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Today, sub-Saharan African countries provide the United States with 15 percent of its imported oil, and this number is expected to rise to 25 percent over the coming decade. For its part, Angola is eager to sell its oil to the West: petroleum accounts for about 90 percent of Angola's export earnings, and the country desperately needs the revenue its oil industry provides. But what responsibility does the U.S. have to ensure that the money it spends on oil supports democratic principles in developing nations such as Angola?

Photo of protesters
Protesters march in Angola.
Corruption has been a systemic problem in Angola, and it has robbed Angola's poor of the social benefits that could be derived from oil wealth while helping cement the power of the elite over an impoverished majority. In order to grease the wheels of corruption, in the past the Angolan government has sought to suppress details about its oil revenues: for instance, when BP announced in 2002 that it would open its books on Angola, the government threatened to cancel its contracts. In early 2004 Human Rights Watch estimated that $4 billion in oil receipts had essentially disappeared from Angola's treasury over the previous six years -- a figure roughly equal to the amount the government spent on social programs during the same period.

Non-governmental organizations have worked hard to encourage transparency in Angola's oil business, and lately they have seen some success. In the summer of 2004, the government of Angola publicized the terms of an oil deal signed with ChevronTexaco that would bring $300 million into the country. But despite such accomplishments, the U.S. government appears to have done little to encourage Angola's emergent democracy. In December of 2003, President Bush deemed Angola eligible for trade preferences under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which evaluates qualifying nations on criteria such as reform and the upholding of democratic principles. Critics held that the endorsement ignored the need for further reforms and did little to promote lasting change Angola.

As long as the demand for oil continues to rise in the world's great industrial powers, expedient relationships such as that between the U.S. and Angola will form to ensure that oil and money both continue to flow. Though there are some hopeful signs that the future may be different, in the past such agreements have often turned a blind eye to the plight of people in developing countries like Angola.

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