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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 June 2006, 12:52 GMT 13:52 UK
Angola: China's African foothold
As Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao visits Angola, the BBC's Piers Scholfield examines what links the two nations.

One of the worst of the countless conflicts that has blighted Africa in recent times is that of Angola.

A family living in Cambamba Dois slum
Most Angolans haven't seen the benefits of the oil billions

But a peace deal signed four years ago - and huge oil reserves - are now giving the Angolans hope as the country tries to rebuild its devastated infrastructure.

Recently China, scouring the globe for raw materials to feed its booming economy, has been drawn to Africa as an abundant source of minerals, and has started investing heavily in countries like Angola.

Africa, however, has been here before - and ended up as the victim.

Ever since its first contacts with western powers, the continent been plundered for its manpower and resources.

And until now it has had little to show for it, except phenomenal debts and rampant poverty.

But now there is a tangible air of optimism about the future.

Chinese revolution

An oil boom, set to see Angola overtake Nigeria as the continent's biggest oil supplier, is pouring billions into the government's coffers.

The Afro-China relation is a win-win one. China is more pragmatic than the Western world
Zandre, Sweden

The country's national budget has recently almost doubled - from $13bn (£7bn) to $25bn.

China is at the forefront of this revolution.

In its desire to secure future energy supplies, it is proposing billions more in credits, loans and infrastructure programmes. The World Bank told the BBC that the latest offer to the Angolan government is worth $9bn.

The Angolan government says it hopes to use this money on infrastructure projects to help rebuild roads, bridges, and schools across the country.

Despite the huge amount of new cash flowing into the country, some of society's poorest say they are not seeing the benefits yet.

Slums

Even in the capital, Luanda, families struggle to find food and water.

"Some of the poorest families live on seven or eight litres of water a day," says Allan Cain of the Luanda Urban Poverty Programme.

Slums in Luanda
Enormous investment is needed in Angola

"That's well below any international standard, and women have to walk for hours every day to collect the water."

And on the edge of the city in an area called Cambamba Dois, hundreds of people live in ramshackle dwellings made of corrugated iron and old clothes, exposed to the wind and rain.

They were thrown out of their houses to make way for developments for the wealthy and there is no sign of any compensation from the government.

Luanda itself is set on the Atlantic Ocean.

The city is a vast, sprawling mix of beautiful colonial-era government buildings, enormous construction sites - mostly for new oil company headquarters - and huge areas of filthy slums and shantytowns.

The city was originally built by the Portuguese for around 400,000 people, but the population is now thought to be well over 4m, swollen over the last three decades by a constant stream of people escaping the war in rural areas.

Non-interference

The city is choked with traffic and there are enormous public health problems, including a recent outbreak of cholera which left 1,200 dead.

This highlights the need for enormous investment, which is where China comes in.

Luanda city centre
Angola hopes China can help with its decaying infrastructure

The Angolan government welcomes the new visitors.

"Most important for us is the country's reconstruction," said minister Luís da Mota Liz.

And referring to efforts on transparency he went on, "just this month the Angolan government approved the international convention against corruption".

However, others say that the combination of corruption and Chinese cash is damaging, and that this source of new funds gives Angola the opportunity to ignore the IMF's recommendations on transparency and accountability.

The Angolan example is far from unique across Africa, where trade with China has exploded in the last few years.

And in the rush for resources, China has no qualms about dealing with countries that the west has criticised or shunned, such as Zimbabwe and Sudan.

China says it has a strict policy of non-interference in other nations' affairs.

It won't tell the countries it deals with what to do and vigorously defends its policy in Africa.

"Sudan is a sovereign country and I'm sorry that we do not develop relations according to US or UK or any other country's instruction," said Zhou Yuxiao, chargé d'affaires at the Chinese embassy in South Africa.

"Developing normal relations with a country does not mean that we approve every policy of that nation."

Luanda's waterfront
Angola's colonial legacy lives on in some of its buildings

He went on to say that China was doing a great deal to help African countries such as Angola.

"We are cancelling debt owed by the least developed countries, building more schools and hospitals.

"We have brought and will continue to bring great opportunities to all parts of the world including Africa."


SEE ALSO
Country profile: Angola
27 Apr 06 |  Country profiles
China's growing focus on Africa
17 Jan 06 |  Africa

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