Africa: Politics and Societies South of the Sahara

How German Investors Want to Save Angolans From China

Posted in African Politics, Angola, Global Africa by ruben eberlein on March 27, 2009

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.

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Three traditionally dressed drummers

diffused very special colonial vibes.

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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.

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The systematic abuse of power in Angola

was not of any interest to Merkel or Guttenberg.

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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.

2 Responses

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  1. Dr. Ken Uzor said, on March 29, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    Thanks Ruben for your article that elucidates the pathetic situation in most countries of Africa. The West and other natural resources invaders for ages have been paying lips service to issues of peace and development of the African continent. The truth is that pretensions of the West only have the motive of serving their economic interests (either to establish marketing outlets for their home based companies or to source for raw material for these companies). The West supports the oppression of the African people by their corrupt and oppressive leaders so far as their economic interests remain intact. Aids to African countries by the West also help their economies since material and human resources to be provided by the aids (from the West) are sourced from the countries making the donations.

    Truly, I lay the blame for the continous under-development of African on the door steps of the continents leaders. These highly corrupt individuals that oppress their people and steal their resources to be invested in Europe and America. These resources end up developing further already developed economies, while African societies remain as they were since creation. If the West trully want the development of the African continent, they can achieve this effortlessly. They can oppose even ‘democratic’ ideas and practice which negate the true wishes of the majority of the African peoples. Infact they can enforce true democracy in most countries of the continent. Afterall, whatever measure they applied in getting ex-soviet – Eastern Europe countries to align to prosperity, conflict free and peaceful path can also work in the African continent. But the West seems to derive psychological satisfaction when they compare their advanced societies with the primitive state of affairs in Africa. If the African continent developes where that satisfaction would be gone. Aside from the political structures of the West, the media in the Western countries seemed to have recieved their training only in reporting bad news from Africa and the Middle East.

    Little wonder there will continue to be protests by some non political actor- Westeners whose conscience will always object to the imbalance and insincerity in world socio-economic affairs. The protests already dainting the upcoming G-20 meeting is just one example. The West has the power and resources to transform Africa, but they lack the will and honesty to enforce a change in the world order. China siezed the opportunity to ‘invade’ Africa with promises of a better life, but the country’s self interest comes first and this has revealed their true motives, for instance their support for the massacre and oppression in Dafur and other parts of the continent is hard to explain.

    Africa’s development lies with Africans, but the people need to do whatever needs to be done to eliminate corrupt and oppressive governements. No one can do this for Africans except the people themselves. Even their brother in diaspora -President Obama is now too distant and too westernized to remmenber his continent of birth. Africans arise!

  2. […] raise the subject of the growing prosecutions of independent journalists by the ruling elite in Angola and thus induce a real change of US politics vis-á-vis Angola? Read my detailed interview with an […]


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