The Schoolboy Who Shook the Regime

At age 15, Nito Alves had a simple but generous idea: to share critical information about everyday events in Angola with neighbors and passers-by.

Inspired by the Arab Spring in 2011, Nito Alves created a newspaper mural that he displayed outside his home in Viana, Luanda. Each week he chose articles from weekly papers and pasted them to a wooden board.

This attracted dozens of readers who, each day, would stop at his doorstep to catch up with events. Nito Alves is proud to be the namesake of the man who, in 1977, led a faction within the ruling People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) for regime change. Although controversial and brutally crushed by the security forces, such a movement continues to inspire opponents of the Angolan regime.  Young Nito Alves’ mother says she simply liked those names and was unaware of their significance when she named her son.

Nito Alves became a well-known figure in his local neighborhood of Chimuco, both because of the mural and because he took part in anti-government demonstrations. Last December, police from the National Criminal Investigation Directorate (DNIC) surrounded his parents’ home at 3 AM to try to arrest him.

“The police even searched under my bed where I was asleep with my wife,” his father, Fernando Baptista, recalled. “But at that point my son had already left home because of persecution by the police and by MPLA activists.” At age 16, in 2012, Nito Alves had become a political fugitive.

Fernando Baptista, himself a veteran of the National Police, is a grave-faced and cautious man. Originally from Malange, he served in southeastern Angola’s Kuando Kubango province during the famous battles of Kuito Kuanavale and Mavinga. He does not recount any bad memories of the war, but just one happy event: “It was there that I met my beloved wife, Nito Alves’ mother.”

Nito Alves, whose parents were brought together by the Angolan war, is now being accused by the government’s propaganda machine of himself inciting violence and war. However, a war by definition requires two opposing military forces. In Angola, the defense and security forces are today all firmly under the control of President José Eduardo dos Santos. The only way that there could be a war in Angola would be if there was a rift within the regime itself. But even if such a rift occurred, the result would be not a full-scale war, but rather an internal settling of accounts.

On the other hand, a general popular uprising would have the potential to destroy the unbelievable arrogance of the men who rule and own Angola. Popular anger at rulers who have unashamedly looted the country would lead to demands for justice, but people would be generous enough to start a process of inclusive dialogue to prepare for the post-Dos Santos era.

Is this the possibility that has troubled the President and fired his propaganda machine into action? Only his minions have the answer to that.

Nito Alves was detained on September 12 in bizarre circumstances. It seems that his imprisonment was initially intended to be a “disappearance.” Police officers grabbed him in the street but Nito Alves shouted for help, alerting a passer-by who phoned the opposition radio station, Rádio Despertar, to report the incident.

The main accusation that police investigators managed to concoct against Nito Alves was that he had defamed President dos Santos. In reality, the combined efforts of the National Police, the National Criminal Investigation Directorate and the Attorney General’s office did more damage to the President’s image than Nito Alves could ever have achieved.

First, he was detained just hours before the start of the National Youth Forum, an event where more than 3,000 people gathered to hear the President’s speech aimed at youth. Second, the press conference held by the police on Friday clearly demonstrated  that the Dos Santos regime is a dictatorship. A State that arrests people who want to demonstrate peacefully, or locks up youths whose t-shirt slogans call the president a dictator, is not a democracy. These are signs of a regime that has no tolerance for its citizens’ freedom of expression. In a democracy there is nothing wrong with insulting a government official.

Apart from its brutal tone, the National Police statement is ridiculous and redolent of the days of the one-party system. How many people could have known of the existence of 20 t-shirts that supposedly offend the good name of President dos Santos?

Moreover, the arrest gave Nito Alves an opportunity to show his skills at political mobilization. In the Capalanca police cells, where he spent the night before being transferred to the Provincial Criminal Investigation Directorate, Nito Alves talked to other detainees about the regime and what it does. The result was a chorus of protest against injustice, which annoyed the guards.

Nito Alves, now 17, has become an icon of protest against the corrupt Dos Santos regime. This is the result of his imprisonment by the National Police. The security forces’ toadying attitude towards the President,  their incompetence as well as their propaganda have all had a counterproductive and irreversible effect. They are providing substance and credibility to the popular opposition against the regime.