Ambassador Dan Mozena Speaks on Angola`s Challenges, Prospects

By Damon Shulenberger

On Friday, April 3rd the MIIS community had the opportunity  to join a “fireside chat” with US Ambassador to Angola Dan Mozena, an event coordinated by MPA student Olga Lopo and sponsored by the Afro Club, Global Majority and the Conflict Resolution Club. The well-attended talk covered topics ranging from post-conflict reconstruction, democratization, business and trade opportunities, as well as environmental issues facing Angola.  

Ambassador Mozena and his wife Grace, who accompanied him on this visit to Monterey, originally come from agricultural backgrounds in the Midwest and are veteran Peace Corp volunteers who served in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  In the Foreign Service for 28 years, Mozena served as Ambassador to Zambia and as the Director of Southern African Affairs in Washington D.C. prior to his current position.

Mozena began his talk by describing Angola`s historical background over the past 60 years, which came across as unremittingly bleak.  From the war for independence beginning in 1951, through the 1973 civil war and independence in 1975 when “the Portuguese walked out on Angola”, up through the abortive 1992  Presidential elections that led to 10 years of further bloodshed ––conflict was almost continuous.  Mozena described what was left behind in 2002, after all those years of war as “hard to imagine”, with one of the highest number of landmines in the world scattered throughout the country and almost complete destruction of roads and rails.  Vast areas outside the coastal cities of Luanda and Benguela were depopulated––either because people fled because they were afraid for their lives or because the government forcibly removed them in scorched earth campaign which, “as horrible as it was, succeeded and eventually led to the end of the war.”  

Since 2002 Angola has successfully relocated millions of internally displaced persons and resettled over 400,000 refugees from neighboring countries––the US alone providing Angola with half a billion dollars in food aid.  In the capital city of Luanda, Mozena can see reconstruction proceeding at a “feverish” pace,  23 cranes building new skyrises visible from his office alone.   

President dos Santos shares Mozena`s  commitment to an Angola that is peaceful, secure, prosperous, healthy and democratic, having told him at their first meeting, “you get to work with my government and make that vision a reality.” As one sign of progress, by 2015 Angola is slated be landmine safe, with no landmines where people are living in concentrations and remaining landmined areas well demarcated.  To Mozena then, Angola is a “phoenix, a brand new country seven years old.”

Admittedly, as one of the world`s poorest countries, the challenges which Angola faces are enormous.  Disease is rampant, with ebola, polio and malaria claiming untold lives and 1/5 of children dead by age five. However, great strides are being taken to cut the death rate from malaria in half by 2010. Angola has also been successful in keeping the lid on HIV/AIDS, with a prevalence rate for adults aged 15-49 a relatively low 21%. 

Lack of infrastructure in Angola is a major obstacle to progress.  Mozena describes a taxing experience for foreign visitors arriving at the airport where “if you survive the experience with baggage intact there are no taxis… and if you did have a taxi, where could it possible take you, as its impossible to have a hotel.”   Rebuilding infrastructure is hampered by the fact that Angola lost two generations to war; ”it`s so much easier to build a building than it is to build a nurse, medical technician and a teacher.”  To help create a more internationalized society, Mozena is involved in setting up a program through which Peace Corps volunteers will be able to teach English at secondary schools throughout Angola.

The US has been highly involved in helping Angola create the foundations for a democratic, civil society.  Mozena is proud of the fact that the US was invited to help set up parliamentary elections in 2005-2006, providing election observers to Angola and other forms of support. Preparations are now underway for the first presidential elections since 1992. Concurrently, a process of decentralization is taking place in which power is being shifted from Luanda to provincial municipalities and an independent media is being promoted to “make the election playing field less tilted.” 

If successful, the Presidential election will mark a significant break away from a status quo in which the same party has held power for 40 years and the same president for 30 years. Further, it will mark a break from the tragic legacy of the first elections in Angola in 1992, which precipitated “ten ugly, devastating years of civil war.”  

On the economic front, Mozena recounted his dogged and ultimately successful efforts to convince the Deparment of Commerce to set up a permanent presence in Angola to help US businesses and investors navigate a system where starting a business is “almost impossible.”  Twice a year Angola and the US have a dialogue on problems concerning attracting investment to Angola, including the mundane but critical issue of getting visas and work permits.  In addition, a trade and investment framework agreement (TIFA) has been negotiated that is currently awaiting Obama`s signature and the US import-export bank has opened up a line of credit to Angola for some $120 million.

Why is Angola of particular strategic interest to the US––even more so than neighboring Zambia or Lesotho?  One reason is that militarily, Angola is seen as the key to stability in central and southern Africa.  Having one of the largest, most professional armies in Africa gives it potential in international peacekeeping operations. However, the US`s interest  lies primarily in its gas and oil reserves. 

With a production capacity of 2 million barrels of oil a day, Angola is the US`s sixth largest source of oil (and China`s primary source).  The wealth generated from oil sales creates the potential for large scale US trade and investment with Angola, such as the sale of Boeing airplanes.

Despite initial government confidence that “it won`t affect us because we don`t know what a subprime loan is,” the global recession and corresponding drop in world oil prices have had a substantial negative impact on the Angolan economy. Government revenues are down by 50% from a year ago with a corresponding budget decrease of 30%. While ongoing infrastructure projects are continuing, new ones will start only if they bring their own outside financing.  The Angolan government has some 20 billion dollars “in a big bag down at reserve bank,” but it refuses to use those rainy day funds for budget suport. Instead it is using about $1-2 billion a month to pay interest on loans.  Mozena recently asked the finance minister, “how does this work, paying interest at such a high rate?” The minister insisted that in a couple months the situation would stabilize and “they wont have to do that anymore.”

With 80% of Angola`s GDP derived from oil and gas, and most of the rest from diamonds, Mozena sees a fundamental need for economic diversification to agricultural sectors.  With a tradition of being the world`s 4th largest coffee exporter prior to the civil war and blessed with “good, but not great” soil, Angola has the potential for increased  trade in cotton, sugar and coffee.  Significantly, despite 30% government budget cuts, certain sectors such as health and education will see no cuts, and the agricultural budget is slated to increase by some $400 million.  

As a way of getting around EU tariff structures that favor former-colony African and Caribbean country banana producers over Central American producers, Chiquita is moving into Angola, having been offered a guaranteed market of some 7.7 million crates of bananas for 15 years. 

Responding to a question about the possibility of Chiquita`s uneven human rights and labor record in Central America being transferred to Angola, Mozena expressed hope that it had learned lessons from past experiences. He gave as an example US oil companies operating in Angola.  Learning from largely self-created problems associated with Niger River Delta operations, US oil companies in Angola are focused on “partnering in a real way with people, doing real things for real people––not just handing a suitcase of money to a minister.” Mozena visited Soyo where they are building a large LNG plant, expecting to hear complaints from locals that the company had made lots of promises they weren`t living up to.  He was surprised to hear tribal leaders as well as the provincial governor say “this is fabulous, they`re creating jobs and doing outreach.”  Mozena himself visited one oil company-funded project at a Catholic mission Capindo, which involved the installation of new plumbing in a girl`s orphanage. Mozena was also impressed by a structure to capture snakes and turtles that get impacted by the LNG plant and relocate them.  Touring oil rigs, he found “not a drop of oil in the water” and is encouraged by imminent plans to end the environmentally harmful practice of oil flaring. 

Despite some success in limiting the environmental  impact of foreign-invested oil projects, Mozena finds that compared with Zambia and Namibia (where, in particular, “environmental management is world class”) Angola`s record is abysmal.  Mozena says that “Angola has failed to appreciate the beauty of nature for beauties sake––not to mention its potential for tourism––and is actively destroying it as we speak.” One example he gives is Kisama National  Park, where “elites are building enormous lakeside houses  in the middle of the park”.  Mozena was dispirited to sit with one “very high official” and realize that while he was saying the right things on the environment, he had no real passion invested in it. Unfortunately, Mozena has no power but that which his passion and the bully-pulpit of his position as ambassador affords him in getting out the message on protecting Angola`s environment.  

The most pointed question of the afternoon came from MIIS Professor Philip Morgan of the School of International Policy Studies, a specialist in International Development, Capacity Building and African issues.  Commenting that part of the story of US investment has to do with Angola`s “heavy duty socialist legacy and whether they are serious about liberalization,” Morgan asked Mozena to clarify the distinction between state-owned and private enterprises in Angola.  Mozena answered indirectly, recounting how the Pope in his visit to Angola the previous week told President dos Santos that government officials “must be careful about personal money and money of the state”, suggesting “that in reality the lines are very fuzzy indeed.”  Professor Morgan commented that ”there is a kind of general public admonition that enterprise needs to be public, needs to spread capital formation around and create job opportunities––but at the moment, this is largely in hand of a few”.  

Speaking of the relationship between the political sector and the military, Mozena admits that he has “never known so little in 27 years as a diplomat as I know about it in Angola”. However, he does stress that the civilians are firmly in control in Angola––even if very closely linked with military.

Asked about the Chinese investment presence in Angola, Mozena noted that it is immense and that China “is not an enemy of the US”.  In fact, he considers the Chinese ambassador to Angola to be one of his best friends. Naturally, the US and China are often competitors when it comes to acquiring resources in Angola. With that in mind, Mozena tells Angolan officials to consider three things when deciding whom to grant contacts to: the transferring of knowhow to Angola, the creation of substantial local jobs and getting top quality for the dollar. With regards to China on these three counts, he admits, the answer is usually “I`m not sure.”  

In his experience as US Ambassador to Zambia from 2001-2004, Mozena found that the Chinese “cut too many corners.” He perceived that Zambians “had had it with the Chinese because they manifested a total disregard for human life. Zambians were unimpressed when their people were getting killed underground because the Chinese were cutting out more of support columns that hold up walls of the mines to get the last copper ore out.”

Mozena also remarked how struck he was by the respect which Angolans gave to US advice and support, given the US`s involvement in Angola in the 1980`s. (At that time the US was involved in supplying munitions to armed political groups in Angola as part of their proxy war against communism and the Soviet Union.)

In closing, Mozena mentioned the Pope`s recent visit to Angola.  He commented that “you`re seeing about 5 pounds less of me than before… we sat out melting in the sun at the outdoor mass and it was fabulous.” Mozena was impressed by the fact that the Pope “pulled no punches” when it came to addressing corrupt officials and the hoarding of government resources.  He was also relieved that the issue of HIV/AIDS did not arise in Angola as it had earlier in the Pope`s African trip, when the Pope declared his well known position on condoms.  Mozena says that “in Angola we consider condoms an important part of our preventive methods.”

Throughout his 90 minute talk, Ambassador Mozena spoke on Angolan issues in a manner that came across as both sincere and engaged. He often reached beyond diplomatic language to honestly address the serious challenges facing Angola, as well as to point out ways in which a positive path moving forward can be achieved.  We at MIIS sincerely hope that Mozena will have a chance to encourage us with stories of the success of Angola`s democratization, economic diversification, health and environmental programs on the occasion of his next visit to MIIS.

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2 Responses

  1. Did the ambassador really say Angola would be mine free in 2015? The way it is written in the article raises questions whether he actually said it or if the president of Angola told him that (and the ambassador believes him.) Could you clarify this?

    • Ambassador Mozena said that landmines were slated to be cleared from densely-populated areas, with remaining landmined areas well-demarcated by 2015. He hinted that this was the official plan, and perhaps overly optimistic, and that this deadline might be have to be extended a couple years.

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