Washington, DC — With energy demand up in the United States and traditional sources of oil from the Middle East looking precarious, reliable exports from sub-Saharan African producers like Angola are looking more attractive, says former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young.
During a reception he hosted for Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos May 15 in Washington, Young told the Washington File he believed the leader's three-day visit to the United States was "extremely important because it's a continuation of our focus on Africa in a strategic [energy] partnership."
Young emphasized, "In America's interest, I must say that since my earliest involvement in Angola in the 1950s and '60s there has never been a one-day interruption of oil production throughout the confusion" of its long civil war.
The former congressman, mayor of Atlanta and co-chairman of the 1996 Olympics hosted the reception as well as a dinner for dos Santos at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. The Leon Sullivan Foundation, Africare, the Africa Society and the Constituency for Africa co-sponsored the event.
(The previous day dos Santos met with President Bush at the White House, where the two leaders discussed economic and political issues of importance to both their nations. Angola now accounts for more than 7 percent of oil imports into the United States.)
On a hot, muggy evening reminiscent more of West Africa than the northeastern United States in early summer, representatives of energy firms rubbed shoulders with diplomats, government officials and prominent politicians in the city's tony West End near Georgetown. Ambassadors Princeton Lyman and Howard Jeter, who both served in top posts in Africa, circulated with former Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater and Congresswoman Maxine Waters.
Young said, "I've always been an advocate of developing partnerships with African nations -- not only to just use their oil -- but to share in the growth and development of the continent." In Angola, he said, "we've had humanitarian as well as all other kinds of interests. But now, particularly with the turmoil in the Middle East -- we never know what's going to happen there -- we realize that our oil dependence could be secured by a greater involvement with Africa."
In the 1950s, Young said, "I was headed to Angola as a missionary, but I never quite made it." Instead, the president of Goodworks International -- which offers strategic advice to businesses in Africa and other emerging nations -- said, he "went South," where he became a close aide and confidant to the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., a prominent leader of the civil rights campaign for racial justice in America during the 1960s.
Since then, Young said, "I've never lost my interest in Angola and worked with the government in 1975 when I was in Congress and then again at the U.N." He said he was especially happy now to see an end to its "intractable civil war." The conflict was "quite destructive. However, recently there has been a rebuilding. But it's a long, slow process. On the plus side, like South Africa, there has been almost no bitterness and a welcome to American investment and development."
Asked about charges that widespread corruption is eating up oil revenues in Angola, Young said: "I think corruption is a function of instability. When people don't think their country has any future, they take their money somewhere else. Now the strife has ended, and as Americans invest there I think Angolans will follow suit."
Young said: "Frankly, I think a lot of the talk of corruption is hypocrisy. Because in order to have a hand receiving graft, there's got to be another hand giving. And they [the Angolans] are not corrupting themselves. We [Goodworks International] have stood against any illicit payments and nobody has ever approached us or offered us anything."
Former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria Howard Jeter, who is now an executive vice-president of Goodworks International, told the Washington File: "Whenever the president of Angola is here, it's important because there has been a long affiliation between the United States and Angola. After Nigeria, Angola is the major oil producer in Africa. It has tremendous resources."
Jeter added: "Angola is on the move after coming out of a very difficult two and a half decades of conflict. The government has undertaken some reforms now and is adopting a new transparency initiative that will make public its revenues from oil production. That's a large step for Angola."
The former diplomat concluded: "I think it's a very interesting and exciting country because it has unimaginable potential leading to a lot of scope for broad collaboration between our two countries."
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)