Dos Santos on European charm offensive

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REUTERS

Angola's President Jose Eduardo dos Santos (C) waves as he leaves after a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

Luanda - Angola's longtime President Eduardo Dos Santos arrives in Europe on Tuesday as part of a diplomatic charm offensive aimed at improving frosty relations with the West.

Dos Santos arrived in Paris just days before US Secretary of State John Kerry touches down in Luanda in a further sign of thawing ties with a country that at times seems to favour ties with former Cold War allies Russia and China.

Angola, which pumps just under two million barrels of crude a day, is sub-Saharan Africa's second oil producer after Nigeria. As the number three economy after Nigeria and South Africa, it is increasingly becoming a regional power.

After a devastating civil war between independence from Portugal in 1975 and 2002, Angola has today become one of Africa's fastest-developing economies, thanks to its massive oil and diamond wealth.

In the decade following the end of the civil war, the southwest African nation saw average annual growth rates of around 10 percent.

Angola's seaside capital Luanda hosts ever more rounds of peace talks aimed at ending conflicts in the Great Lakes region, South Sudan and the Central African Republic.

Working jointly with South Africa's President Jacob Zuma, Dos Santos is actively involved in efforts to resolve thorny conflicts in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Meanwhile oil revenues are used to dole out financial and humanitarian aid, including $10 million (7.2 million euros) and a possible credit line for the strife-torn Central African Republic.

Angola has also helped to pay salary arrears for government workers in Cameroon, Gabon and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Luanda is even dipping its toe in the waters of international peacekeeping, albeit cautiously. A 600-strong force has been deployed to Guinea-Bissau under a 2012 bilateral deal.

“Angola is increasingly a regional anchor state for peace and security,” said Alex Vines of UK-based think tank Chatham House.

But there are clouds on the horizon.

Last year Angola's growth rate dropped to 7.7 percent and the International Monetary Fund has forecast a further fall to around 5.0 percent this year.

Corruption, red tape and an economy that is highly dependent on oil revenues - which account for around 80 percent of government income - contrive to make Angola massively uncompetitive.

The World Bank ranks Angola among some of the most difficult countries to do business, while its capital is among the most expensive cities in the world for expatriates.

A hamburger in a Luanda restaurant can cost around $30.

Much of the wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few, leaving around two-thirds of the 19 million people to wallow in extreme poverty, fomenting growing social unrest.

So far authorities have brutally suppressed criticism and anti-government protests, particularly those criticising Dos Santos's 34-year rule.

Against this backdrop, the government has embarked on an ambitious reform plan to diversify the economy and rebuild infrastructure.

In a bid to insulate Angola from volatile oil prices a Sovereign Wealth Fund was created in 2012 to invest some of that energy windfall into projects that will ensure broader returns.

Outside the continent, Angola's main trading partners are Brazil, Portugal, the United States and lately China.

Sapa-AFP


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