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Palesa Asantewa Sekhejane
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Angola: Giant Awaiting Economic Soaring

25 April 2014, 07:15

Palesa Sekhejane

Although Nigeria’s Per Capita gross domestic product (GDP) is still far below that of South Africa, Nigeria's recalculated economy of $510 billion as reported, is so far the biggest in Africa, which gives the West African nation continental bragging rights. But how many ordinary Nigerians are enjoying a fair share of the said $510 billion economy? However, Nigeria is not the only country in Africa with abundance of resources but whose majority citizens are living below the bread line.

On that note, allow me to look at a once conflict stricken country – Angola, has embraced mineral riches, and is said to be one of the promising future economic powerhouse in Africa due to its reported rapid growth. In 2011, the GDP was 3.9% and significantly improved to 7.9% in 2012, with expected 7.8% in 2014 (World Bank).

The 2013 Mo Ibrahim index of African Governance ranked Angola 40th for human development and 36th for sustainable economic opportunity out of 52 countries. However, the quality of health of Angolans since the end of the civil war has been said to have deteriorated due to wrecked access to basic resources and left the country in its knees. Life expectancy at birth is approximately 47 years; under-five child mortality rate is 1 in 5; infant mortality rate is 98 per 1 000 lives; diarrhoea and malaria are endemic due to lack of inadequate access to safe drinking water (World Health Organisation).

The burden of disease shows that 74 percent accounts for communicable diseases, maternal and perinatal conditions as well as nutritional deficiencies; whilst non-communicable diseases and injuries account for 17% and 9% respectively.  For every 100 000 people, there are only 8 to 10 physicians available and 13 nurses per 10 000 people.  The health finance per capita in total expenditure is approximately $131 with 2.5% of GDP, which is inadequate to provide sound health system to the citizens. Furthermore, general Government; external and private sector expenditure on health is 5.3%, 3.7% and 19.7% respectively (Angola Health System Assessment 2010). Rich citizens travel cross borders to seek medical attention, which does not make the situation right; while poor citizens have no choice but to utilize the insufficient health provisions. The fact that there are barriers that hinder the Angolan heath performance shows that the economic wealth of Angola is not serving towards citizen’s prosperity.                

I strongly believe Angola is in position to be the strongest member state of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC); however, the inability of Angola to transform its economic potential to capital and human development, results in obstructive bearings. This needs to be addressed urgently because firstly, Angola has the potential and capacity to deal with this problem, secondly for human dignity restoration bearing in mind that this was a country that endured soil and soul piercing war. Like Thomas Sankara once said, “Dare to invent the future”, Angola is in that position to do so.  

According to the 2013 Country Strategy Plan (CSP) of the Republic of Angola, the county is heavily dependent on the oil and gas sector; and broad economic and development strategies such as the public expenditure programme have been designed to encourage economic diversification, enhancement of service delivery and improvement of capacity and resilience. However, these efforts are not effectively assisting towards significant poverty reduction, social equity and development of quality life. Therefore one is compelled to conclude that Angola has the ideal plans, but not realistic.

The SADC charter encourages regional cooperation and collaboration to promote the economic growth and development. Angola trades oil for example, majorly with China and Portugal, and less with regional member states. However, this trade relation with China and Portugal still has not borne desired economic benefits for Angola. Having said this, I believe that this oil rich country should do an inward reflection on this economic relation. The opening up of cooperation and trade with SADC member states would be beneficial not only for the regional integration, but also for Angola and its fellow African Portuguese speaking countries. This will also enhance and grow the country’s foreign reserves.

Education and health are imperative for Angola to thrive towards reduction of poverty as well as the increase in human and economic development. In 2012, Angola had an opportunity to hold the one-year rotational presidency of SADC. During that period, the authorities contributed towards the approval of the preliminary list of regional priority projects and regional infrastructure plan. However, due to lack of cooperation from Angola and established relations the plan failed to materialise. This scenario is evident enough to support the idea that Angola is fit enough to become the regional economic giant only if it increases its responsiveness to regional cooperation efforts and strategies.

Angola and South Africa have had frosty relationship in the era of Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki; however, in October 2013, South Africa under Jacob Zuma, met to discuss and agree on the Joint Commission for Cooperation. The South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane released a statement regarding the Joint Commission for economic, social and political cooperation between South African and Angola. This bilateral cooperation, according to the Foreign Affairs Minister of Angola, will involve the participation of South Africa in the reconstruction of the Angola’s infrastructure and economic development. It is in this regard that I believe should the bilateral cooperation be taken serious, Angola will strongly triumph against the criticism of relying heavily on its gas and oil sector.

The commission may see both countries promoting inclusive regional growth and optimise the potential of Angola and South Africa to do business by cooperating in areas that will be beneficial to both countries and eventually SADC.

With South Africa being Africa’s only African nation in the G20 group of the world’s top 20 economies and Angola being Africa’s second-biggest oil producer, bilateral relations between these two states will result in economic and political ties soaring up to new heights.

Having said this, it will be interesting how the anticipated efforts towards cooperation will strengthen the region and bring about resilient changes in Angola. More so, it will be of benefit to Angola to invest in its social development and access to basic services such as education and health through revitalisation programmes or initiatives.

If both Angola and South Africa can invest in each other, so that Angola can be relieved form depending majorly on oil sector and for South Africa to do business much easier, this will boost the trust and interest of investors to do business with Angola in a friendly environment, considering that the ease of doing business in Angola in 2014 is ranked at 179 out of 189 countries according to World Bank.     

Palesa Sekhejane

Research Specialist: Sustainable Development Division

Africa Institute of South Africa

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