The Chimera: A Case for the Angolan Legal System

In 1982, faced with irreconcilable internal problems, the Argentinian dictator, Leopoldo Galtieri, decided to employ diversionary tactics and invaded the Falkland (Malvinas) islands, a British overseas territory. Once the initial excitement had died down, the dictatorship inevitably collapsed.
At the moment, the Angolan panorama bears a marked resemblance to the Argentinian panorama of 1982. In addition to the crisis of prolonged power due to the complete breakdown of State institutions, there is a deep economic and financial recession, in which the symbol of power and wealth in Angola, Sonangol, arises like a giant with clay feet, on the brink of collapse, with all the appearance of having been the subject of complete mismanagement (to say the least).

Faced with this situation, the president, more adept than the dictator of the Galtieri farce, fostered a chimera. It is not a coup d’état, it is not an attempted coup d’état, rather it is an invention of an attempted coup d’état.

The presidential chimera is an example of some of the best techniques of controlling power, and seeks to unite the people against the dangers of instability, creating an internal enemy who apparently reads books and exchanges email about academic studies, thereby linking itself to the tragic events of 1977 (Nito Alves). As Karl Marx wrote, history repeats itself, first as a tragedy, then as a comedy.

But if the president and his coterie can amuse themselves planning and creating chimeras, what is amazing is the role played by Angolan judicial authorities, or, to put it better, the apparent absence of this role.

Article 175 of the Constitution of 2010 consecrates the independence of judicial authority and imposes on it the duty to uphold the defence of rights protected under law, the freedom to disagree, and the repression of violations of democratic legality (article 174). It adds that it is the noble and fundamental duty of judges to guarantee observation of the Constitution and the law, as well as protecting the rights of citizens. This is why judicial power occupies the most important role in a democracy, since it limits and controls power. Without the intervention of judges, we could be facing an elective dictatorship, as the English judge Lord Hailsham, emphasised.

Therefore, we have to ask: what are Angolan judges doing to maintain our democracy? What role have they played in observance of the law with regard to the chimera case? Did they sign the arrest warrants? Did they conduct any legal interrogations? Did they guarantee the detainees their constitutional rights?

It is at times like these that the full force of the law comes into view. In the United States, when political power was reluctant to grant rights to African-Americans, who intervened and decided that everybody had the right to an equal education? It was the American Supreme Court, in the famous case of Brown v. Board of Education 347 U.S. 483 in 1954.

This is what is expected of Angolan judicial authorities: to defend the democracy of Angola. With regard to the quality of Angolan constitutional standards, it is noteworthy that their application is not under scrutiny by public opinion. Apparently, people are being arrested without warrants, as in the case of Captain Zenóbio Zumba, and there are other examples of the lack of respect for the penal process.

Therefore, the question is: where are the judges?

In a democratic state under law, none of the actions taken up to now against the alleged perpetrators of the “Coup” – imprisonment, searches, among others – could have taken place without legal authorisation. If there was legal intervention in these cases, there must have been the possibility of lodging an appeal; if there wasn’t, then we are looking at illegal arrests, and habeas corpus ought to apply to confront Angolan justice with its constitutional responsibilities.

This is the time for Angolan justice to act in defence of democratic legality. There is no democracy without impartial judges.