Past, Present and Future of China in Africa: The case of Angola

Had the pleasure of attending a policy seminar held by the AAME: Centre for Politics in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East at the Royal Holloway, University of London where the focus was on Angola and its relationship with China. The seminar was led by H.E Mr Rui Jorge Carneiro Mangueira Ambassador of Angola in the UK. The event covered the history of the relationship between China and Angola starting from the Bandung Conference held in 1955 which was the first Afro-Asian conference where 29 states including some newly gained independent African countries attended.

The conference’s stated aims were to promote Afro-Asian economic and cultural cooperation and to oppose colonialism or neocolonialism by any nation.

The seminar covered Chinas role during the Angolan civil war and upon further research, it is interesting to know China was one of the first foreign nations to aid the FNLA (National Front for the Liberation of Angola) and UNITA (Union for the Total Independence of Angola) during the 1970 crisis. It is also worth noting that China was also the first nation to leave and this led to strained relations with the United States of America. Around this time, however, China was undergoing the succession of top leadership in the CCP (Chinese Communist Party), and by 1980s China began ramping up its investment efforts in Africa and by 2018, there is now murmurs from observers that we are witnessing the colonization of Africa by China. Across the Southern African Development Community (SADC) for example, Chinese debt is rising. A question constantly asked, is can some of the countries payback?

Zhongyuan Petroleum Exploration Bureau (ZPEB) is one of the many businesses looking to invest in Africas oil markets.
Angola’s oil production is expected to fall to 1.5 million barrels per day in 2018 compared to 1.9 million barrels a decade ago. — Reuters

Angola, 2nd only to Nigeria in terms of oil production in Africa has an economy largely based on the oil industry. So it was no surprise to hear that 40% of its oil is being traded with China. Saudi Arabia had been China’s leading supplier in the first eight months of 2016 but has slipped to third place behind Russia and Angola by 2018. For most oil-based economies, this would be a positive step, but as Angola pays its debt to China via its oil resources, the value largely depends on the demand in oil. And as oil prices fluctuate, it means Angola is not able to offer more trade opportunities for its oil to other markets. Lack of infrastructure such as good travel links between borders has always been one of the main reasons intra-regional trade has been low within SADC. Countries such as eSwatini, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique and Malawi, for example, are landlocked. Establishing trade routes with Angola by either rail or road would prove to be good for the region as it not only means Angola is able to trade within the region, it also creates tourism opportunities for Africans within the region. As SADC members can often travel freely within the block, infrastructure projects, be it Chinese funded should be focusing on increasing routes of trade within the SADC community. Countries such as Zimbabwe are having a fuel crisis and Angola could potentially meet the demand if there was an established link between the nations, be it a high-speed rail network or an established road network.

During the seminar, the Ambassador also noted that the investments from China, including the building of health centres across some regions, has benefited the local communities. There is no denying that across Africa, systematic corruption has ruined communities. In 2018 during a Cholera crisis, Zimbabwe sought to crowdfund for medical supplies but during the same budget cycle, they had enough money to buy an already overpopulated ministry, brand new cars costing USD $2million. The priority of governments sometimes is not in the best interests of citizens, and this is where China has stepped in, but it would be naive to think that some of these projects have the citizens interests at heart. In Zambia for example in 2016 there was an uproar when Chinese nationals were allowed to become police officers when historically, dual citizens were not offered this right. It’s not all doom and gloom however in Angola. Chinese companies have been helping with the clearing of landmines in Angola, important work that needs to be carried out, Angola, whilst not at war, still sees casualties to undefused landmines from the civil war that ended in 2002. And if the government through investments from China can help defuse the landmines, build hospitals and support networks by those whose lives have been ruined by the landmines, then this is a positive step for Angola.

The event held by AAME, in my opinion, was a very much needed conversation and I am thankful to the Ambassador for answering our questions. Angola is one of the jewels of Southern Africa, with more trade links across the region such as a highspeed rail linking it to other markets, it has the potential to rival South Africa. It will, however, be interesting to observe how the relationship with China progresses should the oil run out.

Thank you AAME.