Oil boom in Angola: In a poor land, an exploration of the trickle-down effect
Jardine parrots
These frightened Jardine parrots were shipped down the west coast of Africa (Kristin Reed photos)

Environmental law enforcement and the survival mentality

The environmental laws on the books in Angola are comprehensive in their scope and laudable in their vision. But enforcement of environmental law here, as one informant told me, is "non-existent." Neither the funding nor the institutional capacity exists for creating the enforcement networks to protect the Angolan environment.

One afternoon, as I followed an unfamiliar curve in the dusty streets of Luanda, I noticed a row of wire cages. At first I assumed that these were merely chicken coops, but upon closer examination, I realized the cages were crowded with finches, doves and parrots. A flash of emerald revealed a pair of Jardine parrots huddled at the bottom of their cage. Below was a troop of African Grey parrots of the Congo variety. The "veterinario" with a face too young for his title told me that os verdes were from further up the coast of West Africa and os cinzas had been trucked in from the Angolan interior.

 African Gray parrots
These particular African Grays are of the 'Congo' variety and are renowned for their intelligence.

Torn from their complex social structures and denied the quintessential element of birdness – flight – the squawks and shivers of these parrots made me shudder. My personal biases are simple: life in a cage cannot compare to a bird's life in the wild. Professionally, I've seen the dreadful, cruel conditions of the animal trade through previous work for an organization involved in international wildlife law enforcement and I would encourage anyone to rethink buying a pet that may have been captured from the wild. Furthermore, these animals fulfill a special niche within their ecosystems and we cannot predict the impact of their absence. (To learn more about the bird trade, visit The Gabriel Foundation.)

The trade in wildlife, along with many transgressions of environmental law, often is the result of a survival mentality and a lack of alternatives. After 27 years of war, the survival mentality is pervasive in Angola. People are concerned with putting food on the table today. Those searching for safety don't think in terms of when tomorrow comes, but if tomorrow comes. After all, the average life expectancy at birth in 2000 was 44.6 and almost one third of Angolan children don't see their fifth birthday.

The lack of alternatives often impedes environmentally sound practices. Someone I interviewed who is familiar with businesses in Luanda explained that local companies' policies for waste disposal are often limited to pouring toxics down the drain or in the street. Proper disposal networks are lacking. Assuredly, these chemicals flow into Luanda's bay to mix with the beer cans, used condoms, raw sewage and orange peels floating there. Chances are, the fishermen trolling the bay and the women balancing plastic buckets of crispy, silver-streaked fish have accumulated doses of toxics originating from these drains.

'Law enforcement'

Oil companies are not challenged by survival in the sense that people are. Their willingness to comply with environmental law may be based upon considerations such as cost-benefit rationalizations or public opinion.

A number of questions arise with regard to enforcement of environmental law related to oil production in Angola:

1) Who is formulating the laws? In the case of Angola, oil companies have played a large role in advising the government Ministry of Petroleum and the Ministry of Environment in the formulation of regulations. On the positive side, the companies know exactly what practices could cause environmental harm. However, does their input bias legislative formulation?

2) What are the costs of environmental compliance? In the case of spills, environmental harm may be obvious and call for immediate action. But, in the case of a barely noticeable leak in a pipeline that is costly to replace, action could be postponed even though it may cause greater environmental damage.

3) Do the government institutions have the will to enforce the law? How is monitoring conducted? Are the officers prone to enticements or are they professional? Are the gains from environmental law enforcement recognized?

4) What is the relationship between the enforcing institution and the local community? How do local people play a role in protecting and managing their natural resources? Do they feel threatened or ignored by the enforcing institution? Are there mechanisms for reporting transgressions?

Ultimately, the efficacy of Angola's environmental law will be determined not only by the voluntary compliance of individuals and corporations, but by the strength of law enforcement activities and the input of communities relying on natural resources for survival, both today and long into the future.

— Kristin