Angola's Marxist leaders shift industry from capital rural power base
Whatever Angola's political future, the country's economic planners are apparently trying to make sure that tribes loyal to the present ruling party - the MPLA - retain a dominant economic position.Skip to next paragraph
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Plans are being made to transfer key industries from Luanda, the capital on the Atlantic seaboard, to Malange Province, the region from which most MPLA leaders hail. One of the goals of the plan is to reverse an exodus from the countryside to the capital, but it is also clear that the program will reward politically loyal members of the northern Kimbundu tribe and perhaps strengthen the current regime. There are no plans for industrial development in any other region of the country.
Any moving of industries will take many years to carry out. But the strategy gives some indication of how the MPLA intends to run Angola in the long run and how much room for power-sharing that vision leaves.
Another glimpse came in a recent visit of Angolan Industry Ministry officials to Lisbon. The group offered to help Portuguese industrialists reopen factories they had abandoned in Luanda's industrial suburb of Viana at Angola's independence - but the help was conditional. The industries must be moved to Malange.
On Sept. 7, the Soviet news agency Tass announced a major Kremlin aid program for Malange Province, including the dispatch of Soviet specialists to help develop agriculture, power engineering, construction, and mining, as well as to assist with the building of new irrigation networks and road systems.
In agriculture, the Angolans mainly hope to draw on the Soviet experience in cotton planting in the Asian republic of Uzbekistan so as to grow the raw material needed for the West African state's fledgling textile industry.
Coffee is grown in only a small part of Malange Province. The big plantations are in tribally hostile areas closer to the Zaire border, the traditional recruiting ground of the pro-Western National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA), which was defeated by the MPLA and Cuban troops in Angola's 1975-76 civil war.
The need to move cash crops like coffee to Luanda for export, to bring food from the farms of the province to the capital, and to keep new industries supplied in Malange has made the Angolans designate the renovation of the Luanda-Malange railway one of their top five economic priorities.
The railway is the only one that is free from guerrilla attacks. Last year 4 million tickets were sold on the route. In a war-torn country of 6 million people - with 1 million of them living in the capital - that is a staggering travel figure.
It will take at least seven years to renovate the line. Trains now move at a crawl much of the way.
Another of the top five economic priorities is a Soviet plan to build a $600 million dam at Kapunda on the Kuanza River to provide the energy Malange's industrial development will need.
The picture that emerges of Angola's future is of a kind of ''fortress MPLA.'' The country's export wealth will have to move through the MPLA stronghold in Malange Province - diamonds from the politically reliable Lunda area in the northeastern corner, coffee from the Zaire border provinces, and oil , mainly from the northern enclave of Cabinda, to be refined in Luanda.
But where would this ''fortress,'' roughly bounded by the Kwanza River to the south and the Camapatela Plateau to the north, leave the rest of Angola?
The largest tribe had always been assumed to be the Ovimbundus of the central plateau, whom Jonas Savimbi and his National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) claimed to represent before he, too, was defeated in the civil war.
It is through the Ovimbundu territory that the Benguela Railway used to carry copper from the mines of Zambia and Zaire to the port of Lobito, and it was there that most of the maize crop was grown. Today, UNITA guerrillas keep the line idle. The Ovimbundus and many others are starving.
What is worrying about the Malange plan is that it might be the first step toward the creation of yet another tribal ghetto in Africa and a retreat from the MPLA's old national ideal under which political loyalty counted for more than skin color.
It might, however, in the long run give the regime a strong bargaining position from which to negotiate the sort of federation that a few voices within UNITA and the MPLA have advocated as the only solution for such a deeply divided country.