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Monday, October 09, 2000, updated at 18:18(GMT+8)

Roundup: Portuguese-Speaking African Countries Embrace New Era

At the turn of the new millennium, the Portuguese-speaking African countries (PALOP), arising from decades of devastating conflicts, are struggling to make a difference.

The PALOP countries include Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau and Sao Tome and Principe. Instability had long been an insurmountable obstacle for any real development in these countries. Fortunately, that depressive situation has become a past.

Angola, a synonym for battlefield since its independence in 1975, is finally at end of its civil war. Since the latter half of 1999, the government forces have won all major battles against the rebels of the Union for Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), driving them out of more than 92 percent of the country's territory. Although some loyalists of the rebel leader Jonas Savimbi are stilling fighting in some scattered mountainous areas, they are unlikely to stage a comeback, after heavy defeat and with their access to the diamond mines cut off.

Stability is also gaining ground in other PALOP states, including Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau, making it possible for the governments to shift their attention to poverty alleviation, and economic recovery.

At the conclusion of the war, Angola, one of the most resourceful African countries, is for the first time injecting more money from its oil industry, diamond and gold mines to the battered economy, in stead of paying for weapon bills.

In 1999, Angolan government led by President Jose Eduardo dos Santos launched an ambitious economic readjustment program, geared to restrain public expenses, increase transparency, and curb inflation. Though not a magical cure for the country's long-delayed problems, these efforts have paid off. Regaining confidence, international aid and private investments are flowing in, making the southwest African nation the third-largest investment destination on the continent. The output of oil industry, pillar of its economy, is expected to raise from the current 750,000 barrels per day (bpd) to over one million bpd in 2001, which is almost certain to help for the country's economic recovery under the circumstances of a high oil price on the world market.

Mozambique, with 7.5 percent average annual growth rate of the Gross National Product (GNP) for the past five years, stood out on African continent in term of speed of economic development. In the first half of 2000, the total foreign direct investment in Mozambique reached an impressive sum of 64 million USdollars.

To turn the country into a processing base for semi-finished industrial and agricultural products, and its capital Maputo into a major transit harbor in African, Mozambican government has worked out and is implementing its ambitious development schemes.

Last month, President Joaquim Chissano commissioned an 1.2-billion-dollar worth aluminum smelter, the largest factory the Southern African nation has ever built. The project, jointly invested by Mozambique government, South African and Japanese businesses among others, is expected to double the country's export volume and add about 7 percent to its GDP value.

In the same time, Cape Verde's dockyard, Guinea-Bissau's fishery and Sao Tome and Principe's cocoa plantation have also registered remarkable development these years.

A closer cooperation with other Portuguese-speaking countries, especially with the more developed ones, also characterizes the PALOP countries' economic recovery. It is in this light that the five PALOP nations, along with Portugal and Brazil, established the Community of the Portuguese-Speaking Countries (CPLP) in 1996.

The organization has proved to be contributive in encouraging investment flows among these culturally linked countries. In the first half of 2000, Mozambique had some 39 Portuguese projects with a total investment of 39.8 million dollars, while Angola attracted some 35 Portuguese companies to set up subsidiary companies in its central coastal province of Benguela in February alone.

Besides the CPLP, the PALOP countries have also strengthened their ties with other sub-regional organizations and their neighbors. In August, Angola announced that it will join the free trade zone of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the first one of this kind in Africa. Mozambique, on the other hand, is quickening up its steps in materializing the Maputo Corridor Program, which is made up of a network of railways, highways and other means of transportation. The project is aimed at making the best of its neighborhood with the more developed South Africa to foster an economic growth belt in southern Mozambique.

Given the piles of problems left by long period of wars and mismanagement, it is impossible for the PALOP countries to score an economic boom or even complete economic recovery in a short period of time. But with the current momentum toward recovery and development, and aided by persistent political and economic reforms, people may safely say that a new era is downing upon these countries.

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At the turn of the new millennium, the Portuguese-speaking African countries (PALOP), arising from decades of devastating conflicts, are struggling to make a difference.

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