Oil, diamonds and danger in Angola
IMAGINE two countries. The first, with one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa, will receive $3.5 billion of investment from the international oil industry each year for the next ten years. By 2005 it will have become Africa's largest oil producer. The second is rated by the UN's Human Development Index a dismal 160th out of 174 countries.With a third of its children dying before their fifth birthday, and with two-fifths suffering from malnutrition, it is considered by Unicef to be "the worst place in the world to be a child". Both descriptions fit Angola, home to shocking juxtapositions.
After decades of civil war between the government and the UNITA rebels, most Angolans no longer wish for much more than to survive from one day to the next. Yet the offshore oil industry, and even the onshore diamond industry, continue to thrive, the revenue financing the war, on both sides, and fattening the pockets of the warlords. Most people get no benefit whatsoever from oil or diamonds; they are kept alive with the help of the hundreds of international aid agencies working in Angola.
But the agencies are growing weary with picking up the pieces left by the country's war, and some are voicing their frustrations in public. At the end of last year, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which won the 1999 Nobel peace prize, released a strongly worded report; this followed on the heels of two other hard-hitting documents from World Vision and Save the Children. All three pin the blame on the Angolan government and the Angolan rebels_and international oil and diamond companies. They all point out that the country has the resources to look after its people, if it cared to do so.
The MSF report illustrates this argument with health statistics. In 1999, it says, only 2.8% of the budget was spent on health. In the city of Kuito, one of the areas worst hit by the war, only 1.2% of the central hospital's requirements is provided by the government. The shortfall has to be made up by aid agencies. "Oil production in the country is estimated at close to 800,000 barrels a day," writes MSF, "yet there is not a drop of diesel for the hospital generators, the only source of power in most large hospitals." This neglect, says MSF, is not, as the government claims, a consequence of the war but "the result of deliberate choices".
Donor fatigue is making it hard for the relief agencies to raise money for their Angolan operations. The UN has just launched an all-agency appeal for Angola for 2001. It is asking for $202m but will, as in previous years, be lucky to raise half of that. Adding insult to injury, the Angolan government regularly complains that the relief groups are not doing enough. It also makes their work harder by not issuing work visas: MSF alone is wasting $100,000 a year on flying its staff in and out of the country to renew their temporary visas.
Some aid workers have begun to ask themselves what they are doing. Clearly, they are helping to keep millions of people alive. Yet, by relieving the government of responsibility, are they too contributing to the continuation of the war?
This article first appeared in The Economist.