China lends Angola $15bn, but few jobs are created

China has extended almost $15-billion in credit to Angola since the African oil giant’s civil war, but has struggled to hire trained locals for reconstruction projects, Beijing’s ambassador told Agence France-Presse.

China has taken a keen interest in helping the Southern African country rebuild since its 27-year civil war ended in 2002, but details of deals between the two have remained opaque.

In the first official estimate of Chinese lending to Angola, Ambassador Zhang Bolun said that three state banks — the Export-Import Bank of China, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, and the China Development Bank — have extended $14,5-billion in credit to the resource-rich country.

“The total of the credit lines is $14,5-billion if we add up the three credits,” Zhang said in an interview.

Angola, which vies with Nigeria for the title of Africa’s top oil producer, repays the loans in crude — guaranteeing the Asian powerhouse access to energy it needs to fuel its growth.

The deals have made Angola China’s second-largest oil supplier after Saudi Arabia. On Angola’s side, they have helped restore road and rail networks and build hospitals, schools and houses.

Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos said in 2006 of the relationship, “China needs natural resources and Angola needs development.”

But Angolans have criticised Dos Santos’ government for allowing Chinese workers to flood the country under loan deals that require Angola to hire Chinese construction companies.

Short time-frames
According to the ambassador, about 50 Chinese state-owned firms and 400 private companies are currently in Angola, with 60 000 to 70 000 Chinese expatriates working there — despite bilateral agreements that say at least 30% of the work force on such projects should be Angolan.

“Chinese companies can’t employ 30% Angolans. It’s impossible, it’s not realistic,” Zhang said.

“In our contracts here, we have a very short time-frame and a high requirement for quality. The majority of Angolans can’t satisfy that demand.”

But Angolans have also criticised the quality of some Chinese-built projects.

Last July, 150 patients had to be evacuated from a brand new hospital in the capital, Luanda, after giant cracks were discovered in the walls.

But Zhang said the problem was again the lack of a trained work force in Angola to manage projects after completion.

“Chinese companies build the projects and hand them over. The distribution, the administration, all that is on the Angolan side. It’s not the company’s responsibility,” he said.

The countries do not currently have a technical training agreement, he added.

China has resisted handing over some infrastructure projects out of concern that Angolans would not be able to manage them.

“There are essential elements that they can’t manage well, it has to be the Chinese. It’s a very big problem,” Zhang said.

He cited as an example four stadiums that Chinese firms built for the Africa Cup of Nations football tournament last year.

“We can’t hand them over to the Angolans,” he said. “Take November 11 Stadium in Luanda: the Angolans don’t use this stadium much. And there’s a lot of equipment inside. Without monitoring, it will all be stolen. But Chinese companies send employees and technicians to care for the stadiums.”

But the problem goes deeper than football stadiums. Zhang said the lack of qualified professionals threatens to undermine Angola’s efforts to rebuild itself.

“Now they have schools but lack teachers. They have hospitals but no doctors,” he said.

“If there are no executives, if there are no doctors and teachers, then who are all these schools and hospitals being built for?” – AFP

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