A Bridge Too Far for the Opposition

Public officials, members and sympathizers of the ruling People’s Movement for the Liberation in Angola (MPLA) have been very creative in undermining the opposition, while preserving the veneer of a multiparty political system in the country.

But the latest demonstration of creativity has gone a bridge too far, in Huambo province.

On August 25, the Ukuma municipal police commander, Superintendent Jorge Balú “Sankara”, armed with a chain saw, brought down the log bridge over the Capraia River, while a Chinese citizen assisted him with a sledgehammer.

An opposition party convoy of about 150 people, traveling in nine vehicles and several motorbikes, was successfully stopped at the bridge, on the side of Ukuma town. The destruction of the bridge prevented the political activists from CASA-CE from holding a scheduled political rally in the village of Cacoma, some kilometers on the other side of the bridge. CASA-CE is a coalition of four small political parties, which holds eight seats in Parliament.

The CASA-CE caravan initially did not recognize the plain-clothed individual, wearing a cowboy hat, who undertook the job of sawing through the supporting beams as well as the planks of the bridge.

It was commander Sankara, standing at a strategic distance, and guarded by two armed police officers. Inspecting his handiwork, Superintendent Jorge Balú “Sankara” also had in attendance MPLA’s second ranking official in Cacoma and a local traditional authority, chief Kamutale.

“I approached him [commander Sankara], and asked him why he was destroying the bridge,” the provincial secretary of CASA-CE, Pedro Cosengue, told Maka Angola.

Within a flash, as tensions flared, a police vehicle with eight heavily armed officers arrived at the scene to escort the commander out, according to the witnesses.

The bridge over the Capraia River was the second act of sabottage of the commander that day.

Earlier in the day, the convoy reached the first bridge over the Sachingongo River, from which logs and planks had been removed and placed by the side of the road. Because the supporting beams of the bridge were still in place, it was possible for the delegation members to repair the log bridge within an hour. One minibus was unable to cross owing to its low suspension, but the other vehicles continued towards the Capraia Bridge.

A senior official at the municipal administration of Ukuma, who wished to remain anonymous, told Maka Angola that commander Sankara had destroyed the bridge in order to repair it. “The commander is a friend of the Cacoma administrator who, in turn, contracted him to fix it [the bridge],” the official said.

“I cannot confirm that our commander is a construction contractor. Each one of us may find other alternatives to earn a living, but with his official duties [as police commander] he should have been more careful”, explained another Ukuma senior official. “Once he saw the CASA-CE convoy approaching, he should have hidden in the bush. Unfortunately, he was taken by surprise. That is all,” he added.

The Entrepreneurial Commander

Apparently, superintendent Jorge Balú “Sankara” is a man of many talents.

A brief investigation by Maka Angola has established that, indeed, commander Sankara has been acting as a construction contractor.

The commander has used the only police vehicle available to transport construction materials and workers to his own private construction projects. “The municipal commander of the National Police is building a school in Mundundo, as a contractor hired by the State, but no one here knows the name of his construction company,” said an officer with the Ukuma administration.

For those concerned with the commander’s acts, the fear of exposing themselves is justified.

Superintendent Sankara is most famous for his brutality, even towards his subordinates.

Last May, the commander ordered two police officers, Bento and Arão, to immobilize a third agent, Armando Chilandala, who was forced to lie stretched on the ground. Agent Bento stepped on his head, while agent Arão grabbed his feet.

As the staff of the municipal command watched, commander Sankara lashed agent Chilandala at will with a water hose, while watering his body, in order to inflicte greater pain. No one made any efforts to stop the abuse.