Dependent Development? The Case of Angola-China Economic Relations

Updated: Jul 26, 2021

1. Introduction

Classical dependency theory has taught us that the relationship between core and periphery weakens the periphery's economy while strengthening the core’s wealth and growth. It emerged in a way that the rich get richer while the poor remain poorer. There are few well-known theorists and literature on classical dependency. Although this theoretical argument can explore the negative role of the colonial power that led to economic deterioration in certain dependent states, unfortunately, it only focuses on external factors (colonialism) rather than evaluating the internal factors that also contributed to the underdevelopment of dependent states. Lacking analysis on the internal factors had envisaged public criticism and tarnished the image of classic dependency theory.

Over time, few theorists discovered that economic dependence and dominant dependent relationships created economic development in dependent states/peripheries. Countries such as Taiwan and Brazil were able to build their economy while perpetuating dependency under the dominant-dependent relations. This scenario provoked ideas of dependent development theory, a theory underpins classical dependency but offers few new features and comprehensive discussion on dominant-dependent relations. Dependent development theorists argued that underdevelopment is not an absolute consequence generated by dependency. Development is possible for the peripherals while in dependency mode. Based on their argument, core states enabled the periphery states to develop their economy and produced tangible growth. Literature on dependent development had reached further milestones as the studies discussed critical arguments on core-peripheral relations and justified that certain backwardness in the periphery are not created by the core but due to lack of internal effort of local participation of the periphery nation itself.

2. Historical Review

A historical review can enable us to understand the driving factor behind Angola’s dependency and underdevelopment which has persisted for many decades. Besides that, Angola’s foreign relations, economic growth, and performance after the civil war–– especially after 2002–– is pivotal to review, as this part illustrates Angola’s economic situation for the next ten years commencing from the year 2020.

2.1 Angola dependency: Colonial dependence.

Many scholars accused Portugal’s dominance as the main factor that hampered Angola’s growth. Scholars such as Hodges (2001), Ati (2002) Bertocchi and Canova (2002) and Kyle (1999) claimed that the Portugal administration constructively generated development to Portugal, while evoking underdevelopment in Angola. They revealed that among the European colonizers, the metropolitan powers against the dependent states were different. Britain and France’s dominations have produced some complementary effects to the colonies especially on economic specialization, education, and health. However, some colonial powers such as Portugal produced detrimental effects on their African colonies. Angola-Portugal relations fit in the feature of colonial dependency as claimed by Ati (2002) and Kriekhous (2006), in which Angola’s well-diversified economy in the colonial era was fully utilized for Portugal’s development.

Its main export to Portugal was highly concentrated on agriculture and natural resources. Portugal exploited Angola’s coffee, sisal, cotton, oil, and diamond (Stork, and Shimula 2003). Kyle (1999) characterized Portugal as a super exploiter, causing a severe impact on Angola’s agriculture sector. He added that before independence, Angola was the main food exporter but at the end of the colonial period and after independence, Angola became a net food importer. In support of this, Hodges (2001) stated that in the 1990’s Angola dependency on international food aid was 200000 tons a year. Portugal’s exploitation over Angola’s economy weakened the economy and sustained Angola under economic constraints.

According to Sogge (2009), the export pattern maintained by Portugal in Angola has destroyed Angola’s competitiveness. Jenkins, Robson and Cain (2002) have a deeper view of Angola’s poor development and competitiveness. According to their observations, Portugal has failed to impose any kind of development initiatives and left Angola in a weaker position in the terms of skills, employment and discouraged private or commercial economic activities. Jenkins, Robson and Cain further elaborated that Portugal failed to practice technological transfer in Angola causing backwardness in technological capabilities and dependent on America and Britain for capital and technology. Bertocchi and Canova (2002), Kyle (1999) claimed that Portugal drained Angola's surplus for its development.

Afro-Portuguese relations dragged African countries into a huge debt burden (Jenkins, Robson and Cain 2002 and Bender (1978). In the post-colonial era, Angola’s underdevelopment persisted and was worsened by the civil war. Angola faced economic disorder, currency destabilization, volatility in oil revenue, ruined infrastructure (Sogge 2009). According to Christine, Wagner and Winter (2007) post-colonial civil war-damaged homes, health centres and schools. They added that during this era, Angola was forced to import foods and manufactured goods as its economy mainly concentrated on oil revenue that was mainly utilized for military purposes.

In 2002, Ati brought up an interesting fact in which he captured the role of “asimilados' ', referred to as a small group of powerful indigenous people in Angola, favoured Portugal and ensured Portugal dominance over their country. In return, the asimilados gained certain privileges from Portugal. This resembled Conway and Heynen's (2002) point on the special relationship between the powerful elites from the peripheral and the core in which these elites ensured the core’s long term influence in the peripheral.

2.2 Angola Dependency: China Economic Relations

China’s presence in Africa should be analysed before exploring Angola-China relations. China’s engagement in Africa provoked various critics around the world. Mohan & Power (2008) and Zweig & Fianbai (2005) stated that the Chinese fast-growing demand for oil and natural resources is affecting Sub Saharan Africa’s (SSA) sustainable development and reflecting previous colonial agendas in SSA. Carmody and Owusu (2007) stated China illustrated a geopolitical strategy to attract Africans and form a new alliance in the region. Scholars such as Dittmer and Yu (2010) claimed that China’s ulterior motive was extremely focused on natural resources and market access in SSA countries. Ajakaije and Kaplinsky (2009) and Dittmer and Yu (2010) quoted: “Will the ugly Americans transform into ugly China” (Ajakaije and Kaplinsky 2009) “Chinese is the new colonial master in Africa” (Dittmer and Yu 2010).

Contrary to the above views, Mayo (2009) and Robertson (2011) eradicated the Chinese as an imperialist factor in SSA. China’s ventures in Africa provoked African enthusiasm in realizing their potential in welcoming investors rather than being passive aid receivers from their colonial donors. Furthermore, Brautigam (2009) highlighted Chinese investments initiatives such as the establishment of Special Economic Zone (SEZs) that encourages Africa’s industrialization. Tangible developments that occur through Chinese influence are seen as positive effects to the host countries. Brautigam (2009) defined China’s position as an economic driver to Africa especially to SSA countries and not as a colonial power. She highlighted three criteria on Africa’s gain from China, among them Chinese experience in overcoming poverty, Chinese African’s infrastructure development and its initiatives in changing Africa’s image from a poor and desperate continent to a business venue. As Brautigam (2009), Aning and Lecoutre (2008) claimed positive consequences of China’s ventures in Africa whereby Chinese trade, investment and infrastructure plans have rejuvenated Africa’s economic development in the short term. In line with the statements, Uchehara (2009) defined Africa’s trade with China as the main factor for economic growth. The Chinese nonintervention principles, pioneering the social and economic development through “win-win economic cooperation” meet the contemporary demand of SSA for development and growth (Kaplinsky and Morris 2009) and Gu (2009).

However, China’s mutual benefit or common development is often seen by western literature as propaganda, and it is all about imperialism, dependency, and exploitation. The reasoning is that the different level of development between China and SSA is unable to lead to a mutual benefit scenario (Taylor 2009). Taylor (2009) and Gu (2009) further indicated that the central government of China and state-owned enterprises (SOEs), private enterprises and commercial organizations in China uphold different aspirations and motivations in SSA.

In relating dependency theory in China-SSA relations, Ajakaije and Kaplinsky (2009) uphold their views by eradicating dependency theory from overall China-Africa relations and strictly stated that Africa is not the quivering victim in this relation. Similarly, Zafar (2007) stated that the Chinese factor in SSA freed the “resource curse” paradox. They highlighted that SSA’s proper and wise policies may position SSA as a potential trade and investment partner. Sprance (2008) noted that for most of the African governments, China is not an imperialist. Instead, the Africans built confidence in China’s mutual benefit approach. Behar and Manners (2007) stated SSA trade integration outside their region especially with East Asia, Pacific, South Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean (as we are aware, China is the biggest trade player among them) contributed to the growth spillover effect to SSA low-income countries. SSA’s ability to impose strategic and wise policy choices and raise autonomous power on their economic sectors, will reduce their vulnerability against the negative effects and accentuates SSA economic development in the long run (Braugtiam and Xioayang 2011), (Taylor 2009), (Zafar 2007) and Tull (2006), and will be able to replicate the dependent development scenario.

The Angola-China relation emerged in 1960 but the relation revolved on political, military, and ideological purposes (Aberg (2010) and Campos and Vines (2008). Alves (2010) and Campos and Vines (2008) notify three phases in Angola-China economic development. Phase 1 held in the 1970s witnessed volatile relations with China due to China’s involvement in Angola’s liberation movement. Phase 2 in the 1980s involved gradual improvement with an official diplomatic tie. While phase 3 from 2002 onwards with great integration between two countries in line with the Chinese “go out “policy (Braugtigam 2007, Foster, Butterfiled, Chen and Pushak 2009).

Scholars point out two possible reasons for China's diversion from political to economic perspectives. The first reason detected in Looy (2006) and Taylor (2009) literature, claimed that the post-Maoist era of 1978 induced China to change its strategy towards the economy, leaving behind the political and ideological ventures in Africa. In line with the claims Campos and Vines (2008) and Hongyi (2010) stated that China had tied an official diplomatic relation with Angola in 1983, then in 1984 China signed the first trade agreement with Angola and in 1988 China established the Joint Economy and Trade Commission in Angola.

Even though the trade relation during this period mirrored a small fraction, it indicates the wave of changes in the Chinese approach in Angola, from political to economic. The second reason was the establishment of the Chinese “go out policy'' in 1999 (FOCAC report 2012) and of FOCAC in 2000 (Amineh and Yang 2012). Under the FOCAC, China has become the fastest-growing investor and trade partner in Africa (Zafar 2007). Noticeably during the same period, China was on its way for resource acquisition (Mullins, Mohan, and Power 2010) under the “Go Global Strategy” (1999).

The important fact under this era was the Chinese new guiding principles in Africa. Looy (2006) stated China refused to assist Africa unconditionally and limited its aid, whereas China wanted to boost economic relations to achieve mutual benefits for both parties. According to Navarro (2008), China had declared 2006 as the Year of Africa, indicating the accelerating economic relations between the two. Scholars highlighted that in the 2000s, Angola’s foreign relations with westerners faced severe tension (Seivers, Marks and Naidu 2010), (Micheal and Burret 2010), (Davies 2010) and (Navarro 2008) stated that Angola’s effort to gain financial help from Western countries came to a bottleneck scenario due to corruption and misuse of oil revenues. Christine, Wagner and Winter (2001) highlighted that Angola felt more comfortable with oil-packed loans offered by China through “non-strings attached policy” and less conditionality (without restriction for humanities and democracies guidelines demanded by the westerns) whereas western rigid financial aid seen as the new form of imperialism in Angola. Corkin (2013) and Power and Alves (2012) issued similar statements. According to them, the rigid IMF loan requirement forced Angola to shift its focus to China which offers non-attachment loans to Angola.

Davies (2010) illustrated three types of economic relations practised by China in Angola during this era. Trade, investments, and credit lines emerged as China’s economic tools in Angola. Kaplinsky, Morris and Mike (2009) referred to trade, FDI and financial flows as “three vectors' '. The striking point is that these three vectors were used by colonial powers and extracted surplus from the colonies. In the Angola-China relation, the Chinese used the same vectors to achieve its goals in Angola, but it creates a better way for Angola's economy.

3. Advantages

Although the relevance of the Theory of Dependency and Theory of Dependent Development has decreased over time, yet many countries in the African continent are still unable to free themselves from the dependency trap. What time of dependency exists in this modern era in Africa? Undeniably some of the new dependencies are more on dependent development. For instance, Angola China economic relations. Angola is the best fit to utilize as subject matter to review the ineffectiveness of classical dependency theory and the relevance of the dependent development theory. Angola had tremendously gone through the heat of colonization and the continuation of under development for many years during the era of colonization. Angola represented the most significant experience of dependency, both in the former and present economic scenario.

Turning our lens on Angola’s contemporary economic relations, China plays a prominent role in Angola’s economy. China's national policy such as non-interference and mutual benefit laid the foundation for solid economic interaction between the two. Economic relations between the two countries are based on dominant-dependent relations. Angola depends on oil trade, investment, and financial support from China. Both aspects play important roles in macroeconomic acceleration in Angola.

The re-appearance of the dependent development model is seen in Angola’s economic relations with China, particularly after the end of the civil war in Angola. Angola-China economic relationships have opened a new phase of economic growth in Angola. Angola has strong ties with China on trade, investment, and development loans. Focusing on Sino-Angolan relations, Angola’s abundant resources have become the centre of attraction to China. A resource-rich country like Angola, able to capture Chinese attention as China aggressively looks for natural resources to meet its domestic demand. The relation between them, strengthen, trade and investment expand enormously.

While perpetuating dependency, China enables Angola to perform better in their economic development. A strong bond between these two countries has strengthened Angola’s dependency on China for (i) oil export (ii) investment and (iii) infrastructure loans. Such a scenario witnesses the return of trade dependence and financial-industrial dependence as per claim by Santos (1979). Beyond criticism, China became the core and strategic partner to Angola. The economic relationship between the two countries is grounded in commercial pragmatic bonds. Based on Angolan perspectives, bilateral trade, investment ties and loans from China can produce some tangible outcomes and improve Angola’s economic development. Chinese presence in Angola has reshaped the Angolan shattered economy due to colonialism and civil war. The study shows that Chinese influence has a positive impact on GDP, trade balance and economic policies in Angola.

a) Economic growth- GDP, GDP per capita and GNI per capita

A remarkable growth in Angola’s oil trade has granted a steady momentum to its real GDP growth. Angola stands as the most promising economy in Sub Saharan Africa with high achievement in the terms of GDP. Oil is the major source of revenue thus affording Angola to experience continuous growth. Robust growth in oil trade has encouraged Angola’s real GDP growth. As noted earlier, the oil trade enormously influences Angola’s economic growth. We can conclude that an increase in oil GDP is accompanied by an increase in real GDP. The non-oil sector's contribution towards real GDP is also significant, especially in 2009 till 2011 in which the sector enabled real

GDP to sustain a positive figure despite a fall in oil GDP, yet the oil sector has the largest share overall. Angola is grateful to China for the robust growth in its real GDP. The participation of China in Angola’s oil trade, especially since 2004 helped the export sector to experience a boom drastically and at the same time it induced a steady growth in real GDP despite a severe fall during the crisis. Oil GDP in Angola is very much dependent on China's contribution. Chinese large share in Angola’s oil exports enhance oil revenue, boost oil GDP and directly induce growth of Angola real GDP. Even though it is undeniable that years before Chinese engagement in Angola, especially in 2000 and 2001, Angola did enjoy high GDP growth by reaching approximately 14.8 %, but its GNI and GDP per capita growth was not robust. In 2000 Angola’s GNI per capita was only 70 at current US$ whereas the GDP per capita was 1000 at current US$. The striking point here is that Angola’s real GDP growth throughout 2004 to 2012 was accompanied by an equivalent growth in GNI per capita and GDP per capita (Graph 1). Angola’s GDP and GNI per capita started to grow enormously since 2004 in which from 2004 until 2012, GDP and GNI per capita grew 350 % to 400 %. Furthermore, between the years 2002 to 2006, the defence spending has dropped from an average to 4.5% when compared to 17 % in 1999. It is thus predicted that the defence budget share of GDP would drop to an average of 4.3% for the year 2014 until 2017(Caffrey and Mcgerty 2012).

The strong economic growth after 2002 meant that economic wealth was being utilized for the well-being of the nation rather than improvement in the defence budget. Another important point here is that due to a steady growth in GDP per capita Angola has been able to reorient its position from a lower-middle-income country to upper-middle-income status. Following its economic performance, in 2015 UNTACD announced a graduation process for Angola from LCDs status (UNTACD Workshop, Angolan LDC Graduation Process 2012). It has been noted that GNI per capita growth has qualified Angola to leap from the LCDs group but to attain the developing countries status it needs to upgrade its HDI index, economy vulnerability against external shock and others. The participation of other countries in the Angola economy such as Europe and the United States also contributed to the well-being of Angola’s GDP but the main findings in the research are the improvement in GDP and GNI changed dramatically upon Chinese engagement in Angola.

b) Trade balance

Almost half of Angola’s crude oil exports go to China. This is due to the strong demand from China due to industrial development in China. From 2004 until 2013, Angola’s exports to China grew almost 600% leading to a big trade surplus with China. It is an important criterion in analysing the dependent development model. In the classical dependency model, trade between the core and periphery leads to a trade deficit in peripheral countries. However, the dependent development model insisted that some peripherals were able to enjoy trade surplus through trade relations with the core countries.

The bigger portion of Angola’s trade surplus came from China. For example, in 2013, Angola trade balance globally accommodated 57.3% from the Chinese partner (Angola’s total trade balance globally inclusive China accounted for USD 48.9 billion).

c) Debt settlement

In 2007, IMF agreed to continue loan disbursement to Angola due to the country’s ability to settle the long-term debt in the Paris Club. In the year 2007, Angola managed to settle USD 2.3 billion to the Paris Club and committed to settling the balance outstanding debt amounting to USD 1.5 billion (World Bank Country Risk Report 2007). Accelerated economic growth and the government’s ability to clear accrued debts enhanced Angola’s credibility in international platforms. It is worth noticing that in 2005 public debt was measured at 48.6% of its GDP, but later reduced to 16.8% of its GDP in 2011 (World Bank Country Risk Report 2007). Schiere, Ndikumana Walkenhost (2011) stated:

“An OECD study pointed out that in Angola and Sudan, Chinese investments and higher oil prices stimulated by China’s demand for raw materials and contributed to the considerable improvement seen in debt-distress indicators in both countries.

Besides that, during the FOCAC meeting in 2009, China promised to co-ordinate debt relief assistance to its African exporter of raw material to China and importer of Chinese manufactured goods. Most importantly, in that same year, China has written off several debts owed by Angola to China. Turning our attention to the crisis-era of 2008/2009, it is true that Angola was affected badly due to the fall in oil price and global economic crisis, illustrating Angola’s volatility and vulnerability due to its heavy dependence on a single commodity. Yet the recovery period in terms of trade between Angola and China was very fast as the recovery took only one year. As we see in Graph 2, Angola’s trade balance to China revived back to the same volume as in 2008, a year after the severe fall in 2009. However, it took Angola 2 years to recover its trade balance volume globally. This scenario broadcast Angola-China integrated bond and of course, China stands as a credible partner to Angola and lessen the impact of Dutch Disease.

d) Complementary growth in other sectors

Over the years, the classical dependency and dependent development model witnessed a complementary growth in peripherals due to the core’s economic ties with them. Complementary growth under classical models are on small scales and mainly concentrated on the natural resource sectors. It further elaborated that the core’s keen interest in agriculture sectors in the peripheral for instance had enhanced cattle and other dairy raring activities (Santos 1970). While agricultural activities progressed, husbandry activities also grew. This supplementary effect had benefited little to some of the peripheral people. Whereas, in a dependent development model, the complementary growth is seen as bigger scope.

The motivation is simple, in the modern era core power such as China ensures proper access to the peripheral resources. The action resulted in creating growth in other sectors other than the main resource-based sectors such as the construction of roads, buildings, and other facilities. The same scenario is reflected in Angola-China relations. Chinese released a big portion of credit lines to upgrade Angola’s infrastructure and other sectors (Diagram 1).

The performance of the construction sector in Angola is remarkable. Before Chinese engagement, the construction sector was dominated by Portugal, Brazilian and South African MNCs such as Teixeira Duartes, Mota Engil, Soares da Costa, Oderbrecht, Grinaker and Murray and Roberts (Article from Center for Chinese Studies, Stellenbosch University, 2006). Unfortunately, the construction sector is unable to take off as the loans from these countries are not as big as the Chinese loans. After 2004, the entire construction growth expanded tremendously due to large capital injection by the Chinese government. As China entered the country, rapid growth could be seen in Angola’s construction sectors. Most of the construction projects funded by the Chinese government related to rehabilitation and expansion of roads, railways and ports besides having considerable projects on power plants, dams, schools, hospitals and telecommunication towers. All the initiatives are directly linked to China’s oil interest in Angola. Chinese movement and its associated companies desperately need proper infrastructure to run the operation in Angola. Oil exploration stands as the main motive for China to develop Angolan infrastructure. In the mission to upkeep the public infrastructure, the construction sector attains complementary growth. The World Bank report on Angola Economic update June 2013, issue 1, revealed that strong production in cement indicated robust construction activities in Angola. The construction sector’s contribution towards GDP attained 8.9% in 2012 when compared to 5% in 2006.

4. A Way forward: Policy Recommendations

As claimed by the dependent development, negative consequences arise through the internal factor in peripheries. There are few noticeable negative outcomes seen in Angola-China economic relations which need to be addressed by the Angolan government. Among them, exploitation of local workers, poor quality of life for the lower class, uneven development and inequality. The research captured that uneven development and inequality are two main issues prohibiting the essence of Angola’s economic growth reaching the whole society and causing poor life quality to the lower class. The government needs to have structural and fiscal reform in addressing these issues to ensure sustainable development to Angola under Angola-China relations.

Additionally, the government should concentrate on economic diversification rather than single reliance on oil. The government needs to create readiness to enhance advancement in manufacturing and industrialization both in the oil and agriculture sectors. With Chinese credit lines, oil revenue, skill and technology transfer, Angola needs to mobilize its other prospectus sectors.

Policy recommendations are needed in Angola to move forward and to achieve sustainable development. Besides that, policy recommendations provide a path for future research and analysis on Angola-China economic relations. Angola needs to implement structural reform in articulating economic diversification, improving government institutions and enhancing social development. Secondly, transparent policies are needed in overcoming the centralization of wealth among political link-local companies and also an improvement in the employment rate. The third improvement is to establish government institutions and bodies governing and coherent for evaluation of development projects held under the triple alliance.

Hence the research concludes that the core-peripheral relation between Angola-China from the economic perspective generates fruitful outcomes to Angola. This relation resembles the dependent development rather than classical dependency. However, as demanded by the dependant development theory, the state government of Angola or any other countries in Africa perpetuating the same economic relation with China should utilize the benefits from this core peripheral relation to diversifying the economy for sustainable growth and development via internal adjustments, policy revision and local participation.


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