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Angola Rising

Author: Stephanie Hanson
September 5, 2008

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Signs posted around Luanda, Angola's capital city, read "Together, it is possible" (Irish Times). Ahead of September 5 parliamentary elections (ElectionGuide), Angola's ruling party, the MPLA, touted its efforts to rebuild the country's infrastructure, which was decimated in a decades-long civil war that ended in 2002. The government has the luxury of large budget outlays thanks to a surging oil industry, which has pushed Angola ahead of Nigeria to become Africa's largest oil exporter. Yet, as with many other developing nations which produce oil, analysts say Angola's petroleum revenues have not improved the lives of average Angolans.

The MPLA, which has held power since 1975, is expected to maintain its parliamentary majority (BBC). The Economist Intelligence Unit says the government "play[ed] on the population's fears that the building boom…could be put in jeopardy if the MPLA is voted out of office." Human rights sounded a darker note: Intimidation of Angolan opposition voters has been documented; the MPLA has disproportionate access to the media; and opposition groups are reliant on limited funding for campaigning. On the day of the polls, election observers reported long delays in Luanda (Bloomberg), but a relatively smooth process in rural areas.

All the same, the election was historic for several reasons. It was the first window on the political inclinations of many rural areas of the country, as well as the residents of Luanda's massive slums. Half of the Angolan electorate was born after 1974, which means a generation which has virtually no memory of the 1992 elections, and only an inkling of the Cold War fueled civil conflict, participated in the vote, writes Indira Campos in a new briefing paper for the UK-based think tank Chatham House. Isaias Samakuva, the head of the main opposition party, UNITA, told the Angola Peace Monitor in March that there is "massive dissatisfaction" with the MPLA's policies, and that discontent is particularly strong in Luanda.

Luanda's dissatisfaction notwithstanding, much of the foreign analysis of the Angolan government's macroeconomic policies is favorable, though economists note the effects of these policies on the country's impoverished—two-thirds of the population—are mixed. An August 2007 report from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) praised Angola's macroeconomic policy. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's 2008 African Economic Outlook notes that Angola's macroeconomic growth in non-oil sectors has been strong, inflation is steady, and growth appears to have had a "favorable" impact (PDF) on living conditions for the poor. It says, however, that growth "has not brought poverty levels down."

For the country to ensure future growth, economists say Angola must develop an educated workforce. "The greatest deficiency in the country is institutional and human capital," says Paul Hare, executive director of the U.S.-Angola Chamber of Commerce. Under the best circumstances, this process will take years: Over half the country's population is under fifteen years old, and due to the civil war, the percentage of unskilled labor ranges from 68 percent to as high as 94 percent for some age groups, according to the Africa Economic Outlook. This lack of capacity hits the government particularly hard. A 2007 report from CFR's Center for Preventive Action notes that in 2005, Angola was only capable of spending $1.5 billion of the $2.5 billion it allocated for public investment due to a lack of institutional capacity. The report recommends that the United States help Angola develop an educated workforce through State Department and USAID training initiatives. As a recent backgrounder discusses, China is helping Angola rebuild its infrastructure, but without a skilled population to maintain that work, Angola risks dependency on it or other foreign partners.

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