Black slaves, black coffee, black oil: Angolan – Dutch relationships over 4 centuries.

Intervention during Angola Conference on 23 September 2010 in Wageningen by Astrid Schipper and Bob van der Winden (see also )

Slaves, coffee and oil…
Of course you all know that Luanda was occupied by the Dutch between 1641 and 1648.
That was when ships of the West and the East Indian Company sought to overtake Portuguese dominance in the Angolan slave trade. Mutual interest to ‘rule out and destroy’ the Portuguese resulted in a treaty with the re-known Angolan queen Rainha Ginga. The queen would hand over half of the slaves she made to the Dutch. In return the Dutch would support the queen against the Portuguese. Towards the end of 1648 the Portuguese forced the Dutch out of Angola, but the slave trade had flourished for all those years and would flourish for a long time still…  After the Dutch colony Indonesia gained independence the Dutch moved to Angola for their coffee. Prior to the liberation war Angola was one of the worlds’ main coffee producers and the Netherlands was one of the main buyers of Angolan coffee. The Dutch Angola Committee (later Holland Committee on Southern Africa and NiZA) put pressure on major Dutch coffee roasters and distributors to stop selling coffee from Angola. Albert Heijn and Douwe Egberts were so afraid that they stopped imports even before the campaign had been publicly launched. This coffee boycott became a textbook example of how a small group of civil activists can achieve results with amazing speed… The third wave of Dutch – Angolan trade in a black commodity is going on to date: oil. In 2008 Angola’s export income is said to be $67 billion and $60 billion comes from oil. The value of Dutch oil-import has risen from 57 million euro in 2005 to almost 1,2 billion euro in 2008. No wonder that Dutch ambassadors openly stated that ‘energy security’ is the Dutch department of Foreign Affairs’ first priority.

From trade to aid and back

During the first 30 years after liberation Dutch policy focused predominantly on providing humanitarian aid to the war torn population. Besides some modest support in the areas of human rights and good governance, the bilateral aid has now virtually dried up: The amounts provided went down from 12 million euro in 2002 to a last input of 2,5 million euro in 2005.

Meanwhile the bilateral focus of the Dutch Government has shifted in Angola from aid (back) to trade and several facilities have been developed to promote this. The Dutch interest in Angolan oil and Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) and the Angolan interest in Dutch “know how” and the technological expertise to cultivate and transport these are key factors for an advantageous mutual cooperation. Also the Dutch tradition in maritime transports and in the management of ports is of great interest for Angola. For example Dutch company Heerema Maritime has just finished the construction of a shipyard in Porto Amboim (Kwanza Sul) This shipyard is now providing assistance to Angola’s offshore oil and gas industry; Royal Boskalis has been awarded a contract for the dredging of the Soyo Liquefied Natural Gas port in North Angola…. In the meantime Angola has also moved up in the ranks of Dutch export and is currently the second largest market for Dutch (mainly consumer) products in Africa, after South Africa.  For the past years the Dutch Embassy published a newsletter focusing on business opportunities in Angola. The title is ‘Time is now!’ But looking closely at the Netherlands – Angolan trade ties over the past centuries it may be clear that there is no such thing as ‘Time is now!’ For centuries the Netherlands got a very good deal out of its linkages with Angola. From the treaty with Rainha Ginga to the deals struck by the 2009 Dutch trade mission headed by the Dutch Minister of Economic Affairs.

Whereas the general public seems to think that nations like China have intensive trade relations with Angola because they do not bother about all sorts of human rights, honestly, we should recognize that the Netherlands has not fared badly either while trading with Angola. The question is ‘is that a bad thing’? After all ‘no aid but trade’ is a slogan that has been welcomed since a long time by large part of the ‘third world movement’… Once Dutch companies start taking ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ more serious this might be even a good development …

‘Reversed Boston tea-party’
Finally: what does the (re-)structuring of the relationships between Angolan and Dutch government ‘from aid to trade’ mean for Civil Society here and there? David Sogge and I wrote about it it in the book  ‘Southern Africa: Civil Society, politics and donor strategies’: We conclude that the civil domain in today’s Angola is highly constrained. Government is not accountable to its citizens: their income comes from offshore. Dambisa Moyo descibes this in ‘Dead Aid’ as the reversed Boston tea-party: no representation without taxation… We therefore argue that international development agencies, currently fixated on project-based development strategies, should put much greater priority on enlarging and protecting public domains expanding the ‘public arena’ and making it transparent. Popular leverage and a shift in the balance of forces in the arena is important, but a viable objective in the middle run would be to enhance responsiveness of the Angolan state to citizens’ needs, e.g. by supporting social movements to become strong enough to hold the government accountable, thus setting precedents for wider formal democracy in the longer run. Thus focusing on the direct contribution of Dutch civil society to the strengthening of Angolan civil society. May be this in the end could historically seen also become a continuum… like the trade relations between both countries….

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