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14/09/2008 | Angola - Net Assessment

Stratfor Staff

Following a protracted civil war that lasted from its 1975 independence until 2002, Angola is only now emerging as a player on the regional stage in sub-Saharan Africa. Flush with oil wealth and with its internal power recently consolidated, Luanda is now pursuing two key geopolitical imperatives: solidifying its control over the country to shut out the re-emergence of internal challengers, and pushing to rival South Africa and Nigeria as a regional hegemon.

 

Located in south-central Africa, Angola is an emerging energy- and diamond-producing power aiming to become a regional leader. The Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) party has ruled the country since its independence from Portugal in 1975, but has only recently consolidated its control over most of the territory outside the capital. Angola can in some respects be considered a new country, only now emerging from constraints on its capability and reach — constraints the MPLA aims to remove.

Angola was first explored by the Portuguese beginning in the 15th century. By the 19th century, the Portuguese had pushed eastward from port enclaves that included Luanda, Lobito, and Namibe. Their aim was not just to acquire as much territory as possible, but specifically to link Angola up to Mozambique, another Portuguese colony, and thereby control a major block of southern African territory. Competing colonial interests ended that pursuit, however, when the British, led by Cecil Rhodes as prime minister of Cape Colony, established the colonies of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) between Angola and Mozambique. The scramble for African territory that concluded at the Berlin Conference in 1884 ensured that no single European power dominated Africa — let alone southern Africa.

 

Geographically and economically, Angola is the sixth-largest country in Africa. Its gross domestic product (GDP) in 2007, at $44 billion, places its economy at just over one-third the size of Nigeria’s (which measured $115 billion in 2007) and at less than one-fifth the size of Africa’s largest economy, that of South Africa ($255 billion in 2007). Angola’s resource wealth is fairly well concentrated: the majority of its oil assets are located in the country’s northwest corner in Cabinda province (and offshore from it) as well as offshore between Luanda and the northern town of Soyo. Its diamond centers are located in the central and north-central provinces, with newer fields being opened in the northeast and southeast.

Angola is largely a territory of rolling savannah, apart from a highland area around and to the south of the central province Huambo. It has a number of rivers, but — unlike the Congo River in neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo or the Niger River in West Africa — none can accommodate long-distance transportation. The wide expanse of difficult-to-defend savannah has made the movement of armed groups relatively easy and has made it difficult for the MPLA to exert control over the entire country.

Decades of Civil War

Immediately after independence in 1975, Angola descended into a civil war that did not truly end until after 2002. Demographically, the country was divided into three factions competing against each other for territorial control. The MPLA, a Marxist party backed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War, was supported by an urban, Portuguese-speaking population based largely around the capital region of Luanda. Angola’s Bakongo population, in the northern oil-producing regions, supported the opposition National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA), which in turn was backed by both Western and Eastern interests during the Cold War. The National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) was the third force, a group supported by the United States and South Africa as a bulwark against communist expansion in southern Africa. UNITA found its domestic support base among the country’s rural populations, particularly the Ovimbundu tribe, largely found in the country’s diamond-producing central and eastern provinces.

The MPLA had largely defeated the northern FNLA by 1979, but proved unable to conquer UNITA quickly — leaving the opposition groups a base in the mineral-rich regions that provided them a continued source of independent funding.

The civil war severely constrained economic activity. Diamond mining (which had begun in Angola in 1912) continued, but mining areas and operations were strategic battlegrounds for each side to finance its warfighting capabilities. Though the MPLA regime nationalized the diamond sector in the early 1980s, UNITA began targeting diamond concessions soon thereafter, to deny that commodity as a source of funding for Luanda. Oil production was largely limited to onshore activity in Cabinda province, but a related rebellion there led by the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC) kept exploration and production activities constrained.

With a slight interruption during abortive elections in 1991-1992, the war between the MPLA, UNITA and (to a lesser extent) the FNLA continued until shortly after UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi was killed in the eastern Moxico province in February 2002. Two months later, UNITA’s military remnants had surrendered, and the group was limited to confronting its rivals in the political realm. The MPLA was then able to begin to consolidate its position as the country’s unrivalled power. Since 2002, the MPLA has largely recovered control of diamond-producing areas, as well as militarily dominating the restive, oil-rich Cabinda enclave.

The New Angola

History for Angola as a coherent and independent actor on the world stage, therefore, really began in 2002. Having overcome its rivals, the MPLA regime in Luanda is now free to pursue broader geopolitical imperatives. First, it will attempt to consolidate its gains by cementing economic and political control over opposition-friendly rural regions of the country and by denying those territories a potential rebel resurgence. Second, it will seek to emerge as a regional hegemon in order to prevent neighboring countries from supporting opposition threats.

The end of the civil war has been a boon to the MPLA and its control over the national economy. Angola’s proven oil reserves have grown from 5.4 billion barrels in 1997 to 9 billion barrels in 2008. Its oil production has grown more than tenfold in the years since independence, from 165,000 barrels per day (bpd) in 1975 to 1,870,000 bpd by the end of 2007, with roughly half of that growth occurring after 2002. Output is expected to grow by at least 500,000 bpd in the coming years, with at least three ultra-deep oil fields expected to come online between 2009 and 2011.

Similarly, diamond production has almost doubled since 2002. Production at the end of the civil war was estimated at just over five million carats, itself a dramatic rise from the 750,000 carats produced in 1975. By 2007, output was approximately 9.7 million carats — and was under the undivided control of the government. Production is expected to expand further, with deals involving South African interests (including those of African National Congress power broker Tokyo Sexwale) being negotiated to open fields in northeastern and southeastern Angola. The country also is expected to benefit from redirected investment as a result of the ongoing political crisis in mineral-rich Zimbabwe.

The Angolan government relies on crude oil exports to finance the majority of its budget, most of which (when not stolen) has gone to support military expenditures. Oil generates more than half of the country’s GDP, accounts for 96 percent of the country’s exports and produces 80 percent of the government’s revenues. Revenues from diamond production are a distant second, generating approximately $1.4 billion in 2007, compared to approximately $30 billion from oil.

Internationally, Luanda is in a strong position, largely as a direct result of its oil wealth. Angola produces high-quality, light, sweet crude that is in premium demand globally. Its oil production faces little rebel threat (unlike Africa’s other leading oil-producing state, Nigeria), and it holds a favorable geographic position at the southern part of the Gulf of Guinea, with no choke points interfering with its ability to export to European and North American markets.

Consolidating Internal Control

The wealth being generated for the central government, combined with the lack of an imminent security threat, means the MPLA faces the risk of internal factional fighting. President Jose Eduardo dos Santos has campaigned against corruption within the MPLA, though this is likely a move to get rid of internal threats against his own goal of running for re-election. (Presidential elections could be held in 2009.)

The MPLA has not, however, extended its control much in opposition-favored territories beyond having a military grip. The capital city remains the MPLA’s principal seat of power, while provincial capitals and regions have received little investment or attention. UNITA remains a popular grassroots party in the central and eastern provinces, and the FLEC rebel group remains active in Cabinda. Though UNITA or FLEC do not pose an imminent security threat, the MPLA’s popularity remains limited in the country’s rural regions. That weakness means that a re-emergence of an armed opposition group cannot be ruled out in the medium to long term.

The MPLA hopes to use parliamentary elections being held Sept. 5 — which it is widely expected to win, though results might not be known for a few days — to extend its political control into opposition-friendly territories. Having defeated UNITA and the FNLA militarily, the MPLA’s goal is to ensure that those groups cannot rearm and re-emerge as militant threats. Following parliamentary elections, the MPLA will likely follow through with limited financial investment in those regions, a move to try to buy the hearts and minds of pro-UNITA or Cabinda populations. Loud dissidents will be individually bought off or compromised — or, should they ignore Luanda’s favors, will be jailed or will disappear. Meanwhile the country’s armed forces will maintain a tight grip over mineral assets.

Pushing for Regional Hegemony

Consolidated military and political power at home will support Luanda’s goal of emerging as a regional power broker, and ultimately as a hegemon rivaling South Africa and Nigeria. Now that it is no longer internally fractured and is flush with cash, countries on Angola’s periphery will not likely try to challenge Luanda’s rising power.

Angola also has no need of public financial assistance, and can source all of its investment needs from private interests. It can play a free-agent role, playing the Chinese against the Americans should either demand conditions greater than Luanda is willing to accept. This places Angola in a unique position of strong leverage and influence unrivalled in southern Africa.

The MPLA has maintained good, long-standing relationships with the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe and with the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) regime in Namibia. Luanda also is cultivating close ties with Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) party and likely successor to President Thabo Mbeki. UNITA or other rebels will find little support among neighboring regimes to recover a warfighting capability, and will see that territories that once provided a haven and arms to UNITA no longer do.

The MPLA has intervened before to destabilize regimes that provided UNITA support and safe zones, or to back pliant governments in its neighboring states. It supported the overthrow of Congolese President Pascal Lissouba in 1997, conducted economic sabotage against the Zambian government of former President Frederick Chiluba in 1999, and stood ready to intervene in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 2006 if necessary to prevent Jean-Pierre Bemba — a protege of UNITA backer and former DRC President Mobutu Sese Seko — from coming to power.

Luanda does face constraints, however, and will not become sub-Saharan Africa’s third hegemon overnight. It is dependent on imports for virtually anything of value, including almost all foodstuffs. Its oil and diamond sector, while run by powerful state industries (SONANGOL, the state oil company, is closely managed by dos Santos), is dependent on foreign technology for the actual extraction of its resources. And it still must deal with opposition forces at home — including UNITA, which will likely retain its position as the country’s leading opposition party, and FLEC rebels who remain active in Cabinda.

Internal threats can be kept in check, however — certainly in the short term. And the MPLA government’s expanding revenues and unrivaled power at home will permit it to buy friends on its periphery and emerge as a regional power broker.

Stratfor (Estados Unidos)

 


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ver + notas
 
Center for the Study of the Presidency
Freedom House