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UK parliamentary delegation sees advances in Angola

In early October 2015, I led a BGIPU delegation to Angola for a five day working visit. The purpose of this visit was to learn more about the Angolan parliamentary system and to meet counterparts in the National Assemblies as well as members of the government from key ministries to discuss the challenges Angola is facing and how the UK and Angola can work more closely together. The delegation represented all major parties and both Houses of Westminster, I was joined by Pauline Latham OBE MP, John Mann MP, Baroness Hooper and Baroness Blackstone.

Arriving in the early hours of the 5th October in Luanda, the programme started with a lunch-time briefing at the British Embassy with DHM Andrew Ford. Accompanied by his Embassy colleague Barry Bobin-Martin, we then set off for their first meeting in Parliament, where we were welcomed by Exalgina Gamboa, Chair of the Committee for Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and Angolan Communities abroad, and other members of the committee. After a brief tour of the plenary hall, we were welcomed by Carolina Cerqueira, President of the Angolan IPU Group and Vice-President of the National Assembly. After some good discussions with the Angolan IPU Group and the National Parliamentary Group for European, ACP and EU countries that focussed mostly on the challenges of migration both in Angola and the UK, which ahead of the 133rd IPU Assembly in Geneva was particularly timely, we headed back to the hotel. There the day was rounded off with an interesting working dinner with representatives from different NGOs, who were able to give us a Civil Society perspective on the country’s current situation.

The second day started off with a lively meeting with the parliamentary leaders of most parties represented in the National Assembly (MPLA/UNITA/CASA-CE/FNLA). After lunch, we held important talks with the Deputy Foreign Minister and Secretary of State for Cooperation Angela Bragança, the Minister for Justice and Human Rights Rui Jorge Mangueira, as well as with the Committee on Constitutional Affairs, Legal and Procedure, and the Committee on Economy and Finance back in Parliament. In the evening, we enjoyed a dinner hosted by Carolina Cerqueira on the beautiful Ilha de Luanda.

On Wednesday we had the opportunity to spend a day outside the city of Luanda on a visit to the Catoca diamond mine, the fourth largest diamond mine in the world, in the Province of Lunda Sul. Hosted by the governor of Lunda Sul and welcomed by the CEO of Endiama, the state mining company of Angola, we learned about the exploitation, production and distribution of diamonds, and the importance of the diamond industry for Angola.

Thursday morning was spent at the new Campus of Agostinho Neto University, where we met with the Executive Board and student leaders. Having visited a diamond mine the day before, the delegation was then able to have an in-depth discussion with the Minister for Geology and Mining, Francisco Queiroz, including potential investment opportunities for British companies. After that we visited the impressive new parliament building, which is due to host the National Assembly by the start of next year. The programme then continued with a reception at the British residence hosted by HE John Dennis, where we were able to engage in conversation with many of the new contacts made during the meetings.

The last day started very early with a breakfast meeting with BP’s regional manager Darryl Willis and his colleagues, who informed us about BP’s activities in Angola and gave us an idea about opportunities and challenges for the private sector operating in Angola. After a brief visit of the Fortress, from where we had a good view over Luanda, we met with Fernando da Piedade Dias dos Santos, President of the National Assembly. After lunch we met with the Centre for Ethics and subsequently with Development Workshop, the oldest NGO in Angola led by the Canadian Allan Cain. The programme concluded with a last meeting at the British Embassy, before we departed from Luanda with a range of impressions and newly gained knowledge.

Having been to Angola as an election observer in 1992, an event which was followed by a further ten years of civil war, I was impressed by the progress made in the country in the mere 13 years since then.  The revenues from oil have enabled the government to spend on the total reconstruction of the capital, Luanda.   Hotels, housing, roads are all renewed and the ancient fort has been beautifully restored and includes an excellent historic museum. The new parliament building where they will celebrate the 40th anniversary of independence is of magnificent splendour bordering on the lavish.

And therein lie two of their major problems: the downturn in the international oil price means they desperately need to diversify their economy.  Diamond mining plays an important part and other mining has potential.  They are keen to see British companies investing.  Agriculture has been under-developed partly because of the widespread use of land mines during the civil war, and they are therefore over-dependent on imported food. The scope here is unlimited.

The second problem is the obvious gap between the haves and the have nots.  There is an extensive programme of shanty-town clearance, especially on the sea front. There is the danger of making the same mistake as we did in the UK in the sixties, with slum clearance breaking up communities and moving them into far away tower blocks. We were told that more recent policy has been more focused on consultation with the people.

There has been much criticism of the government’s record on human rights. To some extent this is justified, but gets exaggerated by their reluctance to be more open, and to allow criticism in the press and broadcasting, all of which seems to be a hangover from the days of heavily controlled Marxist administration.  There are elections upcoming in 2017 and we found the political parties eagerly looking forward to those, with the opposition hoping at least to dent the unhealthy overwhelming majority in parliament currently enjoyed by the MPLA.

Our visit was met with genuine warmth and appreciation, and we look forward to a return visit from Angolan MP’s next year. The five person delegation was a very happy one which I was honoured to lead and we had extensive media coverage. Our special thanks to BGIPU and staff member Anja Richter for their careful administration and to Katherine Lawson from Chatham House, who coordinates the APPG on Angola.

Lord Steel of Aikwood