Once in a blue moon in Angola...

Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos is not much of a talker – well not publicly at any rate. So when he does give one of his very rare interviews, it is worth highlighting – even if he still .

Richard Lee's picture

Author

Strategic communications for WWF

June 10th, 2013

Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos is not much of a talker – well not publicly at any rate. So when he does give one of his very rare interviews, it is worth highlighting – even if he still .

His latest interview was broadcast on on June 6th. It was pre-recorded on an unknown date and at an unspecified location with SIC Noticias journalist Henrique Cymerman – and covers a range of topics from foreign affairs to inequality to corruption to whether he is thinking about a succession plan. The translation starts a few minutes into the interview (which is available ) with questions about Angola’s relationships with some key countries.

Henrique Cymerman, SIC Noticias: Sir, let us talk a little bit about Angola's foreign relations with a number of countries. Let us start with Israel. My understanding is that Angola has rather intense relations with Israel in various areas. What can you tell us about that?

President Jose Eduardo dos Santos: Relations with Israel are very good. They are relations that have developed in a number of areas, including the financial and economic areas in general. We also have excellent political and diplomatic relations and we are in agreement on issues in the life of the international community. Prospects for their development are also very good. Angola is a country that offers great business opportunities and we are aware that there are Israeli entrepreneurs who are interested in our market.

Above all, we have developed a special relationship with Israel in the area of defence and security. We have acquired military and other equipment for our intelligence services and for the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA). We have also had cadres trained, notably cadres in the National Police. Thus, they are dynamic and multifaceted relations that – I think – satisfy the interests of both countries.

Cymerman: We can also see in the case of Brazil that there are a number of major Brazilian companies, including construction and other types of companies that are carrying our major projects in Angola. How would you define relations between Angola and Brazil?

Dos Santos: Well, relations between Brazil and Angola rest on the assumption, which, of course, does not exist in our relations with Israel. We speak the same language, the Portuguese language. Angola and Brazil had the same coloniser, Portugal. Many slaves were taken from Angola to Brazil so Angola played a part in the formation of the Brazilian nation. There are various affinities and there are, therefore, personal relations between the two countries. Thus, our relations are based on strong friendship and they include economic relations that cover a number of areas of activity.

As you have noted, there are some powerful companies here like Odebrecht, which has been here since our most difficult times during the war, and they have made an enormous contribution toward Angola's construction process. It participated in the great national reconstruction effort and now it has tried to re-invest some of its gains into businesses that are naturally useful to Angola. Thus, there are the areas of construction, industry, agriculture, and then there is also a very important intervention [by Brazil] in the area of personnel training.

Cymerman: What about relations with Portugal? They are perhaps slightly more tense because, as you said, it was the coloniser of the past. However, what I see here in Luanda today is one thing that I find surprising: there is an enormous presence of young Portuguese people. There is talk that they might total about 200,000 at this time. I do not know that that figure is right…

Dos Santos, interrupting: Perhaps that figure is right. We are not guided by past relationship standards. We are living in a new era. The two are now sovereign countries. Angola became independent in 1975. Of course, the first years of our independence were years of difficult relationship with Portugal because it did not immediately recognize Angola's independence. But all that was overcome and now relations are taking place within a framework of friendship and great understanding. Of course there are reminiscences of the past and some problems but they are rather isolated in some circles of Portuguese life. Perhaps some continue to feel some nostalgia and would like to go back to the past.

However, life does not stop and the wheel of history continues to turn as it moves forward and so bilateral relations are also geared for the future. They are relations like those we have with Brazil, covering almost all areas of activity with mutual advantages on the economic front. I would say that Portugal is one of the countries that invest most in Angola. As you are aware, the Portuguese know Angola well and so they are in a privileged position to make business deals – from the smallest to the largest business deal.

Cymerman: And how do you see the presence of those young Portuguese people now looking for other destinations because of the crisis in Europe and in Portugal?

Dos Santos: They are welcome. As you are aware, there is a great shortage of skilled personnel here and it is in our interest that all those who can come and make a contribution at this time, and who have the necessary qualifications to provide support for our various development projects – they are always welcome. Thus, they arrive and find work in the public and private sectors. There is great demand.

Cymerman: And I see that there are Angolan companies like Sonangol and others that are making strategic acquisitions in Portugal. Do you support that type of acquisition, those measures?

Dos Santos: Naturally. Of course you are talking about Angola's investments in Portugal. It is clear that we do not have great experience yet. Sonangol has taken the first steps and in some cases it has been successful, in others not but what matters is to carry on moving. One could say that it is by implementing and working that one learns and consolidates knowledge.

Cymerman: China is another major protagonist here. If my understanding is correct China buys about half of all oil produced by Angola and it has major construction and economic projects here. How do you rate cooperation with China?

Dos Santos: Cooperation with China is good. We made use of that cooperation after the end of the war, also because a donors' conference had been planned for that time which did not take place in the end because there was no empathy on the part of Western countries. They believed that Angola was a potentially rich country and as such it did not need that much international aid for its national reconstruction and the creation of conditions for its development. Given that situation we had to look for solutions and one of those solutions was to secure loans under acceptable conditions so we could carry out our major national reconstruction projects.

China was one of the countries that expressed its availability to loan money and as a result major Chinese companies have come here to carry out works that have been paid for with financing secured under conditions that were acceptable, as I pointed out earlier. That was how Chinese companies came to Angola. We cannot say that there has been major direct or other investment by Chinese entities though now some Chinese companies are beginning to make investments. However, our relationship rests mainly on contracts, notably relating to civil construction, and importation – the acquisition of goods and services, therefore.

Cymerman: I have heard some criticisms from other countries' construction companies about China's type of construction. Would you say that it is rivalry among companies?

Dos Santos: I think so. I think it is company rivalry because it is good quality construction. Usually, they are companies that work very fast. Suffice it to say that within three years they have built a city with some 20,000 apartments for about 200,000 residents. It is to the south of Luanda, about 20 km, and you can go there and see for yourself the quality of buildings and infrastructure.

Cymerman: Mr. President, you had promised 1 million apartments over the next few years.

Dos Santos: That is right, it is a target that is still to be met.

Cymerman: Let us talk about the last 11 years, since the civil war. What are Angola’s current challenges and what would you like to improve in the country in the future, in terms of the government and the population? What would be the most important challenges?

Dos Santos: Naturally the challenges for Angola remain the training of qualified staff, as well as preserving political and macroeconomic stability and having the conditions for economic growth leading to economic and social development. So we have policies designed to finance the economy to promote that growth through increased production, boosting the productive sectors. Naturally the service sectors as well, but especially by developing agriculture, transformation industries, particularly food production, and in terms of diversification, the production of minerals and the development of the mining industry.

On the other hand, we want to maintain the current levels of growth. Of course the Angolan economy is one of the fastest growing in the world. Growth stands above seven percent. It has been above 10 percent according to the OECD. Maintaining these high rates of growth over many years has allowed our wealth to increase further, be distributed better, and thus eliminate poverty.

I started by mentioning the training of staff, the qualification of national cadres, right. We have excellence cadres who ensure the good management of public finances, the good management of our companies making them competitive in the internal and international markets.

We also have a longer-term goal to make Angola grow so that it can achieve the levels of development seen in emerging countries. This would be a springboard to then embark on the road to development, in the long-term naturally.

Cymerman: You mentioned wealth distribution. Are you worried about Angola’s persistent social gap between the elites and most of the population?

Dos Santos: Obviously, well this phenomenon is not exclusive to Angola. In fact it is a matter that is debated worldwide today and especially in Europe, with the old right-left problem [laughs] where the wealth is concentrated. But the policies we follow, our party’s policies will fight asymmetries – the asymmetry in the newspapers – fight inequalities, and especially reduce the gap between the richest and the poorest.

We have a serious problem, a heavy legacy from the colonial times that is underdevelopment. In simpler words, underdevelopment means poverty, a lack of knowledge – people not having timely access to schooling, to knowledge. So naturally we are concerned that the poverty indices are high at about 35-36 percent. Well, as for the poor, if we make a big effort in Angola – we have anti-poverty and rural development programmes because poverty affects mostly the rural populations and those in the outskirts of cities. So we have well targeted programmes, we have objectives drawn to ensure that poverty is eradicated and if not eradicated at least reduced as far as possible in the coming years.

So when we talk about wealth redistribution, firstly we mean to guarantee sustainable economic growth, to produce more, and redistribute better. This means that it is a good fiscal policy as it provides sufficient revenue to be used in resolving social problems, thus fulfilling the state’s social responsibility – in the areas of education, health, social protection, social welfare etc.

Cymerman: You said that this was a worldwide phenomenon, undoubtedly it is. The same applies to corruption. What methods does your government use to fight corruption?

Dos Santos: Well, I do not know whether we will ever resolve this phenomenon, which in fact must be among the oldest [laughs] in the world and which exists in all countries, unfortunately even in the more developed. It is obvious that governments should seek to reduce this phenomenon making it less prominent or insignificant, shall we say, in society. And that is what we are doing.

So we have policies to fight corruption, namely the regular increase in public sector salaries, right, and strengthening the Court of Auditors’ work. We have a Court of Auditors that oversees state accounts and rules on them. On the other hand, when there are irregularities, when irregularities are detected the culprits are punished under the law. But there is also a constant education campaign to ensure that citizens, shall we say, respect state property, public assets [laughs], right, and refrain from using what is not theirs.

Cymerman: After interviewing several distinguished figures here in Luanda, I believe that the country’s political and military stability is currently secure, 38 years after independence. What about social instability, how do you see it?

Dos Santos: Well, as for social instability, we do not have, at least in my understanding, visibly, any risk of social instability at the moment. As I told you earlier the government is always concerned about social issues and pays very special attention to the implementation of its social agenda, that means it seeks to resolve health problems – expanding the network of sanitation services to the most remote areas, shall we say, the communes, all the villages etc.

It seeks to resolve education problems by constantly widening the schools’ network – we have schools in all villages, all cities, all municipalities etc. Of course we still have children outside the system but they represent less that 20 percent. So there is a regular and periodic integration of all school-aged children in the system. On the other hand we also have assistance programmes for children in vulnerable situations, with conflicts with the law, etc.

We have assistance programmes for the elderly and the disabled, and as I said earlier we have an anti-poverty programme. With this programme we seek to mobilise society to make a joint effort to resolve the most pressing problems.

Therefore, I think that society aware of the government’s efforts and with its own participation, right, is reducing all the factors that might contribute to potential unrest or social instability. This does not mean that there aren't focal points of instability from time to time, when small groups of youth organise demonstrations, mainly in Luanda, but they have never gathered more than 300 people. They are generally young people with certain frustrations, who were unsuccessful during their schooling and academic training, were unable to integrate themselves properly in the world of work, and so on.

But these are isolated incidents, very isolated, but generally, we have political and social stability, because the government and the ruling party are attentive to these situations and work with large associations, for example, the Angolan women's associations, we have a big association called OMA [Organization of Angolan Women], which organises Angolan women, but there are others with social, intellectual, cultural emphasis, and so on. We have youth and student associations. We have non-government organizations, which provide assistance to the public powers that engage in social intervention in various areas. We do all of this work to solve the population's problems. This work has the human person, his well being at the centre of its attention. I think that it is difficult for them to disturb …have the conditions to mobilise people and create instability.

Cymerman: You do not think that what happened in the Arab Spring could happen here?

Dos Santos: They tried.  They tried immediately after the rebellions in Tunisia, Egypt and after the conflict that took place in Libya. They also tried to incite the youth here to hold large demonstrations. They used social networks to communicate their message and establish mechanisms to mobilize and disseminate [information]. But the truth is that, it did not take hold. It did not take hold, as I said earlier, because there are positive actions to improve citizens' conditions, to work for the common good, and the majority of the population understands that there is this willingness, this delivery by the leaders and their structures, save in rare exceptions, to work for the common good. Why create a disruption?

Cymerman: Sir, one thing that really affected me was to see two boys who lost arms and legs as a result of the landmines from the civil wars and which are still lying around. This is a terrible thing, the scars of the war that are still with us.  What are you doing to put an end to this bloodshed, this tragedy?

Dos Santos: Angola was one of the countries with the most landmines when the war ended in 2002. They say that Angola could only be compared with Cambodia in that regard. They said that there were more than 6 million mines spread throughout the country. It is clear that during the war and even after the war there were various victims of landmines and we created a demining programme from 2003-2004 onwards. In fact, without a programme of this nature, national reconstruction would not have been possible.  For example, all of the railway lines were mined from one end to the other. Very great efforts were necessary in those six years to rehabilitate more than 2,000km of railway lines – to demine and rebuild, or even to build from scratch. The same was true for roads, bridges, and so on.

It was a country filled with landmines, particularly in the agricultural areas and so on. The budget for the first demining programme was, therefore, about US$100 million and we have periodically undertaken demining programmes since 2003-2004. We have a demining institute, we have a commission that certifies the areas that have been demined, and we have involved the Angolan Armed Forces in the demining process. We can, therefore, say that today we have demined areas where we can develop agriculture, demined areas through which the electricity lines pass, but evidently, it is a process that is still continuing.  And we have more or less signalled the areas where there is a danger of landmines to protect the population.

Cymerman: Sir, we are nearing the end. You, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, have been the Angolan president for many years and I think that you are one of the leaders who have been in power for the longest in Africa…

Dos Santos, interrupting … one of the few.

Cymerman: Exactly.  Are you thinking of a transition at some time in the future?

Dos Santos: Yes, of course. It is human and this is how it should be. It is clear that it is a matter that has been dealt within my party, because in addition to being the president, I am also the leader of a political party and I ran in the presidential election with the support of the members of that political party, the MPLA. So therefore I think that the first move, the first exercise is to find a leader who can replace me in heading the destiny of the party, of the MPLA. This facilitates moves, change within state institutions. It is clear that we are a democratic country and our country has various political parties. Various candidates run in the elections and it is clear that this MPLA candidate will then have to run for leadership with others.

Cymerman: What would you like to do after being president?

Dos Santos: I have not thought about that yet. But normally, what former presidents do is write their memories. [laughs] I'm not sure whether I will dedicate myself to that or not. But I also have a foundation, the Eduardo dos Santos Foundation, which plays an important social role and I could work there.  I also enjoy sport. I am a sportsman who was given on loan to politics. [laughs]  So there are various things I can do.

Cymerman: What ideology is currently operating in Angola?

Dos Santos: Well, we are a democracy [laughs]. A democracy, we are a regime based on pluralism and therefore, a partisan country. We cannot speak about ideology within a regime, but we can speak about the ideologies to which political parties subscribe and which, from time to time when the elections come around, govern states. Therefore, I will speak about the MPLA, because the MPLA is the party heading the government and won the general elections in 2012. As a result of these elections, I became the president because I am the leader of that political party.

The MPLA is a leftist party, which in the current context of national governance, subscribes to a national consensus programme. Consensus was obtained about 10 years ago on the basis of a discussion to devise a long-term strategy. We call this strategy Angola 25 and it has guided the nation's destiny, national objectives and national development and it projected the development of a kind of society.  It is therefore, a society guided by social democracy. We have a mixed economy directed towards a society governed by equality, balanced distribution of wealth and with the final goal of establishing a society without poor people. This is a dream but it is what we want. So, therefore, we are a leftist party that holds a centre left position in government and is geared towards the construction of a social state.

Cymerman: Which statesmen do you admire the most?

Dos Santos: At this time?

Cymerman: Over the last few years.

Dos Santos: Oh, over the last few years?

Cymerman: Who were your role models?

Dos Santos: It has been very difficult to find role models in the last few years.  The world is very confusing, very complicated. It has been difficult to find role models, but it is clear that by reflecting just a little bit [pauses] maybe Lula [da Silva] the Brazilian president for his dynamic nature, for his loyalty toward the principles to which I have just referred, his concern for simple people, the poor, working for the majority, looking for a balance between the haves and the have-nots. He has a society of progress, a social state, inclusive.

Cymerman: And what is your big dream for Angola?

Dos Santos: It is just that, an inclusive society in which everyone feels good, where everyone can benefit from prosperity.

Cymerman: Many years from now, this is my last question, they will speak about Jose Eduardo dos Santos as a leading figure in the history of Angola, who wrote the history of Angola by your actions and your decisions. How would you like to be remembered by history?

Dos Santos: As a good patriot. As a good patriot. [laughs] I do not know if I was complete enough.

Contacts

  • 1 Hood Avenue/148 Jan Smuts; Rosebank, GP 2196; South Africa
  • T. +27 (0)11 587 5000
  • F. +27 (0)11 587 5099