Africa's Oil Tycoons | The Nation


Africa's Oil Tycoons

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But the most widely cited problem in Angola, pointed out not only by advocacy groups but by the World Bank, the IMF and even the US State Department, is that close to a third of the oil revenues that come into the country never make it into the public budget. No one outside the government knows where the money is going. Organizations like Global Witness have documented that at least a billion dollars has ended up in Virgin Islands bank accounts of close associates of the president.

Daphne Eviatar went to Angola as a Pew fellow in international journalism.

About the Author

Daphne Eviatar
Daphne Eviatar, a Brooklyn-based lawyer and journalist, is a senior reporter for The American Lawyer.

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Blackwell doesn't seem to believe the repeated reports about Angola's financial mismanagement. "I think the government's really taking it on the chin with transparency," he said. "My sense is the government is doing the best it can."

Rosa Maria João, a mother of five whom I met as she waited outside a crowded UN-funded health post in a northern bairro of the city, doesn't have the same faith. As she cradled her 6-month-old daughter, who was sick with diarrhea and a high fever, the skinny 28-year-old told me she makes a meager living cleaning homes and washing clothes for Luanda's wealthy. Although she's seen changes in Angola since the end of the war, "they're only for those who have money," she said. "For those who don't, there is nothing." Indeed, the government wants to bulldoze the village where she lives--a former refugee camp where residents have built small homes and a school--to make way for new construction. "I know the country has a lot of money from selling petroleum," she said. "The government can keep most of it. But shouldn't at least some of it go into improving people's living conditions?"

Justine Pinto de Andrade, director of the economics department at Catholic University in Luanda, agrees. "You see some buildings that are improved, like Endiama (the state-owned diamond company), Sonangol and De Beers," he said. "But these are not places for the people to live. There is nothing for them." And the expansion of Luanda Sul, with its sprawl of guarded compounds? "Luanda Sul is the opposite of development," Andrade said with irritation. "Sure, it's creating something, but development is creating works for people, like jobs and houses. This is nothing. It's only for rich people who have houses."

The Angolan government's response to such criticism is that its coffers have been drained not by corruption but by the cost of fighting a brutal civil war. "The government is very concerned about social issues," Manuel Nunes Junior, Angola's deputy finance minister, told me. "But Angola had a terrible, terrible war. We need massive international help." Of course, international aid, which totals about $300 million a year, is dwarfed by the sums paid by oil companies to the government that go missing each year. But Junior denied that the money had been siphoned off. "There is no proof that this money has disappeared," he said. He said the problem is merely that payments made to international creditors by Sonangol, which makes "quasi-official expenditures on behalf of the government," were not recorded in the budget.

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