Angola was a Portuguese colony until 1975. Upon receiving their independence, the Angolans fought a twenty-seven years long civil war. The two parties were the Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). The MPLA was funded by crude oil revenues and received Soviet and Cuban aid and UNITA was funded by black market diamond sales and was supported by South Africa, China, and (secretly) the CIA. The stakes were raised in 1990 when new oil was found off the coast of Angola. Peace only came to the country after the leader of UNITA died and they surrendered to the MPLA.
The Angolan government functions like a gang because its members consolidate power and money and control the people through a combination of extreme poverty and fear. Angola is technically a multiparty presidential republic which has been led by President Jose Eduardo dos Santos of the MPLA party for the past thirty-eight years.
The other political party is UNITA, but only 17% of voters identify with this party because it is very dangerous to disagree with the MPLA. Angola is not a police state, but critics and protestors of MPLA have been jailed, beaten, tortured, and executed. People are afraid to talk on the phone because the government may be listening. Although the Angolan constitution promises many of the same freedoms given to Americans, very few of these freedoms are actually awarded and the planes of government opponents go down, people disappear, and activists are ambushed. In 2012, two activists disappeared after an anti-government protest and after a year the attorney general admitted that they had been kidnapped and probably killed.
When it was founded, the MPLA was a communist party, but they adopted a form of “crony capitalism” in the 1990s. The generals, well-placed officials, and the president and his family took personal ownership of the country’s riches, creating a huge income gap between government workers and the general Angolans. Approximately 43% of Angolans live on $1.25 per day or less, but living in the capital of Angola, Luanda is more expensive than living in Tokyo or Singapore. Despite the millions of starving people, the country does not accept any foreign aid. This means that the government is completely self-sufficient and isn’t obligated to conform to the international community’s human rights standards.
Angola is Africa’s second largest oil producer after Nigeria, and they rely on oil for about 98% of their exports and about 75% of their total income. The state’s oil company is called Sonangol and is led by Isabel dos Santos, the daughter of the president. Sonangol’s profits rival those of Coca Cola and Amazon and it is involved in nearly all sectors of the Angolan economy including property, healthcare, banking, aviation, and even football. The oil company often acts like a finance ministry or national bank because it can invest public funds and it regulates the entire Angolan oil sector.
In early July, 2016 Angola entered into discussions with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) because dropping oil prices had severely impacted the economy. The IMF visited Angola and made an offer of $4.5 billion in aid, but Angola decided to cut off talks at the end of the month. Many economists are criticizing Angola because they rely very heavily on their oil revenues. Inflation was nearly 30% in May, the highest level since 2005 and the kwanza has lost about 35% of its value against the dollar. The government needs to find a bail out soon, either from China or the IMF, or they will face grave economic consequences.
Corruption is widespread in Angola. Deals and contracts are often awarded to the friends and family of government officials rather than the most efficient or effective company. The government is ostensibly working with the World Bank to face corruption, but this effort does not extend to Sonangol or the president despite about $32 billion disappearing between 2007 and 2010 only to be found in secret Sonangol spending. Angola has frequently acknowledged their corruption problem, but they seem uninterested in making the economy and government fair and accessible to all their citizens.
The Angolan government functions like a gang because they keep all of the money and power within a small circle of officials. Oil drives the economy and only those connected to it can survive in Angola’s fierce capitalistic society. There are extreme rates of corruption and critics of the status quo are brutally punished. The consolidation of power in Angola has pushed the general people to the periphery of society, but the government’s attitude may change as oil prices drop and the economy needs to develop and rely on other sectors.