Yesterday Angola’s president Jose Eduardo dos Santos said the country’s plans to invest more than $17 billion in electricity generation and distribution by 2016 will boost social justice by giving low-income classes better access to energy.
But this optimism is often met with suspicion. Dos Sontos, in power since 1979, is accused 0f doing too little to fight poverty since winning the war against rebel group UNITA in Africa’s second-largest oil producer.
A 27-year civil war that ended a decade ago devastated Angola, destroying most of its infrastructure, including energy plants and networks, meaning many goods, including food, have to be imported. It begs the question of when the bubbling anger of the people will ferment itself into the latest of the region’s revolutions. The calls for Dos Sontos to quit after 32 years in power are growing louder.
It has created one of the most frightening contrasts in the world. Angola is simultaneously the richest country in the world (on paper Luanda, the capital of Angola, is the most expensive city for expatriates in the world) and the poorest (of the around one third of Angolans live in Luanda, 57% live in poverty).
Huge sovereign wealth fund-like companies dominate the economy. Sonangol, the state-owned oil company, commands multibillion dollar borrowing facilities that stretch over a decade. Respected abroad, its critics are wary of the group’s dominance.
“It’s not a state-owned oil company: it’s like an oil company that owns the state,” says one international official in Luanda, the FT’s Tom Burgis reports.
Angola is also one of the world’s top diamond-producing countries, but “a visit to Angola’s diamond heartland reveals that plenty of blood still spills over those precious stones”, writes Michael Allen in the Wall Street Journal.
The wide gap between the rich and the poor is summed up in the United Arab Emirate’s latest inbound tourism figures, which show Angola was the sixth biggest spender in the UAE last year.
Angolans spent $166.1 million in 2011, up 89.1% from a year earlier, moving up four places on the league table.
In a country where a normal expat needs $300,000 to live normally for a year, it is no surprise that citizens are splashing their money elsewhere.