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Hillary Clinton aims to revive US influence in Angola

The secretary of State's visit to Africa's top oil producer on Sunday and Monday is being seen as an effort to counter China's clout there.

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / August 10, 2009



Johannesburg, South Africa

Hillary Clinton's visit to Angola on Sunday and Monday shows that the cold war is well and truly over, but that its techniques are alive and well.

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Once a battleground between Soviet-armed and Cuban-trained government forces and an American-armed rebel force, Angola has belatedly become the center of a different kind of rivalry between the US and China – over Angola's oil resources.

Just months after Angolan president Jose Eduardo dos Santos traveled to China to extend a lengthy line of credit, Mrs. Clinton has arrived to witness a major corporate agreement between Chevron and the government of Angola.

Angola has become Africa's largest oil producer, ahead of Nigeria and Libya. Clinton also signed a trade agreement that would pave the way for more US investment in this wartorn African country, particularly in job-producing areas such as agriculture.

Clinton downplayed any question of rivalry with China, saying, "I am not looking at what anyone else does in Angola. I am looking at what the United States can do to further and deepen our relationship and provide assistance and support for the changes the Angolan government is undertaking."

US comes late to the game

In addition to purchasing Angola's oil, the US has also agreed to help build two hydroelectric plants in Angola, and has approved plans for America's main aid agency, USAID, to invest in Angola's coffee- and banana-farming businesses.

The US is coming late to the game.

China – which gives no lectures on good governance or human rights – has already loaned Angola billions of dollars to improve its oil-production infrastructure, helping it become the largest African oil producer and China's largest oil supplier, ahead of Saudi Arabia.

"Dos Santos is playing the old cold-war game, where you don't put all your eggs in one basket," says Richard Cornwell, an independent security analyst in Tshwane (Pretoria). "If he can get this Obama administration – which has proved itself to be a lot more pragmatic than many thought it would be – to invest more in Angola, and particularly in the agricultural sector, that makes a lot of sense."

Viewing the US with suspicion

Angola's political class views America with some suspicion, since America backed the UNITA rebel militia against the ruling party of Mr. Dos Santos, who has ruled the country since shortly after independence in 1975.

Now an opposition party, UNITA continues to complain that the Dos Santos government has misused the country's oil wealth for its own enrichment instead of for improving the lives of the poor, and that it has tightly restricted democratic rights.

Angola's foreign minister, Assuncao Afonso dos Anjos, said that his country was fresh from the civil war and that it needed more time for implementation of democracy. Angola held its first free parliamentary elections last year, and will hold presidential elections in 2010.

US to increase agricultural aid

But if the US is serious about improving relations with Angola, says Mr. Cornwell, it will pay as much attention to helping Angola create jobs in the agricultural sector as it does on securing the 7 percent of its oil supplies that it buys from Angola.

"Agriculture is the key," he says. "We're not talking the Green Revolution here, with genetically modified food and pesticides. We're just talking about getting the basics right. There is no reason that Africa needs to import 60 to 70 percent of its food."

Reducing the amount of food that Africa imports, and increasing the amount that it produces, will create the kind of productive, stable economy that America says it really wants to see in Angola, he adds. "Food makes all the difference."

Joaquim Pereira and Armando Gonzales of the Center of African Journalists contributed to this report from Luanda, Angola.

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