LUANDA, (CAJ News) – from PEDRO AGOSTO in Luanda, Angola
CLOSE to three decades after their tense relations normalised, Angola and the United States (US) appear heading on a collision course over the African country’s flagrant disregard of contractual obligations to American companies.
The waning relations are contrary to suggestions this week by a senior US official that interactions were cordial and his country was in support of “bold” reforms Angola was undertaking under President Joao Lourenco.
Behind the scenes, tensions are simmering with the administration of Donald Trump over the unpaid debts.
Donald Trump Junior, a key figure in his father’s election campaign that culminated in the elder Trump assuming office in 2017, this week disclosed indeed a storm was brewing.
The younger Trump, the oldest child in the First Family, made revelations the White House and Treasury were considering “action” to counter “aggression” by Angola, the former Portuguese colony.
Economic sanctions cannot be ruled out in the list of actions to be effected to compel the recalcitrant Angola to comply.
This is part of efforts to protect American business interests in the Southern African country.
This is the first time an American politician has been explicit on the looming diplomatic row as emotions boil over.
Trump Jr’s tone highlights how seriously Angola’s defiant stance towards settling debts owed to some American firms, among them the Las Vegas-headquartered Africa Growth Corporation (AFGC) and Florida-based LS Energia Inc.
The aggrieved companies have sought legal action, with AFGC appealing to the District Court in Columbia last month against the outright seizure and occupation of its properties by the family of Army General António Francisco Andrade, his son, Miguel Kenehele (an army Captain), daughter Natasha Andrade Santos (a state prosecutor) are co-defendants.
The publicly-listed AFCG, through its subsidiaries, builds and manages apartments in Angola’s capital, Luanda.
Uniformed Angolan soldiers allegedly seized some of its assets at gunpoint as Lorenco’s government resisted paying an undisclosed debt.
Angola’s hiring of a Washington-based firm- Squire Patton Boggs- to represent it has exacerbated matters.
In another matter before the courts, LS Ernegia is seeking payment of over US$52 million for a contract it fulfilled to generate electricity to Angolan homes.
The debt is unsettled three years after completion of the project.
Angola, the Ministry of Energy and Water and EmpresaPública de Produçãode Electricidade (or Public Electricity Production Company- PRODEL) are defendants in the matter before the District Court in Florida.
Trump Jnr’s disclosure to corroborate versions by sources close to the developments that the US was considering restrictive measures against the authoritarian regime in Angola.
Sanctions have been mentioned.
The US, which provided Angola with more than $76 million in 2018 and 2019, could withhold foreign aid to Angola.
A White House official has been quoted as saying the government was “troubled” by the situation some US companies found themselves in the African nation.
An analyst in the Angola capital, Luanda, did not rule out targeted sanctions such as travel bans to the US against individuals implicated in the violations against American companies.
“We have seen such punishment slapped on politicians from Zimbabwe and Malawi recently, despite the fact that in these cases, US interests were not under threat,” he told CAJ News Africa.
The analyst was referring to sanctions imposed on individuals that the US viewed as impediments to democracy through corruption and violence in those two Southern African countries.
Earlier this week, US Secretary of State, Michael Pompeo, met Angolan Foreign Minister, Manuel Augusto, in Washington.
Officials were tight-lipped whether the “aggression” by Angola featured in discussions.
Morgan Ortagus, Pompeo’s spokesman, said his principal, reaffirmed the “strength” of the US-Angola strategic partnership and welcomed reforms Lourenço had implemented since assuming office in 2017.
“The two conferred on ways to increase bilateral trade and investment and strengthen democratic institutions,” Ortagus stated.
Angola and the US have a history of tense diplomatic relations.
These peaked during the 26-year Angolan civil war that started in 1975.
Relations warmed since the Angolan government renounced Communism in 1992.