Why Clinton is visiting Angola now

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a gala dinner at a restaurant in Nairobi, Kenya

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: Hillary Clinton's in the middle of a week-long swing through Africa. The secretary of state's travels took her to Angola yesterday. Most of the past 30 years there have marked by a brutal civil war that ended only in 2002. A lot has happened since then. An oil boom has helped Angola win friends and influence people. That's part of why Mrs. Clinton's stopped by. It's also why the Chinese have been spending a lot of time and energy there as well. And it's why we've called Jonas Horner. He's an Africa specialist with the Eurasia Group. Welcome to the program.


JONAS HORNER: Thank you for having me.

RYSSDAL: I think most of us probably the last time we heard about Angola or paid attention to it was when the civil war ended back in 2002. Why is Secretary of State Clinton going there now?

HORNER: I think there's a particular push from the U.S. business community to be part of the very much booming angle on the economy. They've had record, incredible growth rates in excess of 20 percent between 2006 and 2008. Of course, they're very much relying on their oil industry, and that has a taken a toll over the last six months or so. So they're trying to rebuild it and certainly trying to diversify. And I think the U.S. is very much part of their plan for this diversification away from Chinese, Brazilian, Portuguese investments.

RYSSDAL: So those three countries have been spending a lot of time in Angola trying to generate trade relationships.

HORNER: That's right. China has really led the way in terms of ensuring that Angola has proper infrastructure. And that's important for U.S. business interests because without that infrastructure in place it's very hard to have economic growth that the U.S. can play off of and invest in. Clinton is also there because Angola is increasingly not just an economic power but also has the potential to be a regional hegemone and legitimately challenge South Africa. They have an excellent military, plenty of economic potential and are well-positioned with a pretty pragmatic political and economic structure in place.

RYSSDAL: Does Angola face a lot of the problems that many African countries do, that is corruption in government, extreme poverty, and problems within its own structure.

HORNER: Certainly, Angolan corruption is well known. It's something that the government has taken steps to mitigate, but in truth relieving the problem of corruption in an African state is not something that can be done overnight. In terms of poverty, there has been a very forward-looking strategy for poverty reduction, but that'a very hard with this squeezed budget. They've obviously lost a lot in revenue that they were projected to take on because of this lower oil price. But the problem with these big and pretty grand promises is that without fulfilling them there's potential for a loss of political capital there.

RYSSDAL: This might be a little bit grand, but is it fair to frame Angola and the U.S. and China in the way that we used to talk about the old Soviet Union in that we're trying to get spheres of influence, except this time it's economic influence.

HORNER: The U.S.'s footprint in Angola is not particularly great. And really we're talking about an emerging power in Africa. There's not many countries you can necessarily provide that label to. I don't think the U.S. views China particularly as its opposition in Angola. However, instructively Angola has played off China against Russia, after President Medvedev recently visited Angola, and came away with a clutch of rather lucrative agreements. Angola has appeared willing to play international rivals, geo-political rivals off one another to get the best deal themselves. I think the U.S. see it as important strategically and certainly economically to be part of Angola's economy.

RYSSDAL: You know when the president went to Ghana last month, there was obviously a very intense, personal welcome for him. What will this visit to Angola by the secretary of state mean to the people there?

HORNER: I think they'll be rather excited to be increasingly on the United States' radar. It's important for a post-conflict state to be able to build their profile once again. They had civil war for decades. And they're intent on pulling themselves out of that stigma, and portraying themselves more as a forward-thinking, progressive economic powerhouse in the region.

RYSSDAL: Jonas Horner is an Africa analyst with the Eurasia Group in Washington. Jonas, thanks a lot for your time.

HORNER: Thank you for having me.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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