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Year of Change in Angola, But Everything Stays the Same

Global Voices coverage of Angola in the past twelve months saw a collision between the path of development of one of the fastest-growing economies of the world with grassroots demands for a better life and a freer voice. Year after year, the history of protests and repression repeats, but the general elections in August didn't bring renovation to the political arena, as President Eduardo dos Santos was re-elected for another 5 years term after 33 years in power.

The economy keeps growing steadily (from 2001 to 2010, the average annual GDP growth was 11.1%) and Angola's rich natural resources have put the country in second place in the production of oil in Africa, just behind Nigeria. 70% of the oil exported by the country is produced in the forgotten Northern lands of the Cabinda enclave, the eighteenth and most disputed province of Angola, which has been waging an ancient struggle for its independence.

Meanwhile, the capital city, Luanda, with a population of 5 million and considered the second most expensive city of the world, has become an El-Dorado for foreign companies and mercenaries. The past of war and history of colonial rule are now giving way to modernization. One of the most iconic developments has been settled in Kilamba Kiaxi, about 30km outside Luanda, where a Chinese company hired by the government started building what will possibly become Africa's biggest ghost town due to the high price of the estate that the majority of the population cannot afford.

Social-economic disparity is huge and the corruption level is one of the highest in the world. While Angolan money circulates inside the spheres of power and abroad, dominating businesses and the economic sectors in Portugal, there is stark contrast with 70% of Angola's population which “is barefoot, have empty stomachs, (and) live in a slum”.

A guy stands in front of the remnants of a collapsed building of the National Bank of Angola in Kamacupa (Bi Province), destroyed during the civil war. There are people still living inside. -- The civil war in Angola, that started in 1975, ended in 2002. Ten years later, in 2012, Angola is growing fast, though wounds from the recent conflict still remains. Photo by Bruno Abarca copyright Demotix (23/08/2012)

“A guy stands in front of the remnants of a collapsed building of the National Bank of Angola in Kamacupa (Bié Province), destroyed during the civil war. There are people still living inside. — The civil war in Angola, that started in 1975, ended in 2002. Ten years later, in 2012, Angola is growing fast, though wounds from the recent conflict still remains.” Photo by Bruno Abarca copyright Demotix (23/08/2012)

Demonstration rhymes with repression

As in 2011, discontent has taken to the streets throughout the year, but the voices of dissent have been violently repressed.

The latest report came on December 22, 2012, from one of the most prolific digital activism platforms of the country, Central Angola. A rally in protest against the disappearance of two citizens in May (Kassule and Kamulingue) was violently broken by the riot police before reaching its final destination, the Ministry of Justice, as the following video shows:

Something similar took place in March when the State made its strong arm felt repressing a protest “Against Fraud in the Next Elections”. The demonstration ended up with missing activists and police violence.

In early May, the assassination of one of the volunteers of human rights group OMUNGA [pt], Júlio Kussema, threw light again on the rise of “police intimidation and alarming levels of state violence”. Shortly afterwards, Amnesty International reported that as August elections approached, attacks against freedom of speech were expected to escalate.

As in the past against colonial rule, musicians of resistance are now playing an important role on raising awareness about the meanderings of the political elite too. Rappers such as McK, Luaty and Carbono have become favourites of political persecution and attacks by the police.

The year started with McK's new hip-hop album “Proibido ouvir isto” (Forbidden to listen this) on the top. The track "O País do Pai Banana" (The Country of the Banana Father) exposes social disparity and denounces oligarchy and corruption. It also refers to the problem of alcoholism among youth, a plight that becomes more visible with the elections approaching, as MPLA organizes “food and drinks marathons” in order to please and distract the voters. In April, a youth demonstration against alcoholism was violently repressed.

The year started with McK's new hip-hop album “Proibido ouvir isto” (Forbidden to listen this) on the top. The track “O País do Pai Banana” (The Country of the Banana Father) exposes social disparity and denounces oligarchy and corruption. It also refers to the problem of alcoholism among youth, a plight that became more visible with the elections approaching, as MPLA organized “food and drinks marathons” in order to please and distract the voters. In April, a youth demonstration against alcoholism was violently repressed. Photo by LusoHipHop blog.

Aljazeera's “Angola: Birth of a Movement”, released in November, tells the story of three young activists inspired by Angola's underground rap scene:

(Not many) Angolans go to the polls

Claims that the 2012 election process was strongly biased came out as early as March, with a protest against the nomination of a member of the ruling party MPLA, Suzana Inglês, to head National Electoral Commission.

Throughout the year, while mainstream media painted a festive picture of the electoral campaign, with many public openings by the ruling party, national bloggers reported on what was happening behind the scenes. On the eve of Angola’s elections at the end of August, the opposition party was loud and clear to the media, stating the electoral process was the worst ever.

The day of elections came and citizens reported on lack of transparency around the electoral rolls, problems with polling staff assignments and lack of accredited observers. Besides the high abstention figures, the result was not surprising: Eduardo dos Santos renewed his mandate, and his right arm, Manuel Vicente, former president of the state oil company (Sonangol) and considered one of the world's most influential Africans in 2012, became Vice-President. Vicente is under investigation in the Portuguese courts for cash laundering and tax fraud.

The executive took over on September 26, a few days after another repressed protest, on September 20, which intended to “pressure the opposition not to take their place in parliament after clearly fraudulent elections”.

Press freedom

An article published on Global Voices in November argues that the model of Angolan censorship is getting increasingly sophisticated.

Free information. Photo of a stencil in Lisbon by Graffiti Land on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Free information. Photo of a stencil in Lisbon by Graffiti Land on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

In fact, the year started with the controversial decision of RDP (Portuguese Radio Broadcast) to cut off a Portuguese state radio program after the broadcast of an opinion piece on Angola. Bloggers claimed alleged control over the Portuguese media by Angolan economic groups:

The truth about the Angolan “petroligarchy”, in a country where the cornucopia of riches is restricted to some and more than half of the population lives in the most abject poverty, is a line which one simply does not cross.

In February the Angolan corruption watchdog Maka, launched an online campaign petitioning CNN International to stop accepting advertisement from the government of President Dos Santos. The presidential budget for 2012 allocated about US$17 million for promoting a positive image of Angola on CNN International, through a company run by the Dos Santos family.

In March, the Committee to Protect Journalists condemned a police raid at the Angolan independent weekly Folha 8, where 20 computers were confiscated for political reasons, as a “crude act of censorship”. In the same month, Mohamed Keita, Africa Desk Officer at the Committee to Protect Journalists, was interviewed by Global Voices, and stated that Angola is one of the African countries where freedom of expression is most at risk:

President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos and his associates of the ruling MPLA control most of Angola's media outlets and enforce censorship of news and information. only 2 newspapers and 2 radio stations were not controlled by the government. Journalists reporting about official corruption are prosecuted and given prison sentences. Security forces attacked and intimidated journalists reporting on anti-government protests by youths calling for Dos Santos to step down.Angola and Cameroon have introduced legislative measures to combat “internet crime” but the laws punish the electronic dissemination of photos and videos of public events with prison terms.

In May Guinean journalist Milocas Pereira mysteriously disappeared in Luanda, where she lived, and no one has seen her since then. She had reported on the presence of the Angolan military “Missang” deployed to Guinea-Bissau for military reformation, and went missing upon the coup d'etat in April 2012. In November, nine generals and two Angolan companies opened a court case [pt] in Portugal for libel and defamation against investigative journalist Rafael Marques and his publishing house Tinta da China, who edited Marques book “Diamantes de Sangue – Corrupção e Tortura em Angola” (Blood Diamonds – Corruption and Torture in Angola). Marques is the editor for Maka and investigates corruption in Angola.

Keita also added that like in other African countries, “social media in the hands of young citizen journalists is fuelling protest movements in Angola”, though many citizens, such as Carlos Lacerda on Facebook, don't expect many changes in the year to come:

BOM 2013. Em Angola os poucos que têm milhões vão ter ainda mais milhões e os milhões que têm pouco, ou nada, vão continuar na mesma.

[Have a] GOOD 2013. In Angola the few who have millions will have even more millions and the millions who have little, or nothing, will stay the same.

20 comments

  • Angolano de escolha

    Yet another shallow and racist depiction of Angolan independent development (yes, that means trial and error) by Portuguese know-it-alls. The first time I was in Portugal, it was 10x more authoritarian and brutal than the Angola I know and call home. Now they are the saviours of Africa?! For those attempting to analyse, I’m Irish, and we have little patience for the kind of human rights abuses Portugal was famous for in the 1970s–both here and in Portugal. When the Portuguese open their mouths like this, it makes me shudder and remind me of all the horrible mistakes the US (my other home country) made attempting to pass judgement on others in the 2000s. Mercenaries? Personally, I provide health care solutions–better in quality and price than anything available in Portugal. What does the author do? Scribble form a distance? Also, I was a journalist in my previous life. A string of selected factoids does not constitute serious academic study–or even fundamental journalistic integrity. Really shameful. I hope you were at least PAID well for your simplistic rant above. I wasn’t. Who’s the mercenary?!

    • fuidani

      O come’on your comment is full of passion wish it had at least some sense.

      Does it make sense to compare Angola and Portugal?

      The author is not presenting numbers, are you?

    • We would normally respond fully to your comment on Global Voices’ coverage of
      Angola, however we don’t tend to respond insult-filled rants… And FYI, your ad-hominem bile undermines your arguments.

  • […] principles and ideas in this book and use it to get wealthy. I will leave the decision up to you.Social Networking for Authors-Untapped Possibilities for Wealth (1): Michael C Volkin: Kindle Storefficult. The fact that you are an author with a completed book puts you in a small percentage of […]

  • Alvaro Neto

    “Global Voices is a community of more than 500 bloggers and translators around the world who work together to bring you reports from blogs and citizen media everywhere, with emphasis on voices that are not ordinarily heard in international mainstream media.”

    So question for you guys is, do we hear more about these issues that Angola has in the international mainstream media, or do we hear about the good things that also happen?

    The good news internationally that we hear about Angola are just segways to exposing the bad things there, just like the beginning of this piece. Indeed, you would think that Angola is nothing but a facilitator of corruption.

  • […] Eine Art Bestandsaufnahme des neuesten afrikanischen Wunderkindes (im letzten Jahrzehnt durchschnittlich jährliches Wachstum von 11%) ist der Beitrag “Year of Change in Angola, But Everything Stays the Same“ von Sara Moreira am 29. Dezemb… […]

  • […] Na arena política, 2012 foi um ano de eleições presidenciais e parlamentares no Timor-Leste, eleições municipais no Brasil, e eleições locais em Cabo Verde. Em Angola, Eduardo dos Santos foi re-eleito após 33 anos no poder. O caminho de desenvolvimento complexo deste país por meio das lentes da mídia cidadã está resumido em um post separado [en]. […]

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  • anonym

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  • anonym

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