THE good news about Angola is that the country of 16 million on the west coast of Africa held its first elections in 16 years last week.
They took place largely free of violence, a welcome change from the last election in 1992, which reignited the country s 27-year civil war. Fourteen parties competed and most of the votes went to the top two parties 82 percent to the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), which has ruled the country since independence in 1975, and 10 percent to the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), which fought the MPLA in the long civil conflict.
The principal prize in Angola is government control of the country s oil revenues, which amounted to $40 billion last year. Angola is the largest source of crude oil for China and the sixth-largest U.S. supplier, exporting 40 percent of its production to the United States. American companies, led by Chevron-Texaco and ExxonMobil, dominate Angolan oil production. Halliburton, Vice President Dick Cheney s former employer, is there as well.
The bad news, however, about Angola s elections is that they were chaotic and judged by observers as woeful, with a shortage of ballots, indelible ink, and election officials. Even worse, the ruling MPLA won enough seats to gain a two-thirds majority in the parliament, providing a shabby legitimacy to its hitherto de facto one-party status. The MPLA, led by President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, head of state for 29 years, has shown itself to be a casebook study in corruption.
Angola is a rich country. In addition to its vast oil wealth, which is second after Nigeria s among African producers, it also has diamonds. Yet, almost all of its people are desperately poor and its social infrastructure education, health care, and so on is virtually nonexistent, while its political elite live extremely well.
Having had parliamentary elections may help. A presidential election is scheduled for next year. But prospects for Angola s wealth being used to help its tragically poor population remain very slim.
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