Time to Say Goodbye

Thank you, José Eduardo dos Santos, for your decision to step down as President of Angola after 38 years. It’s a decision that gives us all hope for the future.

Only Robert Mugabe and Teodoro Obiang Nguema remain of the veteran African tyrants who for so long have choked the life out of their countries. Could your decision inspire them to follow suit and arrange a peaceful transition of power?

Naturally, there’s a great deal of speculation as to why you have finally come to the realization that it was time to hand the baton to another. Some say it’s because of poor health. Others say your authority had been undermined by the increasing number of corruption scandals attached to your government. Whatever the reason, the decision is sound and must be as great a relief to you as it is to the Angolan people.

Before you go, it’s probably wise to start the clear-up yourself, before your successor wields the new broom to put the house in order. First on the list should be to convince your family members that they too should voluntarily step aside from any state function, starting with your daughter Isabel dos Santos who is clearly daunted by the task of saving the nation’s oil giant, Sonangol, and closely followed by your son, José Filomeno do Santos, who needs to leave the Angolan Sovereign Wealth Fund to those better able to safeguard it.

Your progeny would undoubtedly feel immensely liberated from the heavy burden of these official roles, and would jump at the chance to dedicate themselves to enjoying the vast fortunes they have amassed during your years in power. If left in place, they will undoubtedly come under crushing pressure, both from your critics and your successors, to deliver outcomes that would be, frankly, impossible without the protection and guiding hand of their father.

Imagine what a good example this would set to those who follow. These resignations could pave the way to a new era of greater integrity, transparency and good governance and spell the end to nepotism and cronyism.

In truth, your departure alone is not enough to safeguard your status or that of your family. For your own sake, you will want to take as many symbolic measures as possible to clean house before the next tenant arrives. Doing the right thing now will undoubtedly reap many rewards later.

It is no secret that the author has been one of your sharpest critics. But his opposition was never against you in person, but against the actions and deeds that caused such terrible consequences to the Angolan people. Corruption and the systematic diversion of funds is an assault on the human rights of all citizens. No Angolan, no fellow human, could remain unmoved by the continual impoverishment of all those outside the circle of trust. The Angolan people as a whole were excluded from the benefits of their country’s oil wealth, denied not just the privileges that could have accrued but also their patrimonial rights to be protected from poverty, ignorance, hunger and sickness. The President’s job is to govern wisely for the benefit of all – or at least the vast majority of the people. Not to deny them all dignity for the benefit of a few. Maka Angola exists to expose ill deeds and to demand justice.

Inevitably, in common with so many others who dared to question or complain, the author was attacked time and again for daring to stand up and denounce abuses and crimes, while calling for good governance and respect for human rights. Those who called for constitutional rights to be respected, were treated as criminals while those who helped cover up real crimes, like the propaganda “ambassador” Luvualu, are made rich and are hailed as patriots. No doubt they all have their foreign bolt-holes ready and well-equipped for this moment. Angola is well rid of them.

Your departure allows our homeland to turn over a new leaf. For decades, Angolan citizens have been denied their freedom to think for themselves. A peaceful transition of power offers a new beginning, a chance to shrug off the collective trauma of decades of political repression, violence and humiliation, of propaganda, lies and fake news. It offers the promise that Angolans will be allowed the chance to see for themselves what is real, distinguish truth from lies, facts from fiction and – perhaps – to learn that men and women can be enriched by something other than ill-gotten gains.

Three key moments in the life of modern Angola failed to deliver a better life for all: Independence in 1975 from the Portuguese colonial yoke; the first-ever free and fair democratic elections in 1992; and the final Peace Agreements of 2002 that ended our internecine civil war. We expected better. We deserved better.

For nearly four decades, successive generations of Angolans have watched as an elite helped themselves to obscene rewards while denying the most basic rights to the citizens they had vowed to serve. It’s now 2017 and we live in a failed state, trying to keep up appearances with envy and hatred all around.

Those of us who closed our eyes, who were exhausted by the immensity of the task, who slept more than we should have, who lost ourselves in television to anesthetize ourselves against the daily grind, can now rediscover hope for the future. We cannot let this opportunity pass. We must continue to fight, without reserve or fear, for the rights of all Angolans and for a better life for all. We have a unique chance to influence the incoming government to prioritize the well-being of all citizens.

So let us give thanks to President dos Santos. Not so much for what he achieved over the past 38 years, but for bringing the nightmare to an end. Let us thank him for finally recognizing that his edifice is on the brink of collapse and for making way so that Angolans can rebuild on more solid ground.