Book Review: Magnificent and Beggar Land: Angola Since the Civil War by Ricardo Soares de Oliveira.

AuthorMarino, Alex J.
PositionBook review

Soares de Oliveira, Ricardo. Magnificent and Beggar Land: Angola Since the Civil War. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015. xvii + 291 pages. Paperback, $34.95.

Magnificent and Beggar Land: Angola Since the Civil War is the culmination of African Politics professor Ricardo Soares de Oliveira's work on Angola during the post-war period that began in 2002. Soares de Oliveira argues that the ruling Movimento Popular de Libertacao de Angola (MPLA) party and President Jose Eduardo dos Santos forged a stable and peaceful Angola by consolidating the country's vast oil wealth and redistributing it to a small subset of important party elders, generals, and business leaders. The chief benefactor of this "parallel system" within the state was and continues to be dos Santos, in power since 1979, who easily remains the richest man in Angola (p. 25). By divvying up both state patronage and rents from his personal business empire, dos Santos and the MPLA leadership have built a stable and prosperous Angola that, unlike other African and oil rich states, controls its own relations with foreign creditors and investors. Beneath this rosy picture of profitability and stability, Soares de Oliveira details the growing angst among ordinary Angolans, who still wait for economic opportunities to reach those outside of the nation's ruling elite.

This is an important book that explains Angola's complicated past and illuminates its unique challenges and triumphs for a general audience. Presented as the recent story of the post-war period, this is in reality a comprehensive modern history that reaches back to the sixteenth century and concludes in 2015. This long view incorporates Angola's struggle for independence, and the subsequent civil war, in a clear and succinct way that focuses on how the MPLA and dos Santos built a political apparatus capable of defeating internal enemies and reaping immense wealth from Angola's oil reserves. Those unfamiliar with Angola's past will gain an understanding in not only how the country emerged from civil war as an economic juggernaut, but also how much "Angola's swagger literally hangs from the price of oil" (p. 199). For Angola specialists, the book provides an interesting synthesis of works available on the MPLA enriched by countless anonymous interviews with party elites that both celebrates the successes of the regime while carefully critiquing its avaricious and authoritarian tendencies. This expansive and approachable...

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