Sunday, September 7, 2008

elections (II): Angola

On 5 September Angola went to the polls for the first time in 16 years to elect a new parliament. It is expected that the governing Popular Movement of the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), led by President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, and in power since 1979, will win a handsome victory in what is currently Sub-Saharan Africa's fastest-growing economy, with gross domestic product per person having increased several times over in the past 6 years.

The secret to Angola's 'success'? Oil. With production of close to 2 million barrels a day, Angola will soon become the biggest oil producer in Sub-Saharan Africa, surpassing Nigeria. In 2007 the country exported US$30 billion worth of oil, and according to the Financial Times US$250 million flow into the government's bank accounts every day. This begs a question: why do two-thirds of the population of 17 million live on less than US$2 a day, why is 40 per cent of the workforce unemployed, and why does a bucket of water in Boa Vista, one of Luanda's worst slums, cost C$0.75? The answer is simple: corruption on a kleptocratic scale generating unimaginable inequality.

Senior MPLA ministers own the key companies with which the international oil companies do business in order to work in Angola. Dos Santos and a small group of advisors personally oversees the overall oil industry, according to the ever-reliable Stephanie Nolen of The Globe and Mail, while his daughter, Isabel dos Santos, is the majority shareholder in many important national companies. This allows the MPLA leadership to enrich itself with wealth that is, by first world standards, immense, showering themselves, while many cannot get access to clean water.

However, it is important to always remember that it is the foreign oil companies that do business in Angola. In other words, they are part of this deeply corrupt system that impoverishes the majority of Angolans. The misery facing Angolans, which Friday's election will have done nothing to help, is a function of oil (soon to be joined by diamonds), a corrupt political elite that is transforming itself into a rentier class, and transnational oil corporations that make sure that our cars get cheap oil. We too are implicated.

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