Feudal Lord and President: Dos Santoss Dual Personality
In his State of the Nation address on October 15, Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos encouraged primitive capital accumulation in Africa.
Making reference to how capitalism emerged and developed in western countries, Dos Santos said, in his speech, that “the primitive capital accumulation taking place in Africa today must be befitting of our reality”.
To understand this speech and the President’s way of thinking, we need to go back to the concept of primitive capital accumulation as defined by Karl Marx. This essay puts the theory into today’s context, so as to demystify what it is that Dos Santos wants for Angola and for Africa in general.
Primitive accumulation was the name that Marx gave to the process that occurred in Europe between the 16th and 18th centuries, involving the violent expropriation of land and of goods that belonged to peasants and to craftsmen. In depriving the majority of the population of their means of production, primitive accumulation forced peasants, in particular to become wage labourers serving the minority, who thus came to accumulate capital and wealth. This saw the emergence of capitalism and the class conflict created by this process of violent enrichment between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Marxist analysis sees the other fundamental aspect of primitive accumulation in Europe as the slave trade and the looting of overseas colonies, particularly in Africa. Marx regarded the laws that legitimised looting and violence on the part of the usurpers of power as part of the process of primitive accumulation.
Yet this period in European history also gave rise to inventions and scientific contributions that heralded the industrial revolution. It was also a period of revolutionary advances in thought. For example, in the 18th century the intellectual movement that was to become known as the Enlightenment emerged in France and challenged social injustices by affirming individual liberties through the power of reason. This movement opposed the arbitrary power of the church as well as of the State and the abuses, looting and intolerance practised by both. In this way the Enlightenment made a significant contribution to the emergence of modern republicanism.
Western societies developed through deep-rooted and often violent conflict, but ultimately they were founded on wealth creation through production and through investing in science and in human creativity, even if this came at the cost of the subjugation of other people. The contestation of ideas and the promotion of fundamental freedoms for those considered citizens were the pillars for the construction of democracy in these states.
Demystifying the President’s Speech
In his speech, the President referred to primitive accumulation in order to justify his government’s boundless corruption by making it look as if corruption were simply a process of wealth creation. Dos Santos took on the mantle of pan-Africanism so as to accuse western non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) of intimidating Africans who try to accumulate wealth. The President simply ignored the more serious and more systematic revelations of corruption that have come from within his own country.
“There is no reason to allow ourselves to be intimidated,” the head of State said.
“The primitive accumulation of capital, in western countries, took place hundreds of years ago. At that time the rules of the game were different. The primitive accumulation of capital that is taking place today in Africa needs to be adequate to our reality,” he added.
The President is demanding of the West the same prerogatives that some European royal houses and feudal lords took upon themselves in the Middle Ages. In summary, he presents himself as the head of a State based on the rule of law, justifying this on the grounds that Angola is in the first stage of capitalist development, at the same time as acting like a feudal lord. In the 21st century Dos Santos is demanding that he be allowed to act with the impunity enjoyed by the rulers of feudal times. He is inciting certain African leaders to loot their countries’ resources and to exploit and neglect their people.
His appeal to legitimacy rests on a contradiction. José Eduardo dos Santos demands to be treated as a mediaeval feudal lord but also as a bourgeois landowner and exploiter of the kind that Marx referred to in his theory of class struggle. Then there is another Dos Santos who claims legitimacy as a modern, democratically elected President befitting the 21st century. This triple personality allows him to justify his feudal-style looting of the country’s resources on the grounds that “our laws governing these matters are clear and must continue to be applied rigorously.”
The President’s confusion of looting, capitalism and the democratic rule of law calls into question his state of mind. He has no shortage of advisors. Some years ago, an MPLA spokesman stated that 95 percent of Angolan intellectuals were MPLA members. The MPLA, of which Dos Santos is the leader, has been in power for 38 years.
Graver still is the fact that the President himself is the product of a violent process of Marxist-Leninist indoctrination which was the norm in Angola until the end of the 1980’s and which was accompanied by the spilling of much Angolan blood.
The President did not explain in his speech how Angolan people and Africans in general may find any benefit in being robbed and exploited by their own leaders. He did not present a single success story of an African country where a productive elite class had emerged on the basis of the violent expropriation of the people’s goods. Instead, he blamed the West for using “intimidation campaigns” to prevent Africans from competing with multinational companies.
“Simply considering the balance-sheets of American, English and French companies in the petroleum sector or of the companies or commercial banks representing Portuguese interests in Angola will show that every year they take tens of billions of dollars out of Angola,” the President said.
This statement shows how much importance the President attaches to national sovereignty and to Angolan law. It also shows his triple political personality. All oil contracts in Angola require direct presidential approval. There are laws on the import and export of capital funds. So it seems that the President assumes that national sovereignty is compromised when he authorises oil contracts, either because he is coerced by international interests, or politically incapable of defending Angolan interests.
With typical ambiguity, the President also avoids saying whether the removal of tens of billions of dollars from Angola by the oil companies is conducted illegally or under the terms of the contracts that he himself authorised. In either case, the President is primarily responsible for what happens to these billions, whether through the authorising of contracts or through the fact that he is ultimately responsible for maintaining law and order in Angola.
Where commercial banks are concerned, the President’s monologue amounts to self-criticism. The two main banks with foreign capital, BFA and BIC, include among their shareholders and board members the President’s daughter, Isabel dos Santos. If these banks are exporting funds illegally, then the President’s own family is responsible for this. If the transactions are legal, then the President is raising a false problem, and if he is doing so he needs to explain why.
Strangely, the President made no reference to China, which is silently colonising Angola and beginning to take control over the country’s national sovereignty. China takes half of Angola’s oil. Sonangol, the state oil company, is today at the mercy of shady deals between Chinese interests and certain figures within the presidency. It involves the robbing and exploitation of the Angolan majority. The President has not explained how, aside from these practices, the partnership with China will enrich the Angolan bourgeoisie.
The President must show the nation his political and socio-economic plan for the model of primitive capital accumulation that he has been promoting, so as to show that this can take place within the boundaries of the law. If he does not do this and does not retract his statements, every Angolan citizen will be justified in considering him no more than a feudal lord.
Dos Santos’s stance is unacceptable. Patriotic Angolans will not be swayed by the regime’s corruption and intimidation, and will summon their dignity and their intelligence in rejecting the President’s arrogance.