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Angola’s Oil Reforms: Miracle or Mirage?
Angolan President Joao Lourenco has made headline-grabbing changes in the nation’s vital oil sector since taking power in 2017. Economists say these changes should improve Angola's economy, and may even provide a model for other resource-rich African nations. But Lourenco’s critics say the reforms are cosmetic and haven’t brought benefits to ordinary Angolans.
Oil has long been a blessing and a curse for citizens of this Southern African nation. Allies of longtime president Jose Eduardo dos Santos allegedly enriched themselves off oil profits, while most citizens remained desperately poor.
But since taking office in 2017, Lourenco has been making welcomed changes.
“The current president really, really has — I wouldn’t say he has turned it around, he has taken some major steps that the industry has been waiting and the economy has been looking at," said NJ Ayuk, head of the Johannesburg-based Centurion Law Group and chairman of the Africa Energy Chamber of Commerce. "And we are seeing things improving if these steps are actually implemented and they actually go forward.”
Lourenco is trying to diversify the oil-dependent economy, announcing the nation’s first diamond auction later this month.
He also sacked several of the former president’s children from top positions, including his daughter, who was running the state oil company Sonangol.
Lourenco also reformed Sonangol, streamlining operations and regulations to make it easier for foreign investors to work in the oil sector.
Economist Cobus de Hart of NKC African Economics said it’s too soon to be optimistic.
“Most of the improvement is due to higher oil prices," he told VOA. "And obviously it will take some time for the reforms at Sonangol to translate to increased earnings and also a marked improvement in inefficiencies. But moves have thus far seem to have attracted more interest from global oil majors to invest more in the country.”
Angolan journalist and human rights activist Rafael Marques, a frequent critic of the government, said the leadership changes at the state oil company are cosmetic and misleading.
“The way contracts are allocated, you still have companies that belong to politically exposed persons providing services," he said. "So, some reforms are being implemented. But the point is not to replace one set of crooks by another set of crooks. Most of the public contracts [Lourenco is] signing off are without public tender. And remember, that’s where the oil money goes to.”
Nonetheless, Ayuk, who recently visited Angola, said he is hopeful.
He said if Angola continues reforming its oil industry, it could trigger similar efforts in other African countries.
“What is really exciting is that most observers are looking at this and saying, ‘Maybe this could be something that we can really build upon and look at as a model that works for Africa.’ The truth of the matter is that if Angola gets it right, there is no reason why Mozambique or South Africa, or Namibia, or Nigeria, or Equatorial Guinea cannot get it right. Because people are tired of not seeing these resources translate to development.“
Iran Calls for Release of Journalist Reportedly Arrested in US
Iran requested Wednesday the release of a prominent American-born journalist who was reportedly arrested in the U.S.
Iran's English-language Press TV reported Marziyeh Hashemi, who is employed by the news outlet, was detained at an airport Sunday in the Midwestern U.S. city of St. Louis and was being held in Washington.
She has not been formally charged, the report said, and U.S. law enforcement agencies did not immediately comment on her reported arrest.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi told state TV the arrest of Hashemi, a black Muslim woman, is an example of the "apartheid and racist policy" of U.S. President Donald Trump's administration.
Press TV quotes Hashemi as saying prison officials have not allowed her to wear a hijab, a head covering worn in public by some Muslim women, and was only giving her pork to eat, which is prohibited by Islam. These accounts of her treatment have not been independently verified.
Hashemi is a native of the southern city of New Orleans. Her birth name is Melanie Franklin. Several Iranian media outlets reported Hashemi has lived in Iran for more than a decade. She has reported on discrimination against women, Muslims and African-Americans in the U.S.
Her arrest comes as Iran faces mounting criticism for arresting dual nationals and others with Western ties in an effort to gain leverage in negotiations with global powers.
Iran confirmed last week it has detained U.S. Navy veteran Michael White at a prison in the country, the first American known to be detained under Trump's administration. Four other American citizens are known to be held in Iran, including Iranian-American Siamak Namazi and his father, both serving 10-year sentences on espionage convictions.
Anguished Families Identify Victims After Kenya Hotel Attack
Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta has announced that a 19-hour siege on the DusitD2 hotel and office complex in Nairobi is over, but the Kenyan Red Cross said Wednesday that dozens of people are still missing.
"The security operation at Dusit complex is over, and all terrorists eliminated. As of this moment, we have confirmation, 14 innocent lives were lost through the hands of these murderers, terrorists, with others injured," Kenyatta said.
The president said Kenyan security forces had killed all four attackers, and 700 people were rescued.
A few hundred meters from the scene of the attack, victims' relatives and friends gathered to identify the bodies.
Margret Ojoo spoke of frantic efforts made by her daughter and some friends to find Ojoo's niece, who was trapped in the complex. In the end, her daughter discovered the niece had been killed.
Yassin Jamaa lost two nephews who worked for Adam Smith International, a government consulting company that has offices in the DusitD2 complex.
"I have lost two boys. One got married the other day, and they both started working at the international agencies. But unfortunately, we have lost them," Jamaa said.
The company said Abdallah Dahir and Feisal Ahmed were killed on the terrace of a restaurant in the complex. Both men had worked on the Somalia Stability Fund, a project to bring peace and prosperity to Somalia through various community initiatives.
Jamaa said he could not understand the motivation of al-Shabab, the group that claimed responsibility for the attack.
"The ones who brought this pain to me are carrying our name, Islam. I am also a Muslim. The question I'm asking: 'Why are they killing human beings?'" Jamaa said.
The Islamist extremist group has carried out several killing sprees in Kenya, including the 2013 Westgate Mall attack that left 67 people dead.