Angola, Portugal turn page on past tensions

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

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LUANDA, Angola (AFP) —President Joao Lourenco and Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa buried the hatchet yesterday during whirlwind talks in Luanda that follow several turbulent years between Angola and its former ruler.

Following a meeting with his Portuguese visitor, Lourenco said “common sense and pragmatism would prevail so that relations between the two nations would be strengthened”.

The diplomacy marks an effort to move beyond the bitter legacy of Lisbon's colonial rule that ended in 1975 when Portugal withdrew without handing over power and Angola sank into civil war until 2002.

Costa said he hoped for a return to “the development of economic and financial cooperation between the countries on an even footing that would contribute to the two nations' prosperity”.

Angola is a key trading partner with Portugal, and the third largest recipient of its investments.

A major source of friction was removed in May when a Portuguese court decided that Angola's former vice-president Manuel Vicente can be tried in Luanda, rather than in Portugal, on corruption charges.

Lourenco had demanded that the trial take place in his country, “so that relations between Angola and Portugal can return to the level of the recent past”.

The two men marked the end of the two-day flurry of diplomacy by signing a strategic partnership agreement for the period until 2022.

“We are watching eagerly the arrival of small and medium-sized Portuguese companies in the Angolan market... to create wealth that will create significant opportunities for the two countries,” said Lourenco.

Costa said Lisbon was ready to “grow Angola's presence” in the country.

Lourenco will visit Lisbon for a return visit in November.

Portugal, battered by the global financial crisis, avoided bankruptcy with a bailout from the European Union, while Angola has become the tenth largest foreign investor in the country.

The visit by Costa, which has been postponed several times, was a “very important step” toward normalising relations, said analyst Alex Vines of Britain's Chatham House think-tank.

They also signed a slew of agreements that include deals on Angola's debts to Portuguese businesses — estimated to be in excess of 400 million euros (US$470 million).

President Lourenco has pledged to fight corruption and rebuild the economy of the second-largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa, which has still not recovered from the plunge in oil prices in 2014.

He has ousted relatives of his predecessor from leadership positions at state institutions and public companies in an effort to stamp his authority on the country and break with his former mentor's chequered past.

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