Tuesday, May 22, 2012

USA: Angola's Silent Partner

The advance in relations between Angola and the United States has been “fairly incredible” in the barely two decades since diplomatic recognition, says US Ambassador Christopher J. McMullen, who took up his post in March last year.

“The first Africans to reach the territory which comprises the United States today were slaves coming from Angola,” says Maria da Cruz Gabriel, executive director of the US-Angola Chamber of (USACC). “They became part of the first permanent English settlement in Virginia. This common historical past should be seen as an asset to bring US and Angola co-operation even closer in today’s world.”  
Whereas other countries’ involvement in Angola’s reconstruction such as that of China, Brazil and Portugal, is highly visible in road, rail, construction, and airports, American efforts are often “under the radar”, McMullen believes.  The ambassador likes to think of the US as Angola’s “valued-added, silent partner”, involved in top-end economic partnerships which affect the whole economic strata.

McMullen is anxious to point out that American relations with the Angolan people go back much further than the period of the Independence struggle. Indeed, they go back many centuries.

Ambassador McMullen outlined three major elements contributing to the solidity of the relationship. First of all, the American missionaries who went to Angola in the early 1800s and cemented “people-to-people” connections.

An important consequence of these missions was to bring literacy and educational opportunities to a broad spectrum of Angolan society. The late President Agostinho Neto’s father was a Protestant pastor, and a New York- based missionary board granted Neto himself a scholarship in 1947 to study medicine.

The US missionary connection with Angola is still strong, according to McMullen, but more-secular organisations have widely taken on the missionaries support role in social development. Today’s multitude of US-supported non-governmental organisations (NGOs) provide continuity in health and educational projects and keep up fruitfully direct personal relations with Angolan people all over the country.
A second base element in US-Angolan relations, and of extreme economic importance, is of course the oil industry. American company involvement in Angolan oil exploration dates back to the second decade of the 20th century.

Chevron is today’s emblematic and longest- standing American presence in Angola’s hydrocarbons sector, having drilled the first onshore and offshore wells in 1958 and 1966, respectively. It was also the first, in 1997, to operate a deepwater well. Even when the United States had no official ties with the Angolan government after Independence, Chevron continued to operate normally in the country.

The third component to US-Angolan relations is “government-to-government”. According to McMullen, many US government agencies long had informal connections with Angolan government ministers even when there was no official recognition.
Angola has been running a trade surplus with the US in recent decades, dominated by Angolan crude oil sales. This does not daunt McMullen. He believes it is in the nature of the oil trade that there will be a lack of balance, and points to a similar relationship with Venezuela. In 2011, the US-Angola trade totaled $1.5 billion US exports to Angola and $13.6 billion Angola imports to the USA; the majority of these US imports is Angolan petroleum.   

The US government also partners NGOs and United Nations bodies involved in education and vocational training through the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The same NGOs may also be supported by American corporate social responsibility efforts.  

United States energy companies are one of the largest recruiters for workers in Angola from Angolan communities in the United States. They also provide training for their personnel and send many to the United States to study. In addition, the Ministry of Petroleum and Sonangol have sent, and continue to send, students to the United States for training at universities around the country, in particular to Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. (Sonangol Universo Magazine)    

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