By Prof.N’gola Kiluange
Washington D.C —With the arrival of the Biden administration to the White House, Angolans have rising expectations regarding the improvement of economic, financial, cultural, and commercial relations between Angola and the United States.
Since Angola’s independence from Portugal in 1975, the country has irregularly attempted elections, and the ruling party actively suppresses free and fair elections.
Angola’s endemic corruption continues to plague the citizens, particularly the most vulnerable groups: the elderly, children, and women.
Notably, as of 2015-2016, the National Statistics Institute of Angola showed “the incidence of poverty at the national level stands at 54.0%, that is, more than 5 out of 10 people in Angola are multidimensionally poor.”
Despite the rampant and despairing conditions of poverty, Angola’s oil industry generated $280 billion in tax revenue from 2002 to 2014.
I draw attention to an Angolan economist, Alves da Rocha’s reporting in Euronews, stating the country saved only $ 29 billion (27.5 billion euros) during this time. Any potential for economic gains supporting political and economic growth has not materialized.
In my view, the Angolan system has become essentially “owned” by the Chinese, who have no incentive to rectify the internal corruption and poverty.
Corruption is rooted in Angola for many reasons, but the Chinese debt stranglehold perpetuates it.
Chinese investment often lacks ethics, ignores human rights violations, sets up untenable business environments, and supports existing state corruption practices. As a result, China has created a diplomatic debt trap for Angola and much of Africa.
These predatory financial practices have led to the accumulated debt since the Chinese and Angolan trade strengthened in 2011.
In the book Uncovering Agency: Angola’s Management of Relations with China, Lucy Corkin depicts a brief history of China-Angola relations by describing that these countries left behind their typical pragmatism and ideological paradigms to form a commercially driven arrangement dominated by China along with Angolan elites.
Indeed, the Angolan ruling party has developed strong ties to several Chinese financial institutions, including China’s Exim Bank, which has made loans to the Angolan government.
My question is, how does the Biden administration view these circumstances, and how could they use these data to highlight the direness of Angolan life to the U.S. public?
I submit that firstly, the administration and the U.S. public must gain a sense of the current financial crisis.
Secondly, identify why non-oil economic diversification has not been successful in the recent past.
Thirdly, China’s debt-trap policy has “imprisoned” the Angolan government and its people by strangling public and private debt. How can the U.S. assist in breaking this cycle of debt?
Finally, can these starting points for action by the Biden administration promote a change in Angola?
I am a proud Angolan, but like most, I have more questions than answers.
As indicated above, I suggest the U.S. can promote real change by working from the top-down in Angola after setting the stage with education and fact-finding in the U.S.
The United States’ direct aid to the people can help. While the Angolan people sorely need assistance for survival, without change from the top-down, the rife corruption will likely waste resources or funnel it to government officials.
I question the sustainability of the repression that excludes foreign political and economic support other than China. If managed well, Angola has rich mineral resources, which could encourage the U.S. in political and financial support of liberal democracy in Angola in exchange for access to these resources.
For American entrepreneurs to gain prominent positions in African capital markets, the Biden administration must use specialized staff with deep knowledge of culture, language, and diplomacy. A collaborative approach to these “wicked” and large-scale problems would help address the issues preventing economic growth in Africa. The possibilities depend partly on the political will of Biden and his African counterparts.
Although four years are likely not enough to solve these problems, and there are no guarantees, there can be a beginning with the will to approach the issues. Angolans should encourage President Joe Biden and American entrepreneurs to visit Angola with a goal and a plan to put the country back on a rightful path.
Prof.N’gola Kiluange ( Serafim de Oliveira)