The brave and the patient venture into Angola

By Time of article published Apr 2, 2003

Share this article:

Danie Crowther first went to Angola with an invading South African force, armed with an assault rifle to do battle with government troops and their Cuban backers.

He is now armed with a cheque book as he takes part in a new thrust into what is for him former enemy territory - a wave of investors hoping to do business in an oil- and diamond-rich country emerging from decades of devastating civil war.

The head of the African Banking Corporation's representative office in South Africa, he is leading his bank's drive to establish a bank in Angola, a country where he almost lost his life in combat.

"It was 1987 and I was an intelligence officer attached to 32 battalion in Angola," says Crowther.

"I got hit with shrapnel during one skirmish and was confined to a wheelchair for several months." He still walks with a limp from his wounds.

The Cold War was hot in Africa in the 1980s, with soldiers from apartheid South Africa fighting alongside Washington-backed Unita rebels against Angola's Marxist government.

A lot has changed since then: the Cold War ended, Angola's rulers ditched Marxism, and white rule was swept from South Africa in 1994.

Angola's civil war rumbled on until Unita's charismatic founder and leader, Jonas Savimbi, was cut down in the bush in February 2002, triggering a peace process that culminated in the signing of a ceasefire on April 4 last year.

One year later, South African investors are eyeing lucrative opportunities in a country where everything from roads to power plants need to be rebuilt.

But corruption, bureaucracy and a shattered infrastructure mean Angola still remains a country where only the patient and the brave dare invest.

Keith Campbell, the managing director of Pretoria-based political consultancy Executive Research Associates, says his advice to businessmen is: "Nothing happens quickly in Angola.

"If you want things done quickly, go elsewhere."

An internal International Monetary Fund report last year estimated that up to $1 billion might have "vanished" from government coffers in 2001.

This estimate has not impressed donors, on whom the government relies to help with the numerous humanitarian crises facing its poverty-stricken 13 million people.

Even the US - a key ally and major consumer of Angolan oil - has been nudging the country to come cleaner about its government revenues.

A South Africa/Angola Chamber of Commerce was set up recently. One of its stated goals is to help local business representatives cut through the bureaucracy that makes it so difficult to do business in Angola, though the situation is slowly improving.

"Access to the economy is being lifted," says Crowther, whose bank already has merchant banking operations in several other African countries.

"You don't need an Angolan partner any more; you can actually open a subsidiary there.

"We consider that in the medium term Angola will probably be the fastest-growing economy in the continent, although it is from a very low base.

"One of the main drivers is the liberalisation of economic policy, which is ongoing."

Analysts cite Angola's potential for growth and its proximity to South Africa as natural magnets for local business.

They also cite Angola's vast infrastructure projects, of which the country's construction and telecommunications firms are well placed to grab a significant piece.

South African retailers are also keen to move into a country where most consumer goods are sold by hawkers on the streets.

Retail group Shoprite Holdings - which operates in 13 African countries outside South Africa - is opening a shop in Luanda this year.

Bulk grocer Metro Cash and Carry recently opened a sixth store in Angola.

"Angola is a particularly promising market for us," Metro said last week after the opening of its latest store there.

"It is not only dollar based, but the economy is moving ahead strongly as the nation rebuilds after years of political turmoil." - Reuters

Share this article: