New MFA-funded research programme on Angola
Angola is a resource rich country, yet the majority of its people live in poverty. The country faces many of the challenges that so many other countries with abundant natural resources experience: The resource wealth ends up in the pockets of a small, political elite and Angola has experienced negative growth rates during the last five years. Can research surpass discussions about the resource curse and contribute to lift Angolans out of poverty? A new Norwegian-Angolan research and capacity building project aims to find out.
Angola is among the resource rich countries in the global South with a generally challenging regime for social science research. It keeps a lid on essensial information, and budgets for research low. Yet, independent research is among the crucial factors that can push development forward. Building Angolan research milieus is on top of the agenda in a new research programme funded by the Norwegian Embassy in Angola’s capital Luanda, and carried out by a consortium consisting of CMI and Scanteam in partnership with Angolan researchers. The programme is worth 37.5 million NOK for a duration of four years. Researchers from the Angolan research institutions Centro de Estudos e Investigação Cientifica (CEIC), Centro de Estudos Africanos (CEA), Laboratório de Ciências Sociais e Humanidades (LAB) (all three located at Universidade Católica de Angola), Centro de Estudos e Pesquisa (CEsP), Centro de Investigação Social e Económica (CISE) have partnered up with CMI and Scanteam in the start-up phase of the programme, but additional Angolan partners may be included as the programme develops. CMI’s team in the programme consists of senior researchers Inge Amundsen, Ivar Kolstad, Aslak Jangård Orre, Elin Skaar and Arne Wiig.
Strengthening research milieus in Angola
Despite the 2017 change in the Presidential office, the first since 1979, the situation for academic research in Angola is still precarious, and the Corona pandemic has exacerbated the problems.
There are only a few research institutes, some at universities, some associated with civil society organisations. They have actively been seeking to expand their international contact networks in order to develop their researchers’ capacities and to finance their research and institutions.
CMI already has a long-standing cooperation with the Catholic University in Luanda (UCAN), and well-developed networks amongst researchers in Angola. Central to the new programme is to promote the quality and quantity of research outputs by providing support for the financial, administrative and institutional environment for individual researchers. It will also help making a research career attractive for young researchers.
The research milieu in Angola is small and vulnerable to Angola’s severe economic downturn, exaggerated by the global pandemic. Hence, strengthening it is an important task for both the Angolan and Norwegian team members in this programme.
-We recognise that we are in a privileged position to have well established and close working relationships with partners in Angola, and we are very happy that they want to continue this cooperation, now in the shape of this new programme, says Aslak Jangård Orre, senior researcher at CMI.
Protecting independence from any external pressure and ensuring methodological rigor are among the key characteristics that CMI and Scanteam will provide.
Taking a broad approach to socio-economic development
The new programme consists of several research modules on some of the most crucial issues for socio-economic development, each of them encompassing measures to strengthen the participating research institutions in Angola:
- Economic research in collaboration with UCAN / CEIC
International oil companies’ investments, and in particular the Norwegian state-owned energy company Equinor, has been frequent guests in the headlines in Norwegian news media over the last few weeks.
The debate about international oil companies’ investments and conduct in resource rich countries in the global South is not only closely linked to topics like corporate social responsibility, cash flows and corruption risks, but also to questions of poverty, governance and the wider system of checks and balances that are supposed to hold authorities accountable and prevent rent seeking behaviour.
The main research questions in this module focus on how the ongoing sector restructuring and changing external expectations have affected the CSR levels and practices of oil companies and large oil service firms world-wide and in Angola. The programme will also study the local impacts of diamond production.
- The first local elections and new political actors – in collaboration with UCAN / CEA and CEsP / Benguela.
Angola is among Africa’s most centralised states. It is now set to implement the most fundamental governance reform since the introduction of multi-party elections: for the first time, it will soon hold local elections. While parts of the old MPLA party-state resists reform, new social movements and new political actors gives it momentum. This part of the programme aims accompany and observe the Angolan local governance reform, and to analyse and debate its institutional environment in-making, local finances and the political battle over local power. Studying the reform process from several angles will make it uniquely placed to provide unparalleled breadth of insight: From above, from below, through international comparison and with a gender-lens.
- Accountability, with UCAN / LAB
Socio-economic development in Angola has suffered from a lack of checks and balances to the former president dos Santos’ excessive power. Our research team will study institutions like the parliament, the courts and actors like civil society groups and youth organizations to see if there have been any changes in their ability to hold the government accountable.
The studies on the institutions of horizontal accountability will assess whether there have been any changes in the (lack of) checks and balances to the excessive presidential powers in Angola. On the basis of the constitutional changes made in 2010, and in comparison with earlier studies performed by the same team of researchers, this part of the programme will focus on the parliament, election commission, auditor general and the courts. The researchers will analyse the role and impact of the institutions of horizontal accountability in Angola, and in particular the Angolan legislature (including the parties in parliament), as well as the judiciary.
Crucial questions that need to be asked are for example under what circumstances and by what means the Angolan parliament can exercise its checks and balances function and be a democratically progressive force, and which role civil society can play in enhancing transparency and accountability in Angola.
The component also contains a module on research based in Benguela. This module will focus on local dynamics seen from a gender perspective.
- Economic research with CISE
Information about government policies is a necessary condition for accountability of the government to the governed, but it is not a sufficient condition. In a country where multinational oil and diamond companies play such a significant role as in Angola, it is of particular importance having information about their activities, including financial transactions with the state. However, Angola scores low on all available transparency indicators. Angola is still not member of the EITI and limited transparency remains a serious accountability problem in Angola. In this type of political context, this project explores the effect of expanded requirements or new approaches to the provision of information on the oil economy to the citizens.
-By contributing to serious media reporting and public discourse, our hope is that the research we are conducting and supporting can contribute – if only modestly – to a more pluralistic discussion about economic, social and political issues of high relevance for Angola’s future development, says Arne Wiig, senior researcher and programme coordinator at CMI.
- Umbrella project
The programme will have an “umbrella project”, aimed at monitoring the possible political-economic transformations in post dos Santos Angola during the four-year duration of the programme. The project will consist of on-going communication / dissemination activities, and proper research that complement the other research projects and extract new knowledge from the programme at large. The coordinator of this project is Programme coordinator Vegard Bye, Scanteam.