Angola/China: Strengthening of Mutual Understanding and the management of the post-reconstruction phase are among the principle challenges for the future

14 April 2008

London, Great Britain, 14 April – The strengthening of mutual understanding between Angola and China and the management of the post-reconstruction phase of the African country are among the principle challenges to what is considered a long-term relationship between the two partners.

In the study, Angola and China: A Pragmatic Partnership, recently published in London, researchers, Indira Campos and Alex Vines, considered that the two countries will benefit from the increase in economic cooperation , but that this brings “challenges” for Angola in terms of policy making, “an urgent need for better mutual understanding and research” from the outset.

“The absence of historic, cultural and linguistic ties between China and Angola means that both countries are poorly prepared for this. Angola does not currently have a Chinese language program,” say the two researchers.

However, there are several initiatives being put in place, such as the cell set up by the Catholic University in Luanda in late 2007 to investigate relations with China, and the initiatives of Lopo de Nascimento, “one of the few Angolan intellectuals to evaluate the long term impact f China in Africa and its implications for Angola.”

According to the authors’ figures, the number of visas granted annually to Chinese people in Angola rose more than 100-fold from 2004 to 2007: from less than 200 to 22,100 last year, making it the largest foreign community, larger even than the Portuguese one.

Also, for the British researchers, knowledge of Angola is “minimal” in Beijing, for which, they point out, “both governments need to take bolder steps to broaden their bilateral co-operation beyond dialogue between the business elite.”

They stress that with the support of western governments, Sino-Angolan investigation projects are under way at the Centre for Chinese Studies at the University of Stellenbosch (South Africa), the South African Institute of International Relations, and also at higher education institutes in the UK and the US. However, there are other challenge for which the two countries should begin to prepare themselves.

Rebuilding projects are creating jobs and allowing the transfer of know-how for the Angolans, yet they are finding it difficult to fulfil their contractual obligations, because competent local companies are over-stretched with other projects they are involved in, while others are not considered to be capable of meeting the demands of the work.

Campos and Vines also identify the need for Angolan authorities to stimulate a reorganization of local companies, in such a way as to give them the size and capability necessary to enter into joint ventures with Chinese companies, gaining the know-how that will allow local companies to provide basic services on time – for example, they point out that the cost to Angola of transportation of materials currently stands at around US$800 million, when there is a national shipping company (Secil Maritima), though it lacks certain capabilities.

When rebuilding work was finished, financed by massive Chinese credit lines from Eximbank and the China International Fund (CIF), the question would arise as to the “sustainability” of the infra-structures, they said.

“There are legitimate concerns about the government’s capacity to maintain such investments beyond their completion, given the country’s enormous deficiencies in terms of human and institutional capacity. Although the government is making efforts to train people, it would be unrealistic to think that it could do this as quickly as the infra-structures are being built,” say the authors of the report.

Luanda, they add, “will have to focus more attention on planning and organization if it is to guarantee sustainability and the transfer of technology – or run the risk of being dependent on the Portuguese or others to return to rebuild what the Chinese have just completed.”

They point out that China is the biggest provider of financial backing for the reconstruction work and should also become, over the next few years, the biggest exporter, but Luanda’s efforts to diversify its commercial and economic relations with Brazil, South Africa, India or Portugal, that remain the greatest source of Angolan imports.(macauhub)