Alternating Demonstrations: Political Protest and the Government’s Response in Angola

In March 2011, at the height of the North African street protests, an anonymous letter went viral. It called for a mass demonstration in Luanda’s Independence Square, in the capital of Angola, on March 7, 2011. At this symbolic demonstration, the police arrested all seventeen individuals who attended, including three journalists and their driver who were there to cover the event. The ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) politburo accused Western intelligence services, as well as pressured groups in Portugal, Italy, France, Belgium, Great Britain, and Germany, of disseminating the online letter that demanded an end to President Jose Eduardo dos Santos’s thirty-two year rule.

In an anticipated counter-offensive, the MPLA held pro-dos Santos demonstrations in several parts of the country on March 5, 2011, at a staggering cost of over $20 million from the party coffers. State media propaganda claimed that, in Luanda alone, the march gathered over a million people, while the MPLA provincial secretary hyper-inflated the numbers to three million, equal to one-half of the city’s population. According to off the record police estimates, however, the march had far less than 100,000 demonstrators.

This series of events — anti-government protests and their repression, followed by orchestrated pro-government demonstrations — provides a narrative through which one can understand a year of symbolic anti regime protests in Angola and their impact on official political discourse and public awareness.

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