How German Investors Want to Save Angolans From China
German corporations are eager to get much more deeply involved in the Angolan market. Huge public infrastructure investments, a booming oil and an emerging gas sector as well as the demand for machinery attract the attention of companies. With high-level political support, German investors want to challenge a perceived Chinese dominance in this oil-dependent nation that is shaped by fierce social inequalities. A comment.
It‘s a ‘win-win’ situation, declared the Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos after his meeting with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a state visit in late February this year. Both sides could only gain from the forced expansion of their economic relationship. The countries exchanged goods worth 800 million Euro in 2008 already, and Angola is Germany‘s third important trading partner on the continent after South Africa and Nigeria.
Dos Santos got a warm welcome in a country that is afraid to miss economic opportunities in sub-Saharan Africa. For the time being, its an armament factory based in Bremen, the Lürssen-Werft, which has a reason for joy: The German government approved the export of three military patrol boats for the Angolan marine. Reports speak of a contract worth 620 million Euro that awaits signing now. With the help of publicly financed credit guarantees, business is looking forward to a strong boost in the near future.
Three traditionally dressed drummers
diffused very special colonial vibes.
Dos Santos also participated along with Germany‘s Minister for Economic Affairs, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, and several ministers from the southwest African country in the second German-Angolan Economic Forum. Outside the conference hall of the Haus der Deutschen Wirtschaft, three traditionally dressed drummers diffused very special colonial vibes, inside about 250 participants assembled, most of them potential or actual investors.
Representatives of energy companies Eon-Ruhrgas and EnBW explained their interest in the production of liquified natural gas. Others were happy to hear about the substantial amounts the Angolan government intents to spend on infrastructure rehabilitation. Roads, ports and housing – and also the planned building of three football arenas before Africa Cup 2010 which are calculated to cost about 465 Million Euro – intrigued the building industry. Everybody will win, this was the message of the day. Angola shouldn‘t be left to ‘the Chinese’, speakers repeatedly demanded. ‘Economic growth and the fight against poverty’, declared Guttenberg, ‘are two sides of the same coin.’
The observer was left with the impression that Angola is the latest success story of a continent that produces few good news. But the realities in the country tell a quite different story. In spite of an economic growth of 16.7 per cent in 2007 and over 13 per cent last year, the number of the absolute poor increased. The theft of public resources, originating foremost from oil exports of up to 2 million barrel per day, benefits a tiny elite which transfers a substantial part of this money to Europe, Asia and the US. The islands of affluence where the rich, well guarded minority lives – mostly members of the MPLA party nomenklatura – are surrounded by an ocean of misery and poverty.
All this is supposed to change. Before the elections of 2008 that ended with a sweeping victory of the MPLA, the ruling party announced substantial investments into social sectors. But there are many doubts about the sincerity of these proclamations. One is for sure: The election results showed how well the clientelistic ties that connect rulers and their subjects are working as long as enough money is coming in. Seven years after the end of Angola‘s long war, the MPLA is reaping its peace dividend. ‘The patrimonial networks are just too important for the people to take risks’, comments Patrick Chabal from the King‘s College in London.
The systematic abuse of power in Angola
was not of any interest to Merkel or Guttenberg.
Corruption, forced displacements in cities, rural areas or the mining regions, the social rift and the stiff government reactions against its critics didn‘t play any role during the visit of dos Santos. Whereas the German media is consistently (and often rightly) attacking Zanu PF and Mugabe in Zimbabwe, it falls silent when it comes to a country like Angola. The systematic abuse of power and the criminal neglect of the majority of the people which are simply redundant in this rent-based economy apparently weren‘t of any interest to Merkel or Guttenberg.
With big ado, Germany uses to style herself as a champion of human and social rights in developing countries around the world. Many in Britain or the US, especially during the Bush era, were seduced by this promotion of a country that pretended to act strictly on very noble principles. But the case of Angola demonstrates once again: When it comes to hard economic or strategic interests – and diversifying Germany‘s energy supply is one of them – all the euphonic rights rhetoric is suspensible. This holds true for Equatorial Guinea, the DRC or Nigeria as well as Angola. But even this exemplary demonstration of Realpolitik leaves room for some ideological fuss. This time it is the Chinese danger that has to be vanquished in Angola by the brave and selfless investor from Germany.
My entire contribution on German corporate interests in Angola and the current situation in the country is published by Konkret 4/09. You find a pdf of that article here.