Dos Santos visits France after years of frosty ties

2014-04-29 16:31
Jose Eduardo dos Santos (AFP)

Jose Eduardo dos Santos (AFP)

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Paris - Angola's long-serving President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos met his French counterpart Francois Hollande on Tuesday on a rare official visit abroad after years of frosty ties caused by a damaging bribes scandal.

The two-day visit by the onetime rebel leader, who will shortly mark 35 years in power, aims to normalise ties between the two countries, which have had a difficult relationship since a scandal dubbed 'Angolagate' linked to French arms sales to Luanda erupted in the 1990s.

The scandal, which implicated members of the French political elite and saw accusations of bribe-taking levelled at Dos Santos, damaged trade ties.

Many French businesses suffered as a result, including Air France and oil firm Total. But painstaking diplomacy and a flurry of visits over the last decade have gradually helped mend fences.

Dos Santos only makes rare official trips overseas.

His last visit to Europe dates back to 2009 when he went to Portugal, Angola's former colonial ruler, and Germany.

He last visited Paris two decades ago, and the Angolan state-run daily Jornal de Angola said the visit marks "a new stage in relations with France".

Lucrative oil sector

After his lunch with Hollande, the 71-year-old Dos Santos will meet Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and French businessmen.

Although no big tie-ups are expected to be announced, Angolan media reports said a few technical co-operation accords were on the cards, including in the lucrative oil sector, which represents the lion's share of the economy.

France is the third largest investor in Angola and bilateral trade touched $942m in 2012.

French oil firm Total is a big player in Angola, accounting for about 30% of the country's production.

Angola produces 1.8 million barrels a day and is the second biggest oil producer in Africa after Nigeria.

Luanda has also dramatically increased its defence spending - a fact that is of great potential interest to France, one of the world's top arms producers.

Last year, Angola increased military spending by 36 percent to roughly $6.1bn, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

'Dos Santos wants to leave a mark'

The oil boom secured the southern African nation 10 percent growth on average in the decade following an end to civil war in 2002, but the vast majority of the population still lives in abysmal poverty.

The country, which was wracked by nearly three decades of ruinous conflict after its 1975 independence, is now diversifying its economy and trying to rebuild its once strong agriculture sector.

The visit shows "not only a significant improvement of bilateral relations but also signals that Angola wishes to re-invest in its relationship with Western partners," said Alex Vines, director of the Africa programme at the Chatham House think tank.

He said Dos Santos, whose government has been accused by critics of rampant corruption and stifling democracy, was also "looking for legacies after 34 years in power" and seeking a greater presence internationally.

Dos Santos and Hollande are expected to discuss African crises such as the unrest in the Central African Republic, a former French colony where Paris has sent in troops to stem ethnic and inter-religious bloodshed, and peace efforts in Africa's Great Lakes region.

Dos Santos heads the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region bloc comprising countries in the region.

The grouping leads efforts to maintain peace in the restive region and has played a key role in helping broker a peace deal between rebels and the government in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

US Secretary of State John Kerry will visit Angola next week as part of a tour of sub-Saharan Africa and encourage Dos Santos's "continued personal engagement in the Great Lakes peace process", according to State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
Read more on:    francois hollande  |  jose eduardo dos santos  |  france  |  angola  |  southern africa

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