The logic of authoritarian industrial policy: the case of Angola’s special economic zone

29 September 2022

African Affairs

Nicolas Lippolis

View Journal Article / Working Paper

The commodity boom witnessed the emergence of ambitious developmental projects in Africa. But in its focus on the distribution of power, the extant literature struggles to explain the logic driving observed development strategies. To fill this gap, this article provides the first comprehensive study of the Zona Económica Especial de Luanda-Bengo, Angola’s main industrial project of the post-civil war era. Built at a cost of at least US$1 billion, sprawling over 1.5 million hectares, and comprising establishments imported by the state across multiple sectors, the Zona Económica Especial’s ill-conceived design doomed it to failure from the start. But this did not hinder its use for elite rent-seeking, supported by the international networks fed by Angola’s oil wealth. I argue that these outcomes reflect the ruling MPLA’s typical ‘bifurcated policy style’, marked by a disjuncture between discourse and policy practice and the competition for the spoils of the state’s heavy expenditures. Its origins are to be found in the strategies deployed by MPLA leaders to enforce organizational cohesion and to pursue military and programmatic goals over the course of its long civil war. I contend that similar analyses could help illuminate the drivers of industrial policy in other party-based authoritarian regimes.