Angola paradox: nation both loves, hates its East-West patrons
Luanda, Angola — Socialist slogans and exhortations are visible everywhere in Luanda. They ask readers to fight against ''liberalism, imperialism, and disorganization.'' They sing praise to the international proletariat.
But it is difficult to understand to whom this revolutionary language is addressed. The main priority of Angola's society is economic survival, not ideology.
A Western diplomat surmises, ''The slogans are there to reassure the Soviets and to obtain arms.'' But an Angolan writer says they may be up to bolster the ''legitimation of a small ruling elite.''
Angola is controlled by an old-fashioned Leninist party, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), which has no more than 24,000 members, although the exact number is a state secret. The real power is wielded by an 11 -man politburo. The nation's Constitution states that the party chairman is also president of the republic and head of government.
It was with this hard-core bureaucracy that the Soviet Union in the mid-1970s sought close relations in the third world after the ''Sadat disappointment.'' (Egyptian President Anwar Sadat ordered the Soviets out of Egypt in 1972.) So by replacing state-to-state relations with party-to-party solidarity, it appears Moscow hopes to promote a Marxist crescent from South Africa through socialist Tanzania and reaching as far north as Ethiopia and Yemen.
Today Soviet soldiers and advisers (7,000 of them, according to Western estimates) can often be found sunbathing on Luanda's beaches. Their uniforms, folded in little packs, form straight rows in the sand. Sentinels with Kalashnikov rifles and machine guns stand guard.
The Soviets have little or no contact with the local population. They live in wired-off compounds on the outskirts of the capital. Cuban troops and advisers (estimated at 30,000 to 35,000) also keep to themselves and have their own beaches.
The government is believed to be paying $14,000 to $22,000 a year for each Soviet and Cuban who is helping with the war effort against rebels and South Africans. The war cost is estimated $4 million a day.
The Soviets and Cubans mingle only in special shops where payments in dollars spare them the vagaries of the black market. Lofty principles of solidarity contained in a 1977 Soviet-Angolan agreement do not seem to have trickled down to the population.
Bitterness against the foreigners is widespread. And many Angolans seem to have warmer feelings for the West than the East, as was shown last summer when half a million Angolans left for Portugal after the government lifted exit visa and currency restrictions.
Many Angolans, including some in the government, think the Soviets are indifferent to the day-to-day economic struggle here and are happy the government is strengthening ties with the West. But reliance on foreigners - Eastern or Western - has its effect on the people.
Writer and former education minister Artur Lestana Pepetela says: ''We were plunged into the East-West conflict and now we don't even know who we are. Every aspect of our lives is imbued with alienation and contradiction - black market vs. official planning, proletarian ideology in a rural society, pro-Soviet rhetoric while doing business with the West. Only peace will allow us finally to realize who we are and where we want to go.'' But peace does not seem at all close.
Official figures underscore the Angolan paradox: ''American Gulf Oil company drills oil, South Africans mine diamonds, and the profits are used to buy Soviet weapons and Cuban soldiers who are . . . used to protect the oil fields and diamond mines - in other words, Western interests.''
An Angolan official, hinting at what he viewed as Soviet indifference to the economic situation here, says Angola was forced to appeal to the international community last May for some indispensable goods because the Soviets did not provide them. ''The Soviets, he says, ''are not involved in any of the important economic projects under way.'' Nonetheless, the war ''continuously renews legiti-mization for the Soviet presence and ideology,'' says a diplomat.
The quandary also reveals a racial tension here that causes a curious division of roles between party and government. The party apparatus is dominated by mesticos (persons of mixed race) who speak Portuguese and who constitute less than 1 percent of the population. These people are considered to be the ideologues of the MPLA. But the machinery of government is run by blacks, who seem more imbued with traditional African culture. The blacks are generally more Western-oriented, lean toward a pragmatic economic policy, and tend to favor a more flexibile line toward the rebel UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola).
But President Jose Eduardo dos Santos tries to strike a balance between the mesticos and blacks, respecting the party's ideological purity and the government's pragmatism. He is also moving to reestablish private ownership in farming and commerce and is opening the way for Western investment after having nationalized an estimated 80 percent of the economy after independence.
''At least 80 percent of commercial activity is now with the West,'' a Foreign Ministry spokesman says.
First article was published Jan 19.m