Article @ New Internationalist, published 30 August 2022
Angola’s earth, as in so much of Sub-Saharan Africa, is red. The dust that lifts in the wind during cacimbo (the dry season) is red. The mud that engulfs half of the capital of Luanda during the rainy season is red too. If you walk around all day, it’s likely to stain you – which is why the rich don’t.
But while its good earth hasn’t changed for time immemorial, Angola certainly has. It is now the third largest economy in southern Africa, with much of its new infrastructure built by the Chinese government in return for oil credit – of which Angola, in the top three of African oil producers, can offer plenty.
In this part of the world the interests of some of the largest emerging economies meet: China craves its petrol and timber; Brazil shares the same former colonizer, language and a centuries-old commercial relationship; and Russia has inherited close diplomatic relations which began when the USSR lent its support to the national liberation movement in the 1970s.
But though there is a burgeoning middle class, destitution is still rife. Slums continue to grow in Luanda alongside glitzy sky-scrapers and a ravishingly regenerated waterfront. Sanitation, electrical supply and water distribution are often supported by parallel markets. Where the state fails, Angola’s entrepreneurs – large and small – come to the rescue, providing both goods and jobs.
Many blamed former president José Eduardo dos Santos for fostering corruption. He ruled the country for 38 years, appointing his family, friends and allies to the top jobs. His daughter, Isabel dos Santos, was at one point the richest woman in Africa. That was until her dirty dealings in the state petrol company Sonangol and various financial institutions were exposed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in 2020. For all of his successor João Lourenço’s anti-corruption rhetoric, monopoly power continues to reign unhindered.