China and Angola: understanding a complex relationship in times of world polarisation

Rui Verde ( African Studies Centre, University of Oxford) – Palestra proferida da Fundação Rui Cunha em Macau, 22 de Maio de 2023.

This is a summary of some of the findings of a work in progress about the relations between Angola and China since the beginning of the 2000s that I am developing at the University of Oxford. It will deal with three themes: the beginning of the strong economic relations between the two countries, the perceptible consequences and the present-day situation.

The beginning

It would not be correct to begin an analysis of the relations between China and Angola at the beginning of the 21st century without briefly considering the countries’ previous interactions.

Referring just to the People’s Republic of China, and not Imperial China and the endeavours of Admiral Zheng He in the fifteenth century, it should be noted that at least from the 1960s, China had some interest and influence in Angola, and vice versa. The famous trip that Chou En-Lai made to Africa in 1963–1964, which WAC Adie referred to as ‘Chou En-Lai’s Safari, resulted in the first intense contemporary Chinese approach to the African continent and gave rise to two types of movement regarding Angola, then a Portuguese colony under a liberation war.

Portugal, the authoritarian colonial power at war in Angola, entertained the notion of ​​establishing diplomatic relations with communist China. The Portuguese leaders tried to advance into a kind of Nixon–Kissinger avant la lettre, but in the end, they were held back by opposition from the US.

The Angolan liberation movements, meanwhile, started to count on the support of China in terms of arms and training. In the initial phase, China had no strong preference and helped all of the movements, including the MPLA, FNLA and UNITA.

From a certain point onwards, given that the Soviet Union had ‘put all its eggs in the MPLA basket’, China mainly opted to support UNITA as a form of counterbalance to the Soviets. Nevertheless, China’s diplomatic actions were mostly pragmatic, and its attempts to create relations with the FNLA and MPLA continued over the years.

With Angola’s independence in 1975, and the country’s transformation into a Cold War camp, Chinese diplomacy found itself in a dilemma. China did not want to support the United States, but it certainly considered the Soviets to be its primary enemy. It therefore adopted a public discourse of peace and fraternity and turned against the MPLA, since it considered the organisation too pro-Soviet.

Relations with the new government in Luanda were uninspiring; in fact, Beijing ignored it for a time.

The resumption of relations was gradual and without special intensity. The final step in the process of the normalisation of Sino–Angolan relations was the visit of President Jose Eduardo dos Santos to Beijing in October 1988. Although the visit was cordial, it was not received with warmth. During the 1990s, China was undergoing a significant domestic reformist process, and interactions with Angola were not a priority.

Accordingly, there is no historical basis on which to predict that China would become Angola’s most important economic partner and to define a possible model for intervention in Africa.

From initially being very poor, China’s relationship with the MPLA government went on to became lukewarm, although there was no indication of closeness.

However, quite surprisingly, with the end of the civil war in Angola in 2002, the country turned to China for economic support, which China delivered in what became an ongoing relationship.

The official explanation for this sudden seemingly close relationship is usually framed within the paradigm of a rational state that makes institutional decisions. It has been explained by some academics that the Angolan regime turned to the IMF to finance the country’s post-war reconstruction; however, dissatisfied with the IMF’s demands of accountability and transparency and the unwillingness of the fund to compromise and accommodate Angolan wishes, Angola opted to obtain financing from China in a state-to-state agreement.

The reality seems more complex, however. When it ended the civil war, Angola did not have a functional and institutional state, and a good part of the state functions were ‘privatised’ and handed over to external entities, thereby enabling what is now called ‘state capture’. For example, diamond security was ensured by Arkady Gaydamak (Russian-born French Israeli businessman, and perhaps spy from several agencies), the supply of weapons by Pierre Falcone (French businessman) and various real estate and financial aspects by the Espírito Santo Financial Group, in which the company ESCOM and its strongman Hélder Bataglia stood out.

Alongside this ‘privatisation’ of state functions, José Eduardo dos Santos, as with other members of the Angolan elite, distrusted the West and its institutions.

This is the context of the understanding with China.

The relationship was a kind of private venture that met the wishes of Dos Santos, who did not want to be dependent on the IMF or the West. For him, the approach to China was a matter of national security.

Therefore, two points should be made. The first is that Dos Santos chose not to resort to the IMF due to considerations of national security; that is, the Angolan President did not want to be too dependent on the West.

The second and most crucial point is that Angola managed some of the advantages brought by China largely as a private fiefdom. Apparently, the initial contacts for this purpose had been promoted by the then-president of ESCOM, Bataglia, and the international arms trafficker, Pierre Falcone, of the famous Angolagate case.

However, Angola presented an official façade to China. Initially, a financing agreement was established between EximBank and the Angolan Ministry of Finance for the amount of US$2 billion, which was approved by the Angolan Council of Ministers in March 2004. At the same time, the Angolan Ministry of Public Works signed a contract with a Chinese company, Jinagsu International, for the construction of the Palace of Justice in Luanda. These two moves are the first to have been referenced by the government’s official gazette, Diário da República, within the scope of this new Sino–Angolan relationship.

On the Chinese side, its interest in Angola was not specific, according to the Chinese sources we have interviewed, but it was based on the following three essential aspects:

  • Its international economic policy, which was designed by Mao Zedong in ‘On the Ten Major Relationships’, in which he declared: ‘We must learn to do economic work from all who know how, no matter who they are.’ Obviously, it was also a result of the Four Modernisations that ended in Jiang Zemin’s policy of Go Out and China’s accession to the WTO in 2001.
  • Its need for oil and raw materials (which Angola had in abundance) to sustain Chinese growth.
  • Its surplus of people and capital that was ready to be invested.

For Angola’s part, the criminal case that was launched in the summer of 2022 against Generals Kopelipa and Dino, the former strongmen of Dos Santos, made clear the private mechanisms that gave rise to the intense relations between Angola and China. It was explained that on the Angolan side, Bataglia of ESCOM, with Manuel Vicente (the CEO of Sonangol and the future vice-president of the country) and Eugénio Neto, another man from ESCOM, conducted a famous first visit to China. It was during this visit that the whole strategy of collaboration between the two countries was outlined.

A multitude of companies were established with the Angolan leaders Vicente, Kopelipa and Dino at their head (the latter is said to have been a figurehead for Dos Santos). For instance, the China International Fund (CIF) and China Sonangol are private entities created at that time by Vicente, Kopelipa and Dino, albeit with supposedly official designations.

The point is that aside from the official agreements, there was a parallel relationship that became substantively relevant because the actions were not conducted between states but by private entities between them.

The perceptible consequences

Naturally, the consequences of the China’s engagement in Angola have been extremely positive for the reconstruction of the country after the civil war (1975–2002). Chinese companies have built 2800 kilometres of railways, 20,000 kilometres of roads, more than 100,000 social housing projects, more than 100 schools and more than 50 hospitals in Angola. The Kaculo Kabaça Hydroelectric Power Plant, Agostinho Neto International Airport, cities of Kilamba Kiaxi and Zango 5, Benguela railway, port of Caio, Soyo power plant and many other cooperation projects have been successfully implemented. Many Chinese companies have invested in Angola and made important contributions to the country’s economic diversification and industrialisation[1].

Nevertheless, some iconic works and activities that have resulted from this Sino–Angolan collaboration have become symbols of rampant corruption, since some of Angola’s high public officials took advantage of and siphoned off various funds into corrupt activities.

Two examples illustrate this. The first naturally concerns the purchase and sale of oil. According to the findings of the current Angolan authorities, between 2004 and 2007, when Manuel Vicente led the Angolan oil company Sonangol, he authorised the sale of oil to China amounting to at least €1.5 billion, which was paid by China but diverted. During this period, Sonangol sold huge numbers of   barrels of crude oil to China Sonangol International Holding Limited as a consignment sale for the constitution of a national reconstruction fund. Sonangol delivered the oil to the company but did not receive payment following its delivery. The intermediary company sold the oil and kept the money from the sale, which was then credited to its accounts at the Bank of China. The intermediary company belonged to Vicente and Kopelipa and some other partners.

Documents still under study, to which I had access, indicate that from 2005 to 2010, the sale of Angolan oil to China generated more than US$85 billion. Of this amount, probably at least US$25.7 billion was reported to have been split between Angolan leaders through a web of schemes woven by various intermediaries.

In another situation, the company CIF Limited, which was apparently mostly owned by Angolan ministers, appropriated 24 state buildings built by the company Guangxi in the centrality of Zango. The state paid for the construction, but it was Delta Imobiliária (a company owned by Vicente, Dino and Kopelipa) that sold the buildings to Sonangol EP through Sonip Lda under Vicente’s guidance for a total amount of US$475,347,200[2].

What is certain is that from the U$2 billion dollars of credit in 2005, Angola held US$23 billion of public debt stock in China in 2017[3].

After Xi Jinping assumed the Chinese leadership, steps were taken to root out corruption, and Chinese authorities neutralised the corrupt elements, such as Sam Pa (a business magnate who is believed to be the head of the 88 Queensway Group) that would have aided Angolans in these schemes. Chinese authorities also send auditing teams to Angola to survey the oil purchases.

Present-day situation

The advent of João Lourenço’s presidency encompassed an attempt to reopen Angola to the West. Nevertheless, this did not imply a downgrading of relations with China, as some recent studies have suggested, expounding a certain uneasiness from the Angolan perspective towards China. Carvalho et al. spoke of a ‘marriage of convenience’; Silva stated that ‘Angola’s honeymoon with China [had come] to an end’; and Fabri said ‘The China–Angola Honeymoon is over; is Africa listening?[4]

Again, the reality is not so straightforward. There has surely been a rebalancing of the relations, but this has come from both parties and has not signalled an end to their relationship.

The opening act of Lourenço’s presidency towards China in 2017–2018 was apparently to ask for more money. There had initially been an alleged new loan from China worth US$11 billion, which later turned out to be US$2 billion, but this only served to pay Angola’s debts to Chinese companies.

However, China’s containment was not new to Angola and had nothing to do with João Lourenço, as some now claim. In 2016, the China Development Bank had suspended funds from credit lines to Angola, namely to Sonangol, accusing the company and the Angolan Ministry of Finance of non-compliance with the contracts. Previously, in 2015, as mentioned earlier, Chinese auditors were said to have been in Angola to ascertain the extent of the Sinopec’s spending there. They suspected several items of wrongdoing, for instance that the Chinese oil company had paid an additional almost US$1 billion to finance a quota that Sam Pa, through China Sonangol International, had acquired in certain Angolan oil blocks that did not bear profits.

These attitudes seem to indicate that there was some prudence or restraint on the part of China vis-a-vis Angola businesses.

Nevertheless, afterwards, China was generous in suspending the payment of the Angolan external debt due to the pandemic. Also, Chinese banks agreed to some form of debt renegotiation.

Trade between China and Angola grew by 42% in 2021 and continued at a good pace in the first six months of 2022, with a homologous increase of 33%. In this way, China continued to be Angola’s main economic partner.

Moreover, figures from Angola’s central bank show that since 2020, the country has paid as much as US$2 billion of capital to China. Presently, according to the most recent numbers put forward by the Angolan Minister of Finance, Angola is taking advantage of higher oil prices to accelerate its debt-reduction plans and smooth out repayments to China, its largest creditor. 

Angola now owes China $18 billion, or about 40% of its total external debt, after it settled loans totalling $1.32 billion in 2022[5].

All these data show that Angola’s relations with China are now entering a new phase—one that is mature but not ending.

 It turns out that this new phase does not depend only on Lourenço’s willingness to open up to the West or on Angola’s uneasiness with China, as some have argued; it also depends on Chinese engagements and worldwide strategy.

It is important to address first the question of the so-called ‘debt trap’ and then the most recent developments in the Sino–Angolan relationship.

The truth is that, like the Western creditors of the past in relation to Africa and Latin America, China is on a learning curve, and given the pragmatism that seems to guide its relations, it will be necessary for China to avoid dramatic scenarios and instead consider the usual remedies of debt renegotiation and forgiveness.

There is no room to mention a ‘debt trap’. It is known that in the 19th century, Great Britain was faced with debt problems from third countries, namely in Latin America and Egypt. The solution was often to send gunboats or to control the governance of the indebted countries.

By the end of the 20th century, the United States had large debt problems with countries of the so-called Third World. In this case, the solution was more rational, with its emphasis on the Brady Plan (Brady Bonds).

Obviously, it is now China’s turn to face the same issue, but there is no talk of gunboats or the creation of any protectorate.

Also, some parallel could be draw with the relations of the Soviet Union with President Nasser of Egypt. It is known that under Khrushchev, the Soviet Union largely financed Nasser and the Aswan Dam; however, afterwards, with Brezhnev, a new attitude prevailed that called for austerity and denied the postponement of debts payments. This, in the end, led to Sadat and the waning of Soviet influence in Egypt.

With such historical examples in mind, China is surely balancing its options, not opting for a disengagement. It is carefully assessing the situation and searching for the right economic and financial mechanisms to solve the problem, as the United States did in the 1980s.

In relation to Angola, it should be noted that one of the first trips of China’s new foreign minister, Qin Gang, was to Angola, last January, and at the same time, the respective governments signed an agreement whereby China would spend US$249 million to finance a national broadband project in Angola.

In short, it is apparent that the relations between China and Angola are evolving, not ending or reaching a dead-end, as some have argued. This is the time for careful calibration and renewal of the friendship.

If I can use a metaphor based on my favourite Portuguese wine, Palácio da Brejoeira, it can be said that Sino–Angolan relations enjoyed an initial phase of pure joy, then there was the hangover and now it is the time for some moderate drinking and sophistication among true connoisseurs.

[1] Shang, João (2023), A parceria estratégica entre China e Angola tem perspectivas amplas, coexistindo oportunidades e riscos. Communication to the III Congressso Internacional de Angolanística (not yet published)

[2] Summary of the legal case in Verde, Rui (2022), Delfins de JES acusados na hora da sua morte,

[3] Data from the National Bank of Angola,

[4] de Carvalho, P., Kopiński, D., & Taylor, I. (2022). A Marriage of Convenience on the Rocks? Revisiting the Sino–Angolan Relationship. Africa Spectrum57(1), 5–29.

Silva, Cláudio (2022), How Angola’s honeymoon with China came to an end, The Africa Report,

Fabri, Valerio, (2022), The China-Angola Honeymoon is over, is Africa listening?,,

[5][5] Idem, see note 3.

An Investment Bank for Portuguese Speaking Countries Community

Introduction: The Investment Bank for Portuguese Speaking Countries Community

João Lourenço, President of the Republic of Angola, presented in the inauguration speech of his mandate as acting president of the Speaking Countries Community (CPLP), at the XIII Conference of Heads of State and Government, held in Luanda in July 2021, the “challenge of start thinking about the pertinence and feasibility, even if remote, of creating a CPLP Investment Bank[1]”.

The President of the Portuguese Republic, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, in turn, admitted that the Angolan head of State’s proposal for the creation of an investment bank in the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP) could advance, if there were significant investments of several parties. And he added that this could become a reality if “significant investments from Brazil, from African economies emerging from the CPLP, from Portugal, but also with the contribution of European funds are combined[2]”.

Although the details of this idea are not known, only knowing that it corresponds to the implementation of an Economic Pillar of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP), it is interesting to see how such a proposal could become a reality, which is more important, since doubts have arisen from reputable Angolan experts about its feasibility[3].


Our conclusion is that it is possible to envisage the creation of an investment bank and development of CPLP with mixed capital and a reasonably independent and efficient structure, with diverse and plural sources of financing.

Vision, goals and strategic axes of the investment bank of lusophony

What we will call the Banco de Investimento de Fomento da Lusofonia (BIFEL) would be an investment and development bank that would materialize the CPLP Economic Pillar. The CPLP Economic Pillar, as understood from the several statements of the Angolan government, corresponds to a need to transform the collaboration potential of member countries into real wealth and would translate into the creation of common financing mechanisms and large free market areas and freedom of movement.

BIFEL would, therefore, be an instrument for financing the development of the PALOPS and the integration of the corresponding markets.

It would have three basic goals:

i) the financing of large works and infrastructures that bring the PALOPs closer together and make them more competitive in economic terms;

ii) the development of the corresponding economies and common access markets;

iii) the survey of the quality of life of the neediest populations (levelling up).

Thus, there would be a triple concern with economic integration, development and what is currently called levelling up regions and populations[4]. Economic and social aspects would have to be combined.

These goals would have to be operationalized in the creation of three major strategic axes that would, in practice, be transformed into three consigned credit lines.

• The first axis would be dedicated to infrastructure for common benefit: digital structures and networks, ports, airports, means of communication, roads, energies, especially renewable energies, etc.

• The second axis would be aimed at economic growth projects, the formerly called economic development. Here we would have factories, companies, and growth-promoting economic activities.

• Finally, a third axis dedicated to the aforementioned levelling up, with characteristics of economic and social development, would include support for building hospitals, schools, training human resources in education and health, environmental and climate protection.

BIFEL Share Capital

BIFEL would be a mixed financial institution, with share capital from several sources. One could point to an initial share capital of one billion, seven hundred and fifty thousand euros [1, 750 billion euros] (the reference point is that the development bank recreated in Portugal has 255 million euros as social capital and is fully public). In this case, the share capital would be much larger (1.75 billion euros) and the ownership not fully public.

A mixed ownership system for BIFEL is envisioned.

• First, 1000 million euros would be earmarked for the subscription of CPLP Member States: Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Mozambique, Portugal, São Tomé and Príncipe and East Timor. Each State would participate in capital according to an equitable formula that considered its absolute GDP and GDP per capita, which allowed considering the real wealth of each one, its competitiveness and productivity, and the well-being of its populations.

• Afterwards, 500 million euros would be allocated to observer countries associated with the CPLP: Mauritius, Senegal, Georgia, Japan, Namibia, Turkey, Slovakia, Hungary, Czech Republic, Uruguay, Andorra, Argentina, Chile, France, Italy, Luxembourg, United Kingdom , Serbia as well as the European Union. Each of these countries and the European Union would make the proposals for capital subscription up to the amount it considered within the threshold of 500 million euros.

• A third group of share capital worth 250 million euros would be open to private investors from any country in the world.

Naturally, BIFEL would produce dividends from its borrowing activities in order to compensate its shareholders and would only finance projects in countries subscribing to share capital.

Organic structure of BIFEL

The bank’s structure would be based on three type bodies.

The direction would be ensured by a Board of Directors with a five-year term composed of 7 members, 4 appointed by the Member States, 2 by the Associate Observers and 1 by the Private Investors, the Chairman of the Board being appointed under the prerogative of the Member States, while acting as Vice -Presidents, there would be an element designated by the associated observers and another by the private investors.

The supervision would be incumbent upon a Supervisory Board composed of 5 members, 3 of which were chosen by the Courts of Auditors of the Member States on a rotating basis for three-year terms. Another member would be appointed by the Courts of Auditors of the associated observer countries in the same rotating scheme and finally the fifth member would belong to an international auditor of global reputation, resulting from the co-option of the remaining four members. Finally, there would be a General Assembly where each representative would act according to their share capital.

This structure would allow, on the one hand, the representation of States and shareholders, but would also BIFEL effectively independent corporate body with fiduciary duties and economic efficiency in relation to its shareholders and taxpayers of each State, given the diversity of its organic structure.

The head office would be established in CPLP’s most important financial market, according to the volume of business, with two operational sub-headquarters in the subsequent relevant financial centers.


This could be the outline of a financial  institution dedicated to the PALOPs, combining the advantages of public and private ownership at the same time, deriving from various sources of financing, allowing for a better integration of Portuguese-speaking markets, making each country grow and improve the living conditions of Portuguese-speaking populations, in the end, the ultimate goal of this initiative.




[4] About the concept as it is being developed in the UK, see:

Proposal for a pilot job guarantee design in Angola

Introduction: the magnitude of the unemployment problem and the need for a systematic government response

In Angola, in the third quarter of 2020, the unemployment rate stood at 34%[1]. This number corresponds to a chain increase (i.e., compared to the previous quarter) of 9.9% and homologous (referring to the same period in 2019) in the order of 22%[2]. In view of these data, whatever the perspective adopted, it is easy to see that unemployment is a fundamental and serious problem facing the Angolan economy and societies.

Fig. Nº 1- Recent evolution of the unemployment rate in Angola (2017-2020). Source: INE-Angola

So far, the government recognizes this problem, but is betting on the recovery of the economy at the private sector level, to resolve the issue, believing that the State can do little to face the situation. The solution lies in economic growth and business dynamism, says the executive. The President of the Republic, João Lourenço, was clear in the last speech of the State of the Nation when he stated: “priority of our agenda [is): to work for the resuscitation and diversification of the economy, to increase the national production of goods and basic services, to increase the range of exportable products and increase the supply of jobs. ” João Lourenço makes an indelible link between the diversification of the economy and the increase in national production and the decrease in unemployment.

Basically, the government relies on the traditional postulate stated by the American economist Arthur Okun, according to which there would be a linear relationship between changes in the unemployment rate and the growth of the gross national product: with each real GDP growth in two percent would correspond to a one percent decrease in unemployment[3]. The truth is that several empirical studies do not confirm this empirical relationship at all, and in recent years in several countries around the world, an increase in GDP has not led to a sharp decrease in unemployment, while in other cases it has, therefore, it is difficult establish a permanent relationship between unemployment and GDP. In addition, the magnitude of unemployment in Angola would imply that in order to decrease the rate for the still frightening 24%, GDP would have to grow 15% …

The fundamental issue is that the problem of unemployment in Angola is not cyclical, but structural, this means that it is closely connected to the permanent deficiencies of the Angolan economy and does not have a mere dependence on the economic cycle.

The fact that the problem of unemployment is structural and of an economic recovery for the years 2021 and onwards is only between 2% and 4% of GDP[4], according to the current IMF projections, imply that such economic animation will have little impact on employment.

In this sense, it is essential to understand that the solution to the problem of unemployment does not depend only on the market and the economic recovery, it requires, at least in the short term, the muscular intervention of the State. It is in this context that this proposal for a pilot experience arises.

Fig. No. 2- GDP growth projections Angola (2021-2024). Source: IMF

A pilot job guarantee experiment in Angola

Starting from the first experience of universal employment guarantee in the world, designed by researchers at the University of Oxford and administered by the Austrian Public Employment Service, which takes place in the Austrian city of Marienthal[5], the same methodology would apply to a specific location in Angola, possibly, to a specific municipality in Luanda.

According to this regime to be implemented on an experimental basis in a municipality in Luanda, a universal guarantee of a properly paid job would be offered to all residents who have been unemployed for more than 12 months.

In addition to receiving training and assistance to find work, the participants would have guaranteed paid work, with the State subsidizing 100% of the salary in a private company or employing participants in the public sector or even supporting the creation of a microenterprise. All participants would receive at least one minimum wage set in accordance with the Presidential Decree that regulates the matter appropriate to a life with dignity.

The pilot Design would work as follows:

i) All residents of the chosen Luanda municipality, who have been unemployed for a year or more, will be unconditionally invited to participate in the pilot design.

ii) Participants begin with a two-month preparatory course, which includes individual training and counseling.

iii) Subsequently, participants will be helped to find suitable and subsidized employment in the private sector or supported to create a job based on their skills and knowledge of the needs of their community or will still be employed by the State.

iv) The job guarantee ensures three years of work for all long-term unemployed, although participants may choose to work part-time.

Fig. No. 3- Brief description of the pilot employment design

In addition to eliminating long-term unemployment in the region, the program aims to offer all participants useful work, be it in paving streets, in small community repairs, in a day care center, in the creation of a community cafe, in access to water and energy , basic sanitation, in the reconstruction of a house, or in some other field.

The pilot project is designed to test the policy’s results and effectiveness and then be extended to more areas of the country.


“As part of the asset recovery process, the State has already recovered real estate and money in the amount of USD 4,904,007,841.82, of which USD 2,709,007,842.82 in cash and USD 2,194,999,999.00 in real estate, factories, port terminals, office buildings, residential buildings, radio and television stations, graphic units, commercial establishments and others. ”

Thus, the President of the Republic spoke in the most recent speech by the State of the Nation mentioned above.

Now, nothing better than to allocate part of these recovered funds to the promotion of employment. Consequently, an amount withdrawn from there would be used to create an Employment Development Fund which we would simply call, because of the origin of the amounts, “Marimbondos Fund”. This Fund would receive part of the recovered assets and would use them to finance initiatives to promote employment such as the one presented here. Money withdrawn in the past from the economy would return to this one to foster work for the new generations.

With this self-financing model, any constraints imposed by the International Monetary Fund or the need for budgetary restraint would be removed. The promotion of employment would have its own funds resulting from the fight against corruption. There doesn’t seem to be a better destination for money than that.

Fig. No. 4- Financing the pilot Design



[3] Arthur M. Okun, The Political Economy of Prosperity (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1970)



The devaluation of Kwanza and inflation

Some studies by prestigious economic consultants have lately issued some reports on the Angolan economy that only report negative numbers and projections, without taking into account either the theoretical models on which some of the main economic policy decisions in Angola are based, or the actual reality of its economy.

One of the most intriguing cases is the permanent link between the rise in inflation and the devaluation of the Kwanza, presenting the two phenomena as cause and effect or effect and cause, as well as always giving a negative connotation to the term “devaluation”.

This article, which does not aim to make forecasts, which at this time of Covid-19 would be rash, offers alternative explanations behind the Kwanza`s devaluation, looking instead at the opportunity it offers foreign investors.

It is evident that the semi-rigid or controlled exchange rate regime that existed before the adoption of the flexible exchange rate last year, was partly responsible for the crash in the Angolan economy.
In fact, pegging the Angolan currency at a high value in view of market conditions, caused unrestrained consumerism while domestic production was allowed to decline, since international prices were artificially made more competitive.

It was the time when Luanda became the most expensive city in the world with the Angolan elite making flagrant shows of wealth. This situation did not correspond to domestic production or development, but rather excessive spending of foreign currency earned from high oil prices which bolstered the inadequate value of the Kwanza. This was unsustainable.

The prolonged recession since 2014 demanded an end to the artificial appreciation of the Kwanza and the introduction of a flexible exchange rate.

The model underlying the adoption of flexible exchange rates has clear goals. Since Milton Friedman’s seminal text in 1953[1] on flexible exchange rates, two arguments support this policy: first, free movements in exchange rates are an efficient way of adjusting international relative prices in response to macroeconomic shocks; second, with flexible exchange rates, policymakers are free to choose and follow their own inflation target, rather than depending on the inflation rate from abroad. This last factor should be emphasised. Milton Friedman stressed that exchange rates would help to insulate the domestic economy from external shocks and would give national political authorities the ability to meet domestic goals. Flexible exchange rates provide enough insulation to the domestic economy if the sources of the recessionary shock are abroad.

This means that with a flexible exchange rate, it is possible for the government / central bank to pursue an autonomous anti-inflationary policy on the external value of the currency.
In fact, the devaluation of the Kwanza could mean that the prices of international goods become excessively expensive for Angola, and spark that, contrary to what happened previously, being cheaper to produce goods in Angola. That would be the opportunity to invest in Angola`s agriculture and industry, at they will have a market and low production costs due to the devaluation.

With national goods becoming more competitive than corresponding foreign goods, this will boost national production and encourage exports.

And provided that the central bank does not pint excess money, national production should increase and inflation should decrease if internal policies are adequately followed.

This does not mean that the transition from an economy artificially anchored by a high-value Kwanza supported by rising oil prices to a competitive and productive economy is easy. Angola is currently in deep crisis, made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic, and luck, either bad or good, has to be considered.

However, the exchange rate easing policy is right and there is no need to be afraid of devaluation. This is making the economy more competitive overseas and encouraging the manufacture and production of goods to sell both internally and abroad. Success depends more on government policies; policies that are coherent and consistent.

That is why the figures being released on devaluation and inflation are, on the surface, frightening, but they will only have a negative impact if the government implements the wrong policies.

Otherwise, they are not, by themselves, of any relevance. It is known that the Kwanza was overvalued and that this has greatly affected the Angolan economy. It is known that combating inflation, with flexible rates, does not depend on the outside world, but on the right decisions by the government.

There is awareness that Angola is in deep economic crisis, but some real encouraging indicators are beginning to emerge. One of them is that “Angola disbursed, in the first quarter of the year, 495 million dollars (436.5 million euros) on importing food products, a decrease of 31% compared to the 717 million dollars (632.3 million euros) ) for the last quarter of 2019.[2]

The Angolan government attributed this evolution to a better organisation of its foreign exchange market and to an increase in the demand for national products. Official sources state: “We are verifying these two factors, we can say that we are on the right path, there is a demand for national production, there is a decrease in imports.” These facts seem to confirm the analysis we do. Obviously, in the end everything will depend on the right internal public policies.

[1] Friedman, M. (1953) “The Case for Flexible Exchange Rates.” In Essays in Positive Economics, 157–203. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


The opportunity for privatizations in Angola. 2020 analysis


The privatization program currently underway in Angola has a scope never before outlined in the country and deserves extra attention by the international business community.


The legal basis for the Angolan privatization program is found in the Privatization Act (Law No. 10/19, 14th of May) and ProPriv (Presidential Decree No. 250/19 5th of August). The Private Investment Act (Law 10/18, 26th of June) is also relevant.

Table 1- Basic legal regulations for privatizations

Privatization Act Law No. 10/19, May 14th
ProPriv Presidential Decree No. 250/19, August 5th
Private Investment Act Law No. 10/18, June 26th

Terms of reference

Under ProPriv, 195 public entities will be privatized during a 4-year program (2019-2022). These entities were grouped into four sectors: National Reference Companies, Sonangol’s Participating and Active Companies, Industrial Units in the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) and Other Companies and Assets to be Privatized. The sectors of activity that refer to privatizations are diverse: mineral and oil resources, telecommunications and information technologies, finance, transport, economics and planning, hotels and tourism, industries, agriculture, fisheries.

In the list of to be privatized companies, we have the country’s most important such as Sonangol (oil), Endiama (diamonds), Unitel (telecommunications), TAAG (aviation), Banco Económico (ex-Besa, bank), ENSA (insurance company)), CUCA (brewer) and also another type of more modest entities such as Centro Infantil 1 de Junho, Pungo-Andongo Farm or INDUPLAS (plastic bags industry). It is, therefore, a comprehensive and an extensive program.

Table 2 – Core elements of privatization

195 entities to privatize
4 years (2019-2022)
Key companies such as Sonangol and Endiama


To date, the privatization program has been focused on small industries and entities. In 2019, Angola earned US $ 16 million due to the privatization of five factories, which costed the State approximately US $ 30 million. For 2020, the 2nd  phase of privatization embraces 13 plants located in the Economic Zone Luanda / Bengo. The factories operate in sectors such as ​​metal packaging, concrete, carpentry, plastic bags, paints and varnishes, metal towers, PVC tubes, metal tiles, PVC fittings manufactoring, absorbents and cement bags.

Also in progress is the privatization of several agricultural projects, as well as some assets belonging to Sonangol.

Advantages and opportunities

This vast privatization program is extremely attractive to foreign investors due to several reasons, namely:

  • IFC / World Bank Quality Assurance. The privatization program is being carried out within the framework of the IFC-International Finance Corporation, which belongs to the World Bank, that provides investment, advisory and asset management services to encourage the performance of the private sector in less developed countries. IFC guarantees a global projection of the project and the World Bank warranty seal in the procedures followed, in addition to being an experienced partner and knowledgeable of the global rules. In this way, the Angolan privatization process comes with an appreciable quality certification that can reassure foreign investors.
  • Institutional strengthening and property protection in progress. The present government is committed with the consolidation of institutions, the transparency of due process and the adequate protection of property rights through the promotion of the rule of law. This is not immediate obtained allowing to quickly remove the risks associated with losing investments in Angola.  However, it is a trend already in motion.  In this context, it is important to highlight the new Private Investment Act (Law no. 10/18, 26th of June) that expressly provides legal guarantees to investors, regarding their rights, property and also legal guarantees (articles 14 , 15 and 16 of the Law metioned). In addition, the same Act drops the local investment partner exigence for any foreign investment, which was a source of the greatest abuses and fraud in the relationship with the non-national investor. And the investment is no longer preceded by permission, preventing or delaying registration.
  • Economic reform towards free markets.The executive led by João Lourenço, with the support of technicians from the International Monetary Fund, is developing an economic liberalization program for the economy that increases competition between companies and reduces barriers to entry into the markets. This becomes accentuated connecting to the fight against corruption, which has the immediate consequence, in economic terms, of the breaking of the existing monopolies and oligopolies in the country and which limited competition, besides imposing higher prices and abusing practices regarding taxation. Consequently, in addition to the legal reinforcement, the economic component seems more prepared for a functioning market economy.
  • Atractive companies to be privatized. To privatize are companies with great worldwide attraction such as Sonangol, Endiama or Unitel. They are what can be called the Blue Chips of Angola, that will offer a very high growth potential to the investor once they are submitted to a strict management discipline, rationalized investment and optimization of their values. At a time when the African economy due to demographics and the complementarities with Asia that act as determinants, has an increased growth potential, it becomes a good bet to invest in large companies linked to natural resources and communications in Angola .
  • Small and medium-sized companies with lucrative niche markets. The interesting thing about the program is that the universe of companies to be privatized is vast and diverse. In this context, several small and medium-sized companies can be the basis for small investors who want to explore niche markets in Angola or Southern Africa from a platform that tends to be business friendly and eager in infrastructure development. In Africa, the potential of small and medium-sized enterprises is very large. Some surveys carried out in specific South African provinces, encouragingly, conclude that 94% of small businesses surveyed are profitable, while 75% of small business owners believe they earn more money running their own businesses than in any other alternative. The areas covered by these companies are very diverse: travel, tourism and hospitality; agribusiness; brewers; etc.
  • Business problems are not structural. The companies to be privatized suffer essentially two types of problems: incompetent management and lack of capital. Any new investor who provides professional management and fresh money to the company will be able to successfully exploit its potential. The markets are yet to develop and far from being mature, consequently, there is a very broad and stimulating path for companies with capital and professional management.
  • High rate of return on investment. Given the needs that are still emerging in the Angolan market and the possibilities that integration with SADC (Southern African Development Community) bring, the prospects for obtaining high profit rates are high. In fact, there is a low-cost labor force and with a very large market extension. These two factors predict growth and a good return on capital.

Table 3 – Reasons for attracting privatizations in Angola

• IFC / World Bank Quality Assurance
• Ongoing institutional strengthening and property protection
• Liberalizing economic reform
• Desirable companies
• Small and medium-sized companies with attractive niche markets
• Business problems are not structural
• High rate of return on investment

Problems to solve

The problems envisaged are of three types: bureaucratic-administrative and assessment of the real situation of companies. There is also a lack of clarity of purpose in relation to large companies and banks.

On the bureaucratic-administrative issue, it is important to highlight the multitude of coordinating entities. The President of the Republic appears as the leader and strategic coordinator, but then we have the Minister of State for Economic Coordination as the general coordinator of the program, the Secretary of State for Finance and Treasury under the Ministry of Finance as the operational coordinator, each Sectorial Ministry will have duties of sharing information and data of companies operating in the sector. The State Assets and Participations Management Institute (SAPMI) as manager and executor of the program, in addition to other institutions with specific roles. Perhaps because of this, all schedules have been exceeded. By mid-February 2020, around 50 companies were expected to be privatized. The number as seen earlier is much smaller. In fact, the privatization program has not reached an exciting dynamic phase, the so-called momentum.

“The Privatization Czar”

It is essential to give privatizations an accelerated dynamic. For this, the best solution is to nominate what can be called a “Czar of Privatizations”. Someone the President trusts  who, under his command alone, directs the privatizations with legal powers to instruct any minister or body and to override them by deciding to concentrate the competencies and powers for the privatizations.

Technical problems

The remaining types of problems are of a more technical nature. For many companies, there is no clear idea of ​​their values ​​or of any hidden losses that may exist. For example, in relation to banking, the previous due dilligence has encountered several situations in which unknown impairments are detected that require recapitalization or levels of non-compliance with some indicators of financial balance, namely excessive concentration of investments in low-profit properties.

No internal audit work has been done on the companies to be privatized. This obviously implies that investors are taking risks. The answer that cannot be given is that a thorough internal audit will have to be carried out for each of the 195 companies. This will be impossible and would require an endless delay in privatization.

Thus, it will be necessary to provide for possible state compensation mechanisms if impairments are found after a certain level, imputing liability below that level to buyers. At the same time, in doubtful cases, the State will have to sell at a sharp discount. And trust that appropriate private management will make it possible to solve most cases.

In fact, the essential point of the privatization program, more than obtaining revenues for the State, is to create professional management based on investment that contributes to the structuring of flourishing markets, so it is justified to sell at a discount or to support any previously undetected impairments. It is a risk that the State must accept in order to achieve the eagerly-awaited objective of creating a competitive free market economy.

Finally, in relation to large companies, the total privatization program must be defined and publicly disclosed with reference to the percentage amounts to be offered to the market, the dates and other qualifying conditions. There is still a lot of ignorance in the national and international markets about the privatization of these companies.

◈ For large investors, the Angolan Blue Chips that are going to be subjected to privatization have vast potential for growth and rationalization of costs and organization, so they can provide very high rates of return on investment;
◈ For small and medium entrepreneurs there is a range of companies that can serve as a platform for launching moderate sized businesses;
◈ In general, given the positive Schumpeterian social climate that is being created, there is a strong recommendation to participate and buy in the privatization process in Angola.
◈ To avoid delays and some administrative and decision confusion, a “Czar of Privatizations” should be instituted, managed directly by the President of the Republic and with delegated legal powers that will allow him/her to carry out the privatizations;
◈There must be mechanisms to compensate for the lack of internal audit by companies;
◈ Capital repatriation mechanisms for investors must be clarified;
◈ Clarification is required with dates, percentages and specific conditions for privatizations to take place in major reference companies (Blue Chips).