LUANDA (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pressed Angola on Sunday to do more to fight corruption during a two-day visit to the oil-producing country aimed at bolstering ties between the two nations.
Angola rivals Nigeria as Africa’s biggest oil producer but about two-thirds of the population live on less than $2 a day. It ranks 158th on Transparency International’s 180-nation corruption list.
“Corruption is a problem everywhere and where it exists it undermines people’s faith in democracy, it distorts governance,” Clinton said at a news conference alongside Angolan Foreign Minister Assuncao dos Anjos.
Corruption has been a theme of Clinton’s trip to Africa, echoing U.S. President Barack Obama when he visited Ghana last month. She praised Angola for publishing its oil revenues online and for working with U.S. officials to increase transparency.
“Of course we raised this issue with the minister but I think it is only fair to add that Angola has begun taking steps to increase transparency,” said Clinton, the first U.S. secretary of state to visit since 2002.
A senior U.S. official said Clinton had been very direct in her discussions with the foreign minister regarding Angola’s record on corruption and also urged the African nation to play a bigger role in the region.
“They are moving in the right direction, so its better to encourage them,” the U.S. official said.
U.S.-Angolan ties have improved since the end of Angola’s 27-year civil war, during which Washington helped bankroll one of the losing groups, UNITA, now the main opposition party.
UNITA urged Clinton to press the government not to delay the first post-war presidential election. It accuses President Jose Eduardo dos Santos of delaying the election, initially scheduled for 2009, to extend his three-decade rule.
Dos Anjos said his government was trying hard to increase transparency and lift millions out of poverty.
“Unfortunately you cannot eradicate poverty with a magic wand,” the foreign minister said.
Clinton said she hoped the first presidential elections in almost two decades would be held in a timely and fair manner.
The government has signaled it will postpone the presidential election in order to approve a new constitution. Dos Anjos said the polls were likely to be delayed another year.
“We were criticized because we didn’t hold (legislative) elections, we asked for more time and we did them. We are now asking for more time for the (presidential) elections,” said dos Anjos.
Clinton, who kicked off a seven-nation tour of Africa earlier this week, will meet President dos Santos on Monday before continuing to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The Obama administration’s renewed push in Angola comes as China’s economic clout has grown in Angola but Clinton said Washington was not concerned by this.
“I’m not looking at what anyone else does in Angola, I’m looking at what the United States can do to further and deepen our relationship.”
Angola broke off talks with the International Monetary Fund in 2004 and turned to resource-hungry China for over $5 billion in loans to rebuild the country. It restarted talks with the IMF this week.
Angola is China’s largest oil supplier but only the sixth biggest supplier of oil to the United States.
Major U.S. oil companies like Chevron and Exxon Mobil have invested billions of dollars in recent years to increase production in Angola. Together, they pump over half the country’s daily oil production.
Clinton urged Angola to diversify into agriculture and said the United States would continue to invest in its oil and gas sector while eyeing a larger role in the once-prosperous farming sector. Angola was once a major food exporter but now imports over half of its food.
After meeting Angola’s oil minister, Clinton witnessed the signing of an accord between Chevron Corp and the U.S. Agency of International Development to expand its agricultural program in Angola.
Editing by Charles Dick