Oil boom in Angola: In a poor land, an exploration of the trickle-down effect


The Right to Development: rare carrots and abundant sticks, micro-entrepreneurs and the transparency movement

Informal markets - the women with goods on their heads and small sheds in foreground - co-exist with the formal sector markets, housed in the buildings in background. (Photo by Kristin Reed)

By midday in Luanda, after the sun has burned away the fragile marine layer of fog, the heat is palpable. I was clinging to the shadows of the ministerial buildings along the Marginal one such afternoon, darting through the streams of traffic creeping toward home for the lunch hour, when I saw the inviting shade of an acacia in the dusty square. Under the tree stood a red cooler surrounded by three teenage boys laughing and sharing the final puffs of a cigarette. Not feeling in the mood to argue, I bought a cool Fanta for five kwanzas over the standard price and sat down on the concrete ledge.

Women strolled about the praça selling boiled eggs, shelled peanuts, sweet tangerines, bruised bananas, disposable diapers, and plastic bags of dingy water. The women carried their wares in bright plastic tubs on their heads and had children tied to their backs with bright swathes of cloth. A woman next to me stacked crates of beer bottles two- to three-high on the head of a petite teenaged girl. I winced when the young girl lurched as she rose from a crouch, but she smiled back and gracefully managed the load and disappeared into an alleyway.

I turned my gaze back toward the center of the square to see women packing up their wares and rushing off. A man in a blue uniform had arrived and was rudely barking at a young girl. He was a "fiscalization" officer. In an attempt to discourage informal sector activity in Angola, the government has deployed scores of fiscalization officers to fine street vendors operating without a permit. However, these street vendors cannot afford permits and the formal sector offers few job opportunities. Rather than providing the "carrot" necessary to transform informal sector activities into formal economic arrangements, the fiscalization policy is waving a stick at those with the fewest opportunities.

The movement for transparency in the state budget is not simply about reporting numbers, but rather using the receipts from oil exploitation to create opportunities for Angolans by providing them with dignified livelihoods. Angolans involved in the transparency movement are asserting their right to development. The United Nations' Declaration on the Right to Development reads: "States have the right and the duty to formulate appropriate national development policies that aim at the constant improvement of the well-being of the entire population and of all individuals, on the basis of their active, free and meaningful participation in development and in the fair distribution of benefits resulting there from." Without transparency, the benefits of oil exploitation are not accruing to the Angolan people or contributing to their development.

A national NGO (nongovernment organization), Development Workshop, has supported micro-finance initiatives based on the Bangladeshi Grameen Bank model, granting over 3,000 micro-entrepreneur women a total of 1.5 million dollars with a 98 percent payback rate. The success of this program suggests that the fiscalization policy would do better to invest in development opportunities rather than employing hot-tempered, blue-uniformed officials. As I sat sipping my syrupy Fanta that afternoon, shaking my head at the indecorous actions of the fiscalization officer, the woman next to me gave me a knowing smile.

— Kristin