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Dwindling resources

Angola [INFRASTRUCTURE]

The construction cranes that pierced Luanda’s skyline during the boom years, putting up luxury high-rises and upmarket malls, have fallen idle in recent months as Angola feels the pinch of the world oil-price slump.

Angola has flourished since the end of a hugely destructive civil war in 2002, its oil reserves driving an unprecedented boom. Luanda regularly features on lists of the most expensive cities to live in but the wealthy reside alongside some of the world’s poorest people, who have been excluded from Angola’s growth.

The country needs to diversify its economy and fast. “The oil sector is sophisticated but the rest of the economy is not,” says Rebecca Engebretsen, a researcher at the University of Oxford. Oil subsidies have been cut and the price of imported goods – which is to say all goods – is rising, inflation is up and the currency down. China’s appetite for Angolan oil is diminishing due to its own economic woes.

Optimists say the crisis might create a momentum for diversification. Barriers to foreign investment remain high and corruption is rife but there is “huge agriculture and fisheries potential”, says Engebretsen, as well as minerals to exploit and the possibility of manufacturing. A new factory is turning scrap weapons and vehicles from the civil war into steel bars but a broader manufacturing industry still remains a dream.

Ways for Angola to diversify:

Look to the land

The agriculture potential is huge but neglected, largely because oil revenue is easier for the urban elite to collect.

Break down barriers

According to the World Bank, Angola is the sixth-worst place in Africa to set up a new business.

Implement reforms

The African Development Bank and the International Monetary Fund are urging Angola to put structural reforms in place, including more effective tax collection.

Liquid assets

Lebanon [WATER]

Lebanon’s political paralysis left its cities in a sorry state last summer after inadequate planning caused a rubbish spillover on the streets. The Lebanese government has narrowly escaped another crisis, this time over its outdated water network. Approval for the €567m Bisri Dam scraped through at the end of last year and the project will provide more reliable, cleaner and cheaper water to Beirut and Mount Lebanon, home to roughly half the country’s population.

Lebanon suffers from water shortages and contamination due to illegal wells that over-pump groundwater supplies and a leaky pipe network that loses up to half of its content. The five-year dam project, funded mostly by the World Bank, with a token contribution from the Lebanese government, should help to fix that; alas, a mend for the country’s leaky political system is less straightforward.

Carmen soon

UAE [CULTURE]

After four years in development, the Dubai Opera is set to open this year. The 2,000-seat venue will offer opera, theatre and ballet productions and form the centre of a new Opera District located near the Burj Khalifa. Its ark-shaped design draws on Dubai’s maritime history, while the interior can be altered to accommodate theatre productions and concerts, and its floor can even be made entirely flat for balls and banquets.

The opera house is the latest major infrastructure project to come to fruition in Dubai amid falling oil prices, which could put a big dent in the uae’s economy over the coming year – and threaten the viability of future grand projects.

Stamp of approval

East African Community [TRAVEL]

The East African Community is set to launch a biometric passport for citizens from Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi in the first quarter of 2016, making it the first African regional economic bloc to issue a common passport for travel both inside and outside its borders. This comes as a welcome development: cross-border movement is often hampered by red tape, which stymies trade. Meanwhile, by 2018 the African Union wants visa requirements to be lifted for all Africans travelling within its member countries, paving the way for a continent-wide passport in the future.

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