Friday, May 22, 2015

Rich and Poor in Angola

Angola, Africa’s second-largest crude exporter, which relies on oil sales for 95% of foreign-exchange revenue, slashed a third off its budget after a glut in global production caused a halving of oil prices last year. President Eduardo dos Santos ended petrol subsidies last month, a move supported by economists but resented by the poor, who felt the effects of a 30% rise in fuel prices. The central bank also restricted dollar sales as foreign-exchange supplies dried up, prompting a sharp fall in the kwanza, ramping up costs in a country that relies on imports for 80% of consumer goods. The kwanza is trading at 170/$ on the street, against 109/$ officially.

Those who have benefited from the country’s $50bn a year in oil sales are unlikely to support any dissent. "We’ve actually had more customers since the kwanza crashed. They can’t get dollars so they buy luxuries," says Louis Mendes, who runs a jewellery shop in Bela’s Shopping, a mall named for its owner, Isabel dos Santos. "There is an incredible disparity between super rich and super poor. No middle ground."

"The government treats us like dogs," says Claude Ambrosio, at a rundown market in Vianna, one of Luanda’s poorest suburbs. "The price of everything went up but we get no help. There are no schools, no hospitals and you can see how we live," she says, pointing to crumbling shacks and piles of rotting rubbish.

A series of protests in the capital, Luanda, were cancelled last month after warnings of a police crackdown, human rights activists told Reuters. Pres. dos Santos’s opponents say he uses the powerful military, which takes the biggest slice of the budget, to maintain power. They also accuse him of using oil funds to enrich friends and family. His billionaire investor daughter, Isabel, is Africa’s wealthiest woman and his son, Jose, was made head of a $5bn sovereign wealth fund in 2013.

Angola provides one of the starkest examples of inequality in Africa: the Gini coefficient, a World Bank measure of inequality, puts Angola at 169th out of 175 countries. Most Angolans in Luanda live on less than $2 a day but foreign oil workers and the Angolan elite pay more for a hotel room, dinner out or a bottle of milk than they would in Paris, Singapore or New York.

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