  There is much potential in diamond mining as Angola is already the third largest producer of diamonds in Africa and only 40% deposits have been explored.  According to the Telegraph, in 2017 president Lourenço allowed Russian company Alrosa to invest in Angola’s largest diamond deposit at Catoca.

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The Diamond Mine at Catoca

 

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