Economic disparity tops election debate | NRS-Import | DW | 30.07.2012
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Economic disparity tops election debate

The huge gap between rich and poor in Angola tops the debate ahead of the upcoming elections. After 32 years in power, President dos Santos is set to win another term. The opposition does not have a chance.

Campaigning kicks off onTuesday (July 31st). For the third time in the history of the country, Angolans will go to the polls to elect a new parliament, which will in turn elect a new president. Africa's longest-serving leader, Eduardo dos Santos, is the candidate of the ruling MPLA party.

This year's election campaigns are going to center around the growing disparity between the rich and the poor in Angola. The country is rich in resources and earns billions of dollars from oil exports. Still, the majority of the population lives below the poverty line. Many young Angolans are furious about the income gap.

"This disparity is enormous, we are caught in this trap, we are doomed to be slaves to the three families," sings the popular musician MCK in one of his songs. "From Talatona to Ilha - Everything belongs to them, the diamonds are theirs, they own the oil, the real estate. We, on the other hand, beg in the open."

President Jose Eduardo dos Santos (photo by Getty Images).

President Jose Eduardo dos Santos has been in power for 32 years.

Poverty despite massive growth

Economists say that Angola should be able to reduce poverty substantially. Between 2005 and 2007, the economy grew by more than 20 percent, making Angola one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

That growth is visible everywhere in the capital Luanda: Residents are seeing new neighborhoods being built by foreign construction firms. Motorways and railway lines connecting the capital with the interior of the country are currently under construction.

The boom is financed by oil money. Angola is Africa's second largest petroleum exporter after Nigeria. Oil constitutes 98 percent of its exports. On the other hand, poverty is on the rise: Luanda's poor neighborhoods lack electricity and running water. In the countryside, people have limited access to basic healthcare facilities. Infant mortality is one of the highest in the world: Every sixth child dies before the age of five. "Angola is today probably the country with the greatest social disparities in the world", says the Angolan writer Agualusa. "There is nowhere else in the world where the rich put their wealth openly on display. This could lead to a social explosion. This danger exists", he predicts.

Government admits the problem

Rhetorically, the ruling MPLA party admits the country's wealth must be properly distributed among the haves and the have nots. Its campaign slogan is "For more growth and better distribution".

But critics think that the MPLA is part of the problem. They government of President dos Santos mainly hit the headlines because of the disappearance of public funds. In a recent report, the International Monetary Fund revealed that the whereabouts of oil revenues amounting to 42 billion US Dollar is unknown. This sum is greater than the entire gross domestic product of African countries like Kenya, Ethiopia or Ghana.

A protest ralley in Benguela (Photo by DW).

The government has faced protests in recent months.

The missing funds were under the control of the state-owned oil company, Sonangol. The government claims the money was spent on infrastructural projects but refused to list the projects and how much money it spent on each one. Sizaltina Cutaia of the NGO "Open Society Angola" criticized the "inconsistencies of data from various ministries". "It has been made clear that neither the financial nor the petroleum ministry really controls what Sonangol does with the oil revenues," she said.

Also unclear is how the president's family has come to its enormous wealth. Isabel dos Santos, a daughter of the president, owns a huge business empire that includes a stake in the largest cell phone company in the country.

"Living conditions must improve"

Rapper MCK therefore calls for a complete overhaul of Angolan development policies. "Growth must not be limited to construction alone," he said. "The living standards of the people must also be improved". He wants the government to focus on improving the education and the healthcare sector.

A market in the capital Luanda (picture by dpa).

Luanda is one of the most expensive cities on earth.

However, most critics admit that the chances for a regime change in the upcoming elections are low. The ruling MPLA party is in complete control. It has been in power since independence from Portugal in 1975. It controls the state media and a large chunk of the private media as well. It also has almost unlimited funds for the campaign trail, leaving little room for the opposition to claim many seats in parliament.

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