September 9, 2008

HARRISONBURG—Today in his weekly “Strategic Interests” column for the World Defense Review, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, looks at the situation in Angola in light of last week’s legislative elections, which the ruling Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (MPLA, “Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola”) apparently won in a landslide.

After noting the country’s extraordinary natural wealth and macroeconomic growth as well as its abysmal social indicators, the article reviews the historical context and current challenges faced by Angolans as they went to the polls for the first time in sixteen years. According to Dr. Pham, while “the electoral processes were less than perfect, it would nonetheless be difficult to argue that the overall results do not, however roughly, approximate the popular will.” Nonetheless, he observes, “elections are only a first step in what remains a very long road” and argues:

Not only because of Angola’s energy resources—according to the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration, during the first six months of this year Angola exported 92.09 million barrels of oil to the United States, a figure representing approximately 5 percent of America’s imports—but because the wealth gives it the potential for considerable prominence in regional affairs, it would behoove Washington to make developing a stronger relationship with Luanda a priority as it seeks a more strategic approach to Africa…Given the history of bilateral relations (or lack thereof), it would be prudent, as a report earlier this year by the Council on Foreign Relations suggests, “to begin…with sensible Angolan priorities, take steps to advance shared, nonpolitical objectives, and commence regular bilateral discussions with a comprehensive agenda.” That is to say, given a political economy that does not favor conditionalities, the United States has to invest in long-term strategies to contribute to building the social, economic, and political preconditions for Angolan citizens and institutions to become empowered. Moreover, while the State Departments budget for fiscal year 2009 requests a relatively generous $42 million for Angola, including $6.3 million to assist with humanitarian demining in one of the most landmine-ridden countries in the world, the mere $400,000 which is allocated for international military training and education (IMET) of Angola’s military is rather parsimonious—and it won’t go very far if you’re trying to play catch up and help a country develop a professional and capable military capable of helping, at the very least, with contributing to maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea which is so important to its own national interests…[Thus] America needs to intensify its engagement with this geopolitically significant country.

To read the full text of the article, “ Angola: A Potential Powerhouse Inches Forward,” click here.