AP Services: Moving Forward - Dr Fernando Manuel

From the devastation caused by civil war to the current financial downturn, Angola is no stranger to facing and overcoming adversity. As AP Services’ Dr Fernando Manuel explains to Nigel Ash, the country’s economic recovery has been considerable, and opportunities are there for the taking.

Nigel Ash: Angola has experienced incredible growth over the last few years. How has the economy changed?

Fernando Manuel: There has been substantial post-war growth, particularly in the oil and diamond sectors, along with agriculture and light industry.

What has the government done to help businesses grow?

It is doing the best it can to develop business by creating various credit lines, such as providing $350 million in loans to improve the agriculture and livestock sectors. The Angolan Development Bank was established to support economic development by promoting new business, thereby creating jobs.

Because the main employer during the war was the armed forces, the government has created work for people who may have otherwise disappeared into the informal economy.

What areas does AP Services operate in?

We offer private security and road transportation. This includes passengers as well as freight, such as petrol tankers.

We are also in the process of developing a copper mine at Maquela do Zombo, which is relatively close to the Democratic Republic of Congo. We are also moving into civil engineering.

What are AP Services’ most profitable areas?

Private security is proving the most profitable at the moment, followed by transportation. Due to competition and the poor state of the highway network, transport is not yet as profitable as it could be, but the business has to remain focused on roads because the railway network has yet to be restored. The movement of goods and people is largely on the roads.

With copper, we are still at the prospecting stage but we've had promising results. We are confident that the development of the Maquela do Zombo mine will create good economic potential for us.

In parallel with these areas, we are developing health and safety services. We are no longer defending ourselves from the external threats of war but the internal threats of workplace accidents. Our civil engineering business is at an early stage.

How positive are you about Angola's development? Do you think the country offers enough opportunity for fostering new business?

I think the country is doing the best it can. The government's loan schemes have made things better and have helped the agriculture sector considerably.

I mentioned the problem of unemployment, which was considerable after the war. We have seen far greater economic growth and support for private sector projects since the creation and involvement of the Angolan Development Bank. This has helped promote new business and create new jobs.

What administrative challenges do Angolan businesses face?

Quite a lot. The authorities demand a range of documentation before granting business licenses. It is not complicated but there is room for improvement to increase speed and efficiency. The weight of bureaucracy is quite heavy.

The country's main goal had been to end the war and only now has the government had the opportunity to speedup its procedures. It is unrealistic to expect the culture to change overnight, but it is getting better and we welcome the change.

The African diamond industry has received a lot of bad press over the years. Do you think regulations such as the Kimberley Process have worked?

For a long time, one of the most negative aspects of the African diamond trade was that it was used to support the war, to buy weapons and fight against the government.

These were blood diamonds.

Everything has been done to remove the taint of bloodshed from these diamonds and make them pure. They will no longer be a symbol of violence but represent economic growth and progress.

The Kimberley Process is making ground and Angola can now guarantee that all its diamonds are presented, commercialised or exploited legally, bringing to an end an illegal traffic that was once, unfortunately, very significant. Security companies that protect diamond production act within the law to help stop the illegal, unauthorised and unlicensed exploitation of diamonds.