Dr. Assis Malaquias is the Academic Chair for Defense Economics at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies. In this capacity, Dr. Malaquias oversees curriculum and program development in the area of defense economics focusing on sound practices for the management of security sector resources in Africa, the relationship between security strategy and the allocation/ utilization of national resources, and appropriate budgeting and procurement models in Africa. Dr. Malaquias’ current research focuses on the political economy security in central and southern Africa. In this interview the scholar highligths key points of his latest research paper.
You recently published a research paper titled “Angola’s Foreign Policy: Pragmatic Recalibrations.” Why Angola?
Angola is an important country at many levels. As a major oil producer, it must be included in global calculations about energy security. Its geostrategic position in Africa makes it critically important for the security of several regions: Southern Africa, Central Africa, and the Gulf of Guinea. It has one of the fastest growing economies in Africa and, indeed, the world. It has a large, experienced, and well-tested security sector. With the country’s long civil war over, Angola’s security sector will seek domestic, sub-regional, and regional opportunities to remain relevant. This can foster stability or produce instability. Finally, Angola is increasingly seen as symbol of an emerging development paradigm in Africa which combines strong political centralization with a veneer of democracy and a strong security sector to achieve stability and rapid economic growth all within a rent-seeking and highly opaque political economy.
Your paper thoroughly analyzes Angolan relations with Russia and China, from the Cold War era to present. But you also state that China has replaced Russia as Angola’s new “best friend.” How and why did that happen?
The Cold War ended about the time when Angola underwent a false transition to peace in 1991-1992. Suddenly, Angola’s main external backer, the former Soviet Union, ceased to exist. Its successor, Russia, was more interested in cooperating with the West than holding on to the global geostrategic alliances that defined international relations during the Cold War. In important respects, therefore, Angola became an “orphan” of the Cold War. To survive within a new international environment and given its continuing internal problems at the time – the civil war resumed in 1992 and lasted until 2002 – Angola needed new friends. Its attempts to win friends in the West did not yield positive results mainly because of Angola’s poor governance. Rebuffed by the West, Angola looked East and found that China was eager to become its new best friend.
Oil is obviously a big part of life in Angola, especially as it relates to the economy. Is Angola currently taking effective steps to diversify away from this commodity like some other oil producing states have done?
The short answer is no. Much of the Angolan economy revolves around oil. Angola has had very little success in diversifying the economy after it nearly collapsed when most Portuguese settlers who controlled all sectors of the economy, with the exception of subsistence rural agriculture, departed in the months before independence in 1975. A dire economic situation was made worse by nearly three decades of war. The task of rebuilding and diversifying the economy would have been daunting even under ideal circumstances. But, during the decades of civil war, the Angolan state developed its current rent-seeking and opaque character. Since the dominant political/economic class can easily capture oil revenues, it has little incentive to pursue economic opportunities in other sectors where greater skills/efforts might be required.
According to your research U.S. –Angola relations are smooth on the economic side and complex on the political side, even irritating sometimes. Why?
Angola and the U.S. share important economic interests. For example, American oil companies have played a central role in the development of Angola’s oil sector since that precious commodity was first discovered in Angola in the 1930s. These companies remained engaged even during Angola’s civil war. But, in my personal view, Angola and the U.S. do not yet completely share the same political core values. Therefore, it is normal for there to be the occasional irritants in U.S.-Angola bilateral relations.
How do you foresee Angola’s Foreign Policy in the next decade?
At the regional/continental level, Angola will use its vast oil wealth and powerful security sector to project and cement its influence, mainly in response to requests by governments that view it as a model of how to transition from conflict to peace and on how to achieve security and economic growth. This can have both potentially positive (e.g. Guinea-Bissau, where Angola is assisting in the rebuilding of the Guinean security sector) and negative effects (e.g. Cote d’Ivoire, where Angola allegedly supported Gbagbo’s failed last stand). Internationally, it will continue to work closely with China. However, recognizing China’s potential vulnerabilities and the dangers of over-reliance on one strategic partner, Angola is likely to hedge its bets by focusing elsewhere as well. Relations with the EU, BRICS, and the U.S. will receive more attention.