U.S. seeks a fresh start in AngolaAug 11th, 2009 | By editor | Category: Opinion, Viewing News
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Ms Clinton gave a gentle nudge to Angola on Sunday, urging this up-and-coming nation, a major oil producer, to push harder to democratise.
Ms Clinton said she was “encouraged by the steps the Angolan government has taken,” like the peaceful parliamentary election last year. But she said the country needed to go further, holding presidential elections and investigating human r ights abuses, sooner than later.
“We know opportunity and prosperity for the Angolan people depend on good governance and democracy,” Ms Clinton said, emphasising what has become the dominant theme of her seven-nation Africa tour.
For years, Angola was a no-go zone, the scene of one of the fiercest battles of the Cold War, in which American-backed rebels squared off against tens of thousands of Cuban troops in a jungle war that dragged on for more than two decades and killed hundreds of thousands of people.
The guns are quiet now, and a beat of life is returning to the streets of Luanda, the capital, a city with graceful architecture sprawled along the sea.
But once again Angola is a crucial battleground. This time, it is the contest for influence in Africa, largely fought between the United States and an increasingly powerful, resource-hungry China.
As if to underscore that, a Chinese forklift crew whizzed past Ms Clinton’s motorcade just as she pulled up to the hilltop presidential palace on Sunday afternoon to meet Angolan officials. Roads, bridges, schools, railways, phone lines — the Chinese are working on them all, lifting this country out of the ruins of war and hoping in return to secure the inside track on Angola’s crude oil reserves, which now have it tied with Nigeria for the title of Africa’s biggest oil producer. But Ms Clinton did not bite when asked to comment on American efforts to check the rising Chinese influence. “I’m not looking at what anyone else does in Angola,” she said at a news conference. “I’m looking at what the United States can do.”
The United States has had a sad history with Angola, the third stop on Ms Clinton’s Africa trip. In the 18th century, Angola was a major slave market, with countless Angolans shipped to the United States in chains. After Angola won independence from Portugal in 1975, the United States bankrolled what turned out to be a brutal rebel movement.
The rebels lost; the Communist, Cuban-backed movement won; and though the Angolan government today says that it has outgrown Marxism, the nation’s flag still looks much like the Soviet hammer and sickle.
“This is a history of missed encounters,” said Angela Braganca, an Angolan lawmaker.
American diplomats here said Ms Clinton would be the first Secretary of State to spend the night in the country.
With the nation recovering, America does not want to miss out on Angola’s oil bonanza. ExxonMobil and Chevron are already here, competing against Chinese firms for new deals. Last year, imports from Angola to the United States surged by more than 50 per cent.
But the oil money has cleaved Angolan society into the haves and the have-nots, a situation true in many African countries. Ms Clinton saw this firsthand. As she sat down for a luncheon buffet at the hilltop palace, the tables heaped with lobster and cakes, the rusty roofs of the teeming slums shimmered below.
Though Angola’s per capita gross domestic product is more than $4,000, a huge sum by African standards, the country remains at the bottom of U.N. development indices measuring quality of life. The average life span for an Angolan man is 37 years.
Part of the reason millions of Angolans remain so poor is corruption. According to Human Rights Watch, billions of dollars of oil money have simply disappeared. Opposition politicians told Ms Clinton that the Angolan government needed to be investigated and that there was no free press in the country.
Ms Clinton seemed quite aware of many of these issues, but again, her tone toward Angolan officials seemed more friendly than pushy.
“Corruption is a problem everywhere,” Ms Clinton said at the news conference, with the country’s Foreign Minister standing beside her. “It’s only fair to add that Angola has begun taking steps to increase transparency.” — © 2009 The New York Times News Service