Angola’s star could use a little shine from SA

2010-04-24 13:01

Not much has been written about Angola since

January’s infamous ­terrorist ­attack.

That was the assault on the Togo ­national

football team bus as it travelled through the country’s province of Cabinda on

the way to the 2010 Africa Cup of ­Nations tournament.

The attacks threatened to pour rain on Angola’s Nation’s Cup

parade, but the country has moved on.

In place of a dilapidated arrivals hall at the airport stands a

modern, air-conditioned structure, complemented by restaurants and cafes.

Luanda’s skyline is dotted with construction cranes to erect modern

high-rise buildings.

In Luanda South, the beneficiaries of Angola’s oil boom dock their

yachts at the Yacht Club and escape to their exclusive islands, far from the old

parts of Luanda that are scarred by dusty reminders of war-time decay.

Angola’s rise brings out the good, the bad and the ugly of its

recent burst onto the international scene.

The good is that the country has progressed from 27 years of civil

war to enjoy an oil-fuelled growth rate of 15% a year over the past eight years,

making it one of Africa’s richest countries.

The bad is that speculators suggest ­Angola’s oil output could

plateau in the next five years, which would place greater pressure on it to

diversify its economy to lessen the impact on GDP.

The ugly is that Angola’s population remains largely illiterate and

poor. The country’s President Eduardo Dos Santos, whohas been in power since

1979, has estimated that the majority of the population lives on less than $2 a


It is difficult to say how many – a census has not been conducted

since 1970.

To maximise the good and remedy the bad and the ugly, Angola has

looked largely to the emerging economic powerhouses of Brazil and China. But

where are the South ­Africans?

In its forecast for Africa this year, US-based intelligence

think-tank Stratfor predicted a Cold War ­between South Africa and Angola. Much

of the language in the Stratfor briefing is steeped in hyperbole, but it would

also be naïve to pretend that there are no nationalist-driven ­rivalries between

both countries.

Angola has long felt unacknowledged by South Africa for the support

it provided to the ANC since 1975, though Zuma’s visit as ANC president in 2008

aimed to improve relations. Conscious of these tensions, ­Zuma’s first official

state visit was not to London or Washington, but to Luanda in August last year.

While Zuma’s strategic move ought to be commended, the action taken by both

state and non-state actors in South Africa since the visit is puzzling.

For a country that has been prioritised in South Africa’s bilateral

relations, Angola has received scant media and scholarly attention in South

Africa. Shortly after Zuma’s visit last year, South Africa’s ambassador was

recalled to Pretoria. Some diplomats predict that it won’t be until the end of

this year that a new ambassador is finally appointed. Equally baffling is that

South Africa has not had a trade representative in Angola since the end of 2008.

Angola’s economic rise has given it an emboldened sense of

nationalism. Angolans are contemplating the potential political and economic

role that they can play in the Southern African Development Community. Attempts

to find common ground on issues of regional peace and ­security, as well as

economic cooperation, require representation at the highest ­levels as both

states have yet to define ­areas of commonality that go beyond their liberation


With a tightly controlled state media and a barely existent culture

of engaging state policy, greater opportunities exist for South Africans to open

up dialogue with Angolans.

If South Africa sees a number of political and economic

justifications for ­elevating Angola, then the requisite financial and human

resources have to be dedicated to tearing down the fences that still stand

between these two countries.

After all, good fences do not always make for good


  • Dr Ngwenya is programme head and Auriel Niemack is a

    former researcher for the South African Foreign Policy and African Drivers

    Programme at the South African Institute of International Affairs

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