Angola: Dying Children in an Oil Country

I was watching an old re-run of “Columbo” on a commercial cable channel the other day. The ads in the commercial breaks were fundraising ads by Unicef, showing malnourished little children in Angola. I remember when civil war raged in Angola after independence and during the Cold War, with different countries supporting different independence movements. Cuba and the Soviet Union supported the Marxist MPLA while South Africa and the CIA supporting pro-Western UNITA. After the cold war ended, Angola finally found peace. It is still ruled by the MPLA but has become the second biggest oil producer in Africa after Nigeria.

Now why would a country whose oil wells bring in billions of dollars every year literally become a poster child for UNICEF fundraising for starving children? The truth is, Angola is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Little of that oil wealth finds its ways to Angola’s most vulnerable citizens. Much of it ends up in foreign bank accounts owned by the politically well connected.

For example, Isabel dos Santos, the oldest daughter of Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos, has made billions in government related business that her father had a say in. She has become the richest woman in Africa. Forbes did an excellent exposé a few years ago, based largely on the research of brave Angolan investigative journalist Rafael Marques de Morais that showed how she systematically received huge chunks of businesses due to favouritism by her father, the president who has already been in power for 38 years.

Hundreds of millions and billions of dollars from diamond exports, oil and other resources that should be funding health care and education for Angola’s poorest instead have ended up in the pockets of the president’s family members. This seems especially ironic, given that MPLA claimed to be a socialist party, which is supposed to be about equality. Now it’s just another kleptocracy and the world is looking the other way.

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