The Mali model.

CNN, retreating from the imperiled-World-Cup hysteria I blogged about a few days ago, asks a more reasonable question in the wake of last week’s Cabinda attack: Was Angola ready to host the African Cup of Nations? The short answer: sort of. The long answer: I guess.

The tournament, says the report, traditionally acts as a catalyst for a developing nation’s growth.

“The African Cup of Nations does do a lot for its host country,” said journalist Ian Hawkey, an African football expert and author of “Feet of the Chameleon: The Story of African Football.”

“In the last 15 years both Mali and Burkina Faso have hosted it, and now Angola. You would have said at one point, no way can these places organise a tournament. But they got stadiums out of it and Mali’s football has grown since 2002, Burkina Faso’s too.”

This affords one of those rare instances when you can say, “Look at Mali!” and mean it as a good thing.

In Angola, development ahead of the Cup of Nations had spurred an already frantic construction boom. According to CNN, “more than $1billion of the country’s vast oil wealth, according to the government, had been invested in stadiums, roads, hotels and hospitals.”

The construction boom in Luanda

A view of the port

As The Observer reported last month, Angola was looking at the tournament as “a vote of confidence in its stability and economic capabilities.”

It’s safe to say last week’s attack on the Togo bus won’t scare off the IMF or chase out any of the multi-nationals investing billions off Angola’s shores. (Except, maybe, the Chinese.) But what about the country’s image?

Angola has enjoyed a remarkable bit of rebranding since the end of the civil war. Gone was the image of Angola as a proxy battlefield for global superpowers during the Cold War. Instead of UNITA rebels using CIA-funded mortars to shell MPLA and Cuban troops in Soviet tanks (!), we have American oil execs, Russian telecom giants, Chinese manufacturers, and just about everyone else – even the French! – scrambling for a piece of the pie.

Angola then...

...and now. (Courtesy of Vanessa Vick, NYT.)

What a difference a few years can make.

With millions of barrels of oil pumping out of the country and billions of dollars pumping into it, Angola has begun to throw its weight around as a regional heavyweight.

“Angola sees itself as a regional superpower,” Alex Vines, of London-based Chatham House, told the AFP. “The expanding number of embassies opening in Luanda attest to its growing influence.”

Still, there are few illusions about just what sort of country Angola is becoming. Thanks to the growing strength of its ties with China – always a friend of human rights – Luanda hasn’t had to jump through the usual moral hoops to secure strings-attached financing from the international community.

Fear of China’s entry into Africa played directly into Angola’s hands after years of half-hearted reception from reform-pushing international lenders, said Nomfundo Ngwenya of the South African Institute of International Affairs.

“China’s stepping into the scene was undoubtedly a game-changer. Angola suddenly found a seemingly infinite source of finance, without the stringency of externally-imposed political, social and economic reform,” she told AFP.

An offshore gas flare, courtesy of Vanessa Vick at The New York Times

So long as the oil is pumping and Chinese demand is skyrocketing, there’s a willing client happy to sign those checks, no questions asked. As a result, dos Santos and his cabal aren’t fretting over the concerns of the global community on corruption and human rights. Muito obrigado, Beijing!

Workers on an offshore oil rig, courtesy of Vanessa Vick at The New York Times

So despite the added prestige of hosting the Cup of Nations, the view from Luanda was already looking just fine, thank you very much. Even if last week’s attack put a dint in Angola’s coming-out party – “an opportunity to showcase Angola to the rest of the world,” according to Antonio Mangueira, executive director of the tournament’s local organizing committee – the country has already secured itself a place at the grown-ups’ table.

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One response to “The Mali model.

  1. Pingback: A land of milk and honey. « This Is Africa

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