Angola's Political Economy 1975-1985by M. R. Bhagavan

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  • International African Institute

    Angola's Political Economy 1975-1985 by M. R. BhagavanReview by: Jenny WarrenAfrica: Journal of the International African Institute, Vol. 58, No. 4 (1988), pp. 488-491Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of the International African InstituteStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1160361 .Accessed: 14/06/2014 10:53

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    widely, and trends towards a new subordination under the exigencies of international, including South African, capital'.

    Why this crushing failure after the notable successes of the anti-colonial period? It is too early for any final answer, but the probable nature of that answer is beginning to be clear. In this capable and sympathetic analysis, a Swedish social scientist with great practical experience of Mozambique, as well as the courage to be neither sentimental nor cynical, goes no small way towards what may be a final explanation. Broadly, of course, this falls into two parts: internal reasons for failure, and external reasons. Initially distinct, these intermesh increasingly as confusion grows.

    As to internal reasons for failure, we are on what is now becoming common ground for most regions of Africa. The central factor, in Egero's convincing account, has lain in an increasingly urban bias, in planning and programming, at the cost of rural communities. The food producers, in other words, are disadvantaged; the food consumers, by contrast, are privileged. Much that Egero has to say in this connection, and with an admirable objectivity, must lead one to raise the question, once again, as to whether peasant interests are in any case compatible with the pressures and priorities of a newly won independence? They have not been so in Mozambique, nor in Guinea-Bissau, nor in Angola, where comparable methods of anti-colonial struggle were similarly followed, after independence, by a relative abandonment of rural communities which, more and more, have responded with dissatisfaction or dissi- dence.

    In Mozambique, as Egero explains, this town-country cleavage was in crucial part the fruit of East European advice tending to the construction of a highly rigid model along Soviet lines; this was also true in Angola. But while it may indeed be difficult to overstate the damage done by this kind of East European advice, the fact remains that any other kind of advice, then available, would have produced the same fateful cleavage. After all, that same cleavage appeared in Guinea-Bissau as early as 1977 and brought down the regime in 1980; yet the external advice, in that case, was notably more 'Western' than 'Eastern'. Bitterly enough, the truth seems to be that no non-African source of wisdom had come to grips (but has it yet?) with peasant realities and potentials in Africa, while those very Africans who had thus come to grips, among them the leaders of Frelimo, then quite largely turned their backs on the solutions they had found.

    With this, their external enemy struck, and without mercy. After the collapse of the Rhodesian settler republic in 1980 came the onset of Pretoria's campaign to destroy in Mozambique a regime which Pretoria could not control. As in Angola since about the same time, no internal achievements and no amount of internal wisdom could any longer outface the military devastation inflicted by South African troops and their African proxies. What these regimes have had to do, tragically enough, is simply to survive. That they have been able to do this, however, and will evidently continue to do so must say a good deal about their origins: about the nature and potential of and within their long anti-colonial struggle. As and when these crippling aggressions are brought to an end, there will be a time for 'beginning again'. And when that time comes, the lessons of mass participation in all their subtle articulation may at last be given their chance in peacetime.

    BASIL DAVIDSON

    M. R. BHAGAVAN, Angola's Political Economy 1975-1985, Research Report No. 75. Uppsala: Scandinavian Institute of African Studies, 1986, 89 pp., SEK 30, ISBN 91 7106 248.

    widely, and trends towards a new subordination under the exigencies of international, including South African, capital'.

    Why this crushing failure after the notable successes of the anti-colonial period? It is too early for any final answer, but the probable nature of that answer is beginning to be clear. In this capable and sympathetic analysis, a Swedish social scientist with great practical experience of Mozambique, as well as the courage to be neither sentimental nor cynical, goes no small way towards what may be a final explanation. Broadly, of course, this falls into two parts: internal reasons for failure, and external reasons. Initially distinct, these intermesh increasingly as confusion grows.

    As to internal reasons for failure, we are on what is now becoming common ground for most regions of Africa. The central factor, in Egero's convincing account, has lain in an increasingly urban bias, in planning and programming, at the cost of rural communities. The food producers, in other words, are disadvantaged; the food consumers, by contrast, are privileged. Much that Egero has to say in this connection, and with an admirable objectivity, must lead one to raise the question, once again, as to whether peasant interests are in any case compatible with the pressures and priorities of a newly won independence? They have not been so in Mozambique, nor in Guinea-Bissau, nor in Angola, where comparable methods of anti-colonial struggle were similarly followed, after independence, by a relative abandonment of rural communities which, more and more, have responded with dissatisfaction or dissi- dence.

    In Mozambique, as Egero explains, this town-country cleavage was in crucial part the fruit of East European advice tending to the construction of a highly rigid model along Soviet lines; this was also true in Angola. But while it may indeed be difficult to overstate the damage done by this kind of East European advice, the fact remains that any other kind of advice, then available, would have produced the same fateful cleavage. After all, that same cleavage appeared in Guinea-Bissau as early as 1977 and brought down the regime in 1980; yet the external advice, in that case, was notably more 'Western' than 'Eastern'. Bitterly enough, the truth seems to be that no non-African source of wisdom had come to grips (but has it yet?) with peasant realities and potentials in Africa, while those very Africans who had thus come to grips, among them the leaders of Frelimo, then quite largely turned their backs on the solutions they had found.

    With this, their external enemy struck, and without mercy. After the collapse of the Rhodesian settler republic in 1980 came the onset of Pretoria's campaign to destroy in Mozambique a regime which Pretoria could not control. As in Angola since about the same time, no internal achievements and no amount of internal wisdom could any longer outface the military devastation inflicted by South African troops and their African proxies. What these regimes have had to do, tragically enough, is simply to survive. That they have been able to do this, however, and will evidently continue to do so must say a good deal about their origins: about the nature and potential of and within their long anti-colonial struggle. As and when these crippling aggressions are brought to an end, there will be a time for 'beginning again'. And when that time comes, the lessons of mass participation in all their subtle articulation may at last be given their chance in peacetime.

    BASIL DAVIDSON

    M. R. BHAGAVAN, Angola's Political Economy 1975-1985, Research Report No. 75. Uppsala: Scandinavian Institute of African Studies, 1986, 89 pp., SEK 30, ISBN 91 7106 248.

    Much neglected as a subject of current research, Angola presents an interesting and extremely important case study in development economics. Now a major African oil Much neglected as a subject of current research, Angola presents an interesting and extremely important case study in development economics. Now a major African oil

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  • BOOK REVIEWS

    producer, it not only has its own specific experience of underdevelopment as a Portuguese settler colony, it also has a specific-and very bitter-experience of destructive foreign intervention and direct aggression because it chose the socialist option for development in a region where South Africa is determined to maintain its dominance.

    Angola's economy is richly endowed with agricultural and fishing resources, water for irrigation and electricity, coffee plantations and diamond mines, a major transit railway for domestic freight and Zairean and Zambian copper, and most notably a fast-expanding oil industry. Its development since independence, however, has been very seriously affected first by the inexperience and low level of skill of its workers and managers and second by the economic devastation caused by the war. At the end of ten years of independence, agricultural production, diamond mining and manufactur- ing were in a serious state of decline and the economy had become heavily reliant on foreign exchange earnings from the multinational oil industry to finance its defence, supply its factories and farms with equipment and raw materials and to feed its urban and displaced population. Then, at the end of 1985, the world market price of oil began to tumble.

    This was the situation when Bhagavan finished writing his research report on Angola's political economy. It starts well with a forceful account of Angola's situation at the time of independence. Doubly disadvantaged through having been colonised by a country which was itself extremely underdeveloped, the condition of the people and the colonial distortion of the economy constituted a difficult base from which to develop an independent economy. Displaced by the mass immigration of Portuguese settlers, the Angolan people-subsistence farmers (over 70 per cent of the workforce), plantation and farm workers and unskilled urban workers-had little access to education or skilled jobs and endured an extremely low standard of living. Production of food and consumer goods for the urban market and plantation crops for export, and wholesale and retail marketing were completely usurped by the settlers. The major extractive industries controlled by foreign multinationals-oil (USA), diamonds (South Africa), iron ore (West Germany)-were predominantly export enclaves with few local linkages.

    Turning to the post-independence situation, Bhagavan analyses the reasons for the virtual cessation of domestic food production for the market. Here he draws on his personal observations during his stay in Luanda in 1983. After the sudden mass exodus of the Portuguese in 1975 had caused the collapse of commercial agricultural and industrial production and marketing, the new state farms proved incapable of supplying a marketable surplus, while the state trading organisations failed to allocate imported consumer goods and farm implements as an incentive to peasant farmers to sell their small surpluses. A private 'parallel' market sprang up on which family-farm produce was exchanged, directly as barter or at inflated prices, for artisan goods or goods from the state sector. Unita attacks, particularly in the main food-producing area of the central highlands, were a significant additional factor in reducing the availability of food-in fact, many thousands of peasants fled to urban centres and had themselves to be fed. In face of extreme food shortages the urban and displaced population had largely to be supplied with imported food distributed through state shops.

    The low level of development of 'human capital' and the serious structural problems in agriculture are major obstacles in Angola's development which persist to this day and Bhagavan's analysis makes a useful contribution to our understanding of these issues.

    The rest of the section on the economy is, however, extremely disappointing. There is no analysis of changes in Angola's macro-economic structure over the decade of independence with regard, in particular, to the impact of the oil industry on other economic sectors, public finance and the balance of payments. Instead, there is a

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  • BOOK REVIEWS

    botch of ephemeral information on current trends and policy documents. The main text-written in 1983 and never subsequently revised-simply gives a rundown on manufacturing output, production and company structure in the oil and diamond industries, and the balance of payments, and a summary of the president's speech to parliament on the 1983 crisis plan, together with a statistical annex and an appendix on war damages as of 1981. To this is added a postscript dated December 1985 containing an account of the military situation in Angola in 1984-85, a digression on the political situation in South Africa, and finally an economic update on 1984-85 based solely on speeches to parliament on the 1984 and unpublished 1985 crisis plans and information from the current Economist Intelligence report on Angola. In fact, fuller information on all these matters was available at the time (with little delay) in the EIU's quarterly and annual reports on Angola and in Angop's weekly news bulletins and occasional documents. (These are still the best sources of current information on Angola.)

    In the final section of his report Bhagavan attempts a class analysis of Angolan society in order to indicate the obstacles that lie in the path of the 'socialist revolutionaries'. To my mind his use of Marxist jargon for this purpose is crude and simplistic. Moreover, he makes no reference to the only post-independence book on this subject, published in 1979, by Henrique Guerra: Angola Estrutura Economica e Classes Sociais. After a description of the class composition of the MPLA Congress and the People's Assembly in 1980, he deals with the 'relations of production' by listing the government's acts of nationalisation between 1976 and 1980, and assesses the level of the 'productive forces' by describing in general terms the low level of output on state farms and the lack of work discipline and widespread absenteeism in manufacturing, the prevalence of theft and corruption, and the inefficiency of the bureaucracy. On the basis of this rather formalistic and subjective analysis he then claims that the real reason for the failure to revive industrial production lies in the unwillingness of the workers, managers and state officials to work productively. He concludes therefore that the only way to solve the key problem of increasing the production of essential consumer goods and food, from the socialist point of view, is to privatise the whole of agriculture, commerce, and small- to medium-scale manufac- turing! This ignores not only his own findings regarding the low level of development of the national workforce and the problems caused by the war, which affect productivity whether production is nationalised or privatised, but also the whole question of the country's macro-economic structure (which he failed to analyse), in particular the positive factor of state oil revenues as a resource for development.

    The basic problem confronting an academic like Bhagavan, it seems to me, is that it is difficult, if not impossible, for an individual to undertake research on Angola without strong institutional backing. Because of the extreme level of underdevelop- ment and the war situation, no economic research is undertaken inside the country and very few basic statistics are published. In this situation organisations such as the EIU, the World Bank, and international economic consultancies obtain their information and data very largely through direct interview with ministries and companies operating in Angola. Personal observations made during a brief stay in 1983 are no substitute. With the 'superior wisdom' of having myself worked there at the National Bank of Angola for two years up to October 1986 I would, for instance, query important elements in his explanation of the rationing system, the causes of absenteeism and pricing on the parallel market, and his lack of critical approach to post-independence (non-oil) statistics.

    In the two years since Bhagavan's report some major developments have taken place. In the early months of 1986 the price of oil fell by half. The resulting loss of foreign exchange earnings further reduced the already low levels of production and living standards and for the first time created a serious foreign debt problem. Under this pressure work was intensified on developing a new economic policy, which was

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    finally presented in the summer of 1987 when an application was made to join the IMF. Later in the year South Africa carried out a major invasion of southern Angola in support of Unita. After the Angolan and Cuban forces had succeeded in holding the line, talks began in May this year on a regional settlement of the conflict. In the meantime oil production is set to increase rapidly this year and next: it has nearly trebled its output since the beginning of the decade.

    Since the Nordic countries and especially Sweden enjoy immense prestige in Angola because of their firm support for the country's independence, perhaps SIAS could now commission and give its full institutional backing to a new research report on Angola's economic and financial adjustment programme within the context of a regional peace settlement.

    JENNY WARREN

    LANDEG WHITE, Magomero: portrait of an African village. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987, 271 pp., ?19.50, $29.95, ISBN 0 521 32182 4.

    White's well-written monograph reads like a detective novel. This is not downgrading it, quite the opposite. In my opinion it is a work that starts a new tradition in historical anthropology.

    What is most significant in the portrait of Magomero, Malawi, is not the fresh perspective which the author brings to the life of David Livingstone and his descendants, nor even to that of the fascinating figure of John Chilembwe, but the way in which consequences are shown to follow changes in interactions, ordinances, crops, labour organisation, and so on. For example, the inane actions of missionaries serve as excellent clues to much that is disturbing in African life. Likewise, the reintroduction of chillies as a company crop which single women were forced to cultivate made husbands a necessity and pushed women into accepting polygamous marriage, a practice that was anathema to their matrilineal world view.

    What thrills me, of course, is that the historical approach shows better than others the dynamics at work when kinship, descent and gender relations are under constant pressure of change and economic survival. Given the vicissitudes of life on mission stations and estates and the fickleness of administrative policies, nothing is perma- nent. And the pages are filled with the tug-of-war as missionaries and chiefs, estate agents and administrators and, above all, Magomero women and men vie for what little authority and illusive power is available. It is a common story in the part of Africa that was once called the 'matrilineal belt'. Above all, it is immediately comparable with Luapula, Zambia.

    There is also much of interest here to those who are researching independent churches in Southern Africa. As early as 1893, under the influence of Joseph Booth and with the help of the American Negro National Baptist convention, John Chilembwe set out on his own course. By 1910 he had an independent church of 800 members plus 625 pupils. In this same year Isaiah Shembe founded the Amanazarites in South Africa, Walter Mattita set off on his own in Lesotho; in short, the spark provided by early Baptists and Pentecostals ignited into a flame that is still sweeping Southern Africa, belatedly in the form of white-founded, but integrated independent churches in prosperous suburbs.

    While this book is a case study, it is so vividly written, well researched and dynamic that it cannot but stir the intellects of comparativists. I applaud the author for taking anthropology away from the sterile pursuit of formal analyses written in aseptic lingo, or worse, in fashionable neo-Marxist jargon. More importantly, I applaud him for bringing us back to telling the story the way we were meant to tell it, by giving

    finally presented in the summer of 1987 when an application was made to join the IMF. Later in the year South Africa carried out a major invasion of southern Angola in support of Unita. After the Angolan and Cuban forces had succeeded in holding the line, talks began in May this year on a regional settlement of the conflict. In the meantime oil production is set to increase rapidly this year and next: it has nearly trebled its output since the beginning of the decade.

    Since the Nordic countries and especially Sweden enjoy immense prestige in Angola because of their firm support for the country's independence, perhaps SIAS could now commission and give its full institutional backing to a new research report on Angola's economic and financial adjustment programme within the context of a regional peace settlement.

    JENNY WARREN

    LANDEG WHITE, Magomero: portrait of an African village. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987, 271 pp., ?19.50, $29.95, ISBN 0 521 32182 4.

    White's well-written monograph reads like a detective novel. This is not downgrading it, quite the opposite. In my opinion it is a work that starts a new tradition in historical anthropology.

    What is most significant in the portrait of Magomero, Malawi, is not the fresh perspective which the author brings to the life of David Livingstone and his descendants, nor even to that of the fascinating figure of John Chilembwe, but the way in which consequences are shown to follow changes in interactions, ordinances, crops, labour organisation, and so on. For example, the inane actions of missionaries serve as excellent clues to much that is disturbing in African life. Likewise, the reintroduction of chillies as a company crop which single women were forced to cultivate made husbands a necessity and pushed women into accepting polygamous marriage, a practice that was anathema to their matrilineal world view.

    What thrills me, of course, is that the historical approach shows better than others the dynamics at work when kinship, descent and gender relations are under constant pressure of change and economic survival. Given the vicissitudes of life on mission stations and estates and the fickleness of administrative policies, nothing is perma- nent. And the pages are filled with the tug-of-war as missionaries and chiefs, estate agents and administrators and, above all, Magomero women and men vie for what little authority and illusive power is available. It is a common story in the part of Africa that was once called the 'matrilineal belt'. Above all, it is immediately comparable with Luapula, Zambia.

    There is also much of interest here to those who are researching independent churches in Southern Africa. As early as 1893, under the influence of Joseph Booth and with the help of the American Negro National Baptist convention, John Chilembwe set out on his own course. By 1910 he had an independent church of 800 members plus 625 pupils. In this same year Isaiah Shembe founded the Amanazarites in South Africa, Walter Mattita set off on his own in Lesotho; in short, the spark provided by early Baptists and Pentecostals ignited into a flame that is still sweeping Southern Africa, belatedly in the form of white-founded, but integrated independent churches in prosperous suburbs.

    While this book is a case study, it is so vividly written, well researched and dynamic that it cannot but stir the intellects of comparativists. I applaud the author for taking anthropology away from the sterile pursuit of formal analyses written in aseptic lingo, or worse, in fashionable neo-Marxist jargon. More importantly, I applaud him for bringing us back to telling the story the way we were meant to tell it, by giving

    491 491

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    Article Contentsp.488p.489p.490p.491

    Issue Table of ContentsAfrica: Journal of the International African Institute, Vol. 58, No. 4 (1988), pp. 385-521Volume Information [pp.517-521]Front Matter [pp.516-516]Women at WorkGenerating an Income in the Urban Environment: The Experience of Street Food Vendors in Ile-Ife, Nigeria [pp.385-400]Household Strategies for Adaptation and Change: Participation in Kenyan Rural Women's Associations [pp.401-422]

    Men at Ease"Sakanab": Greetings and Information among the Northern Beja [pp.423-436]Religion and Ethnicity in the Arts of a Limba Chiefdom [pp.437-465]

    Shorter CommunicationsNigerian Funeral Programmes: An Unexplored Source of Information [pp.466-469]A Report on Archaeological Surveys in the Cameroon-Nigeria Border Region [pp.470-476]

    Academician Ol'derogge: An Obituary [pp.477-480]Ranfurly Library Service. Coping with the Intolerable Shortage of Books [p.481]Reviews of Booksuntitled [pp.482-483]untitled [pp.483-484]untitled [pp.484-486]untitled [pp.486-487]untitled [pp.487-488]untitled [pp.488-491]untitled [pp.491-492]untitled [pp.492-493]untitled [pp.493-494]untitled [pp.494-495]untitled [pp.495-496]untitled [pp.496-497]untitled [p.498]untitled [pp.498-499]untitled [pp.499-501]untitled [pp.501-502]untitled [pp.502-503]untitled [pp.503-504]untitled [pp.504-505]untitled [pp.505-508]

    Shorter Noticesuntitled [p.509]untitled [pp.509-510]untitled [p.510]untitled [p.510]untitled [pp.510-511]untitled [p.511]untitled [pp.511-512]untitled [p.512]untitled [p.512]untitled [pp.512-513]untitled [pp.513-514]untitled [pp.514-515]untitled [p.515]untitled [p.515]

    Back Matter