Angola will lead the Oil Producing and Exporting Countries OPEC from the front in January 2009, as the southwest African country is elected president of the cartel for the next one year.
Angola joined the influential group, which produces close to 40% of the world’s total output of crude oil, two years ago. It is the second consecutive African country to be president of the organisation and the third, in the last four years. Algeria presided over the cartel throughout 2008. Nigeria was the president in 2006.
The day to day implementation of the group’s policy is overseen by the Secretary General, who is essentially a technocrat. This time, he is also an African. Abdalla Sam El Badri is a 68 year old Libyan accountant who started his career spending 12 years with with ExxonMobil between 1965 and 1977.
In effect, Africa has run OPEC for the period of the highest crude oil prices in history.
The presidency of OPEC is not exactly an executive job and decision making is essentially consultative.
Still, the Angolans sound like they are making it personal. “The price of oil has reached levels that OPEC members want to see improve during our presidency,” Botelho de Vasconcelos said in comments broadcast on Radio Nacional de Angola in late December 2008.”We will try to maintain that stance,” he said, OPEC oil ministers agreed their deepest output cut ever in mid- December 2008 cutting 2,2-million barrels per day from markets in a race to balance supply with rapidly dwindling demand for fuel.
The aim was to build a floor under prices that have dropped more than $100 from a July 2008 peak above $147 a barrel, to levels where the economies of several OPEC members are hurting.
As a new member that joined OPEC in 2007, Angola is expected to use the 12-month rotating presidency as a platform to spread its regional influence and shed an image of a country ruined by corruption and war.
The government of Angola is relying on an oil price above $55 per barrel to carry out a record $42billion spending plan in 2009.
The country emerged from nearly three decades of civil war as one of the world’s fastest growing economies due to surging oil output. Angola, dependent on oil for 90 percent of its income, produces around 1.8Million barrels of oil per day.
United Bank of Africa analyst Richard Segal said Angola was in a good position to set an example to OPEC members, some of which find difficulty in adhering to the group’s output cut decisions, as it has the flexibility to constrain production.
“Angola’s production costs are relatively low, its economy is stabilised at a lower oil price and it has a lot more oil production per capita than most other OPEC countries,” he said, adding it could also mediate between some of OPEC’s members.
“OPEC is a complicated organization …and even within the countries there are conflicting views — so the best Angola can do is provide leadership and play the role of a mediator.”
To the west Angola has the Gulf of Guinea, where it rivals Nigeria as Africa’s top oil producer. It is among the main oil exporters to China and the sixth biggest to the United States.
“We intend to dignify our country during the presidency,” said Botelho de Vasconcelos. “The presidency of OPEC is a mandate with big visibility and with a great deal of thought and some discretion, we will do our best”.