In 1886, the Portuguese government signed a public-private partnership with a private company to build and operate a railway between Luanda and Ambaca in its overseas colony of Angola. It was expected that the partnership would benefit both parties: It would provide Angola with a powerful tool of economic development and political appropriation, and it would pay the private investment (stockholders and bondholders). However, the enterprise soon became a financial disaster with soaring construction costs and feeble operational revenues, which forced the Portuguese state to intervene. In this paper, I will analyse the evolution of the Ambaca public-private partnership from a quantitative perspective, examining the figures of its financing, operation and state aid. I will add to the debate about the relationship between state and private initiatives, through public-private partnerships in the specific context of the scramble for Africa and New Imperialism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
- Public enterprise