August 31, 2012
“As they say in football, we’re still in the warm-up, the game hasn’t even started and they’re already complaining about the referee.”
This quote is from Manuel Vicente of Angola’s ruling Party. The Vice Presidential candidate may scoff, but the opposition he’s mocking has a point about the referee. This game is seen by many as a forgone conclusion – not least because the referee is also a player. The star player for the odds-on favourite team.
Angola has had the same leader for 32 years. Hold on, that’s not the punch line. This is: Jose Eduardo dos Santos has never seriously contested an election!
The second longest serving African leader topped off his 70th birthday this week by opening a waterfront development in the capital Luanda. Big infrastructure projects like this one have become his trademark. His tenure has seen high economic growth. Between 2002 and 2008 the economy expanded by an average of 15%. The IMF lists Angola’s Gross Domestic Product per capita as one of the highest on the continent. The ruling party says it has reduced poverty and improved the infrastructure. And it has. Africa’s second-largest oil producer has a lot to be proud of. Patching-up the scars on the landscape left by civil war couldn’t have been easy. The country is also attracting foreign investment with construction and agriculture booming.
So what’s the opposition’s gripe? The list is long, but for illustrative purposes let’s dwell on the high-end residential development that has hardly any residents. Most of the flats in “ghost-town” Kilamba just outside the capital are empty because most Angolans can’t afford them. And therein lies the rub. There’s a different truth behind those impressive GDP figures. The money may be there – but so it social disparity. Human rights groups – both local and foreign – believe the oil wealth is not being evenly distributed. In the capital Luanda, the rich-poor divide is clear for all to see.
And then there’s the fact that you can’t swing a cat in the Dos Santos household without knocking over several business magnates. His family has a massive fortune, while the Angolans outside live in squalor. Many people are waiting for better houses, better jobs and better schools. These were promised but so far have not materialised for the masses. This fact hasn’t escaped the people. An opinion poll earlier this year found that Dos Santos is less popular among his people than Robert Mugabe is with Zimbabweans. There’s another harsh reality.
For more on this issue:
Angola’s ghost town:
Gallup Poll on African leaders:
Why it’s not all doom and gloom: