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A flawed look at a flawed economy

Published: 08-FEB-05

Angola’s war economy: The role of oil and diamonds, edited by Jakkie Cilliers and Christian Dietrich. First published in South Africa in 2000 by the Institute for Security Studies, Pretoria, South Africa

The wars in Angola raged for more than four decades, at massive cost to Angolans and other southern Africans.

It was not only a grave yard for hundreds of thousands of people, but also for repeated attempts at bringing sustained peace and prosperity to its people, despite lavish natural resources.

These resources enabled the major Angolan protagonists to resist international pressure for an end to armed conf lict. The Angolan government used oil to finance the war, while UNITA used diamond sales for its massive military expenditures. It didn’t help that Angola was also a handy pawn in Cold War politics.

This is the backdrop for “Angola’s war economy: The role of oil and diamonds”, which boldly claims to be “possibly the most complete work on the Angolan war economy to be published in recent years”. That’s a little optimistic. Tony Hodges has produced an excellent study entitled “Angola from Afro-Stalinism to Petro-Dollar Capitalism”, which is probably more focused and relevant.

Nonetheless, this book aims to present a theoretical framework for the political economy of the Angolan abundant resource war and an interpretative account of the internal and regional dynamics of the war, its global and arms dynamics and ethnic roots.

Four of the sixteen chapters are devoted to the diamond industry, looking at commercial diamond mining in Angola, porous borders and diamond smuggling and the political sociology of power struggles in the diamond rich Lundas.

Part of the problem is that only half the book really sticks to the topic. A multidisciplinary approach is all very well, but must retain relevance. Richard Cornwell contributes an excellent piece on “The War for Independence”, which traces the period between the arrival of the Portuguese in 1492 and the departure of the South African Defence Force (SADF) in 1976 – but this does not necessarily contribute to a deeper understanding of resource wars. It is also clear that the editors compiled this book very much from a UNITA perspective. In the section entitled “Ethnicity and Conflict in Angola”, Assis Malaquias argues that Angola’s resource war is caused by “the dominant politico-military forces’ reluctance to share power and wealth within an inclusive multi-ethnic and multi-racial political system”.

He says one of the major consequences of this “ethnic-inspired civil war” has been “the collapse of government in Angola”, and talks sweepingly of “unaccountable elites”.

There is no doubt that Angola’s government guzzled, and continues to guzzle, much of the country’s oil revenues, but a more balanced viewpoint would be more convincing.

At least one other chapter, UNITA’s “Support Structures” by Jakkie Potgieter, loses credibility through a seeming over-reliance on former SADF propaganda mouthpieces and SADFapproved war historians like Steenkamp and Stiff.

Two chapters of the book focus on the oil industry, providing an overview of the industry and role of oil in the war economy, while a third investigates the ethical considerations of multinationals doing business in Angola. A separate chapter is devoted to the role of humanitarian aid during the war.

The book is almost worth its price alone for the outstanding survey of “The Political Economy of Resource Wars” by Philippe Le Billon of the Overseas Development Institute, though.

For order information please contact:

[email protected] or fax the ISS at

+27-12-346-9500



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