Angola’s Greatest Work of Fiction: The Budget

A much-lauded cartoon by Angola’s premier pictorial satirist Sérgio Piçarra recently depicted the state of the country’s economy, thanks to José Eduardo dos Santos, the country’s President for the past 37 years. In his depiction, Angola has a ‘Real Economy’, and a ‘Virtual Economy’, but there is an even third one, the ‘Fictitious Economy’. It’s a reflection of a truth: every year the Angolan state budget (Orçamento Geral de Estado) is a mixture of the actual (real), anticipated (virtual) and the ‘only on paper’ (fictitious) spending for the year ahead. Now insiders say the 2017 Budget strays even further from reality than usual. One example: Angola expects to spend more than 1.7 billion kwanzas (US $6.5 million) on maintenance of the memorial to Agostinho Neto, the country’s first post-independence president. The Soviet Union undertook the initial construction of the memorial. However, with the collapse of the USSR, the construction remained […]

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MPLA Gives Opposition a Beating

As Angola prepares for next year’s general election, reports are already emerging of acts of political violence. Representatives of opposition parties attempting to scrutinize the electoral registration process have alleged they were subjected to intimidation and violence in the village of Luremo, in the northeastern province of Lunda Norte. “Village chief Ngana Mussanga, who is an MPLA member, turned up with 20 young men wielding staves. They slapped my face, and then I was grabbed, thrown to the ground where they held me down by my hands and feet while the chief beat me around the head, and the back.” The victim, UNITA member Pedro Muiungulenu Zambicuari, says the incident took place on September 8. The UNITA man had been assigned to check the electoral registration process. “It was barely 8.30 in the morning when the village chief first showed up. He asked my name and where I was from. […]

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The Tyrant’s Dilemma: Stay? No, Please Don’t

He promised he would step down. But the campaign has already begun to re-elect Angola’s President for the past 37 years. “Comrade President, please continue guiding the destiny of our country, asks the nation.” That’s the slogan plastered across the picture of a smiling José Eduardo dos Santos that has appeared on giant billboards in strategic locations across the capital, Luanda, in the past week. It’s all part of a public relations strategy aimed at persuading both Angola and the rest of the world that the increasingly tyrannical MPLA leader really ought to stay in power. Many Angolans were nourishing the faint hope that Dos Santos might be honorable and dignified enough to keep his word that he would voluntarily and peacefully retire from political life in 2018 (by which time he would have spent 39 years as President of Angola). Clearly they were deluded if they thought that a […]

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Meddling With Angola’s Electoral Register is Unconstitutional

Why does Angola need a new Electoral Registration Law?   Particularly one which would transfer control of the electoral register from the independent National Electoral Commission to the Ministry of Territorial Administration under the tutelage of Bornito de Sousa, one of the President’s staunch supporters in the ruling MPLA (People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola)? It’s a contentious move both in political and legal terms. Politically, it attributes to the party in power, the government of the day, the power to determine who can, and who can’t, vote. Legally, it violates the Angolan Constitution which explicitly attributes oversight of the electoral process to an independent body.  Article 107, Clause 1 of the Angolan Constitution states: “The electoral processes are organized by independent electoral administrative bodies whose structure, function, composition and competence are defined by law”. It is an internationally-accepted principle that the “electoral process” includes the compilation and upkeep of […]

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General Zé Maria Warns: The Devil Has Infiltrated Angola

The mental health of the head of the Military Intelligence and Security Services (SISM), General José António Maria, also known as “Zé Maria”, was called into question this week at a gathering of nearly one hundred of his subordinates, among them several generals. During a four-hour meeting held on Tuesday in commemoration of the Catholic holiday of the Pentecost, he repeatedly spoke about the presence of the Devil in Angola. On two large screens placed in the Officers’ Mess hall, General Zé Maria showed numerous images of Angolan investigative journalist Rafael Marques de Morais, with the heading “The Devil Paid By the CIA”. In his homily about the “devil”, the general argued that the journalist was Angola’s greatest enemy and must be treated as such. To demonstrate the “real” power of the enemy, he drew on various examples, accusing some of his senior officers, for instance, of erecting tall buildings […]

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Witness to Slaughter: The Mount Sumi Massacre

Meet Raúl Xavier.  The 25-year-old was one of hundreds of followers of Pastor José Julino Kalupeteka, the Angolan founder of a breakaway Adventist sect called ‘Christian Church of the 7th Day – Light of the World’. Raúl Xavier was one of the first to run to Pastor Kalupeteka’s aid on April 16, 2015 when provincial police officers, backed by special units from the Angolan army, attacked the sect’s camp in the rural village of São Pedro de Sumé, in the central Angolan province of Huambo. Nursing a wound after a bullet went through his right ankle, he ended up witnessing what has become known as the ‘Mount Sumi Massacre’, from his hiding place on the rooftop of Kalupeteka’s house. On April 5, 2016 – just eleven days short of the first anniversary of the bloody events on Mount Sumi –  Pastor Kalupeteka was sentenced to 28 years in prison by […]

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Angola and the British Spinning Wheel

When Africa’s richest woman is the daughter of the President of an oil-rich nation who has clung to power for nearly four decades, it’s not surprising that people might entertain the suspicion that her success could be due to factors over and beyond any particular business expertise. We imagine that empire-building must go so much more smoothly if one has unlimited funds (allegedly from the continual diversion of state funds into daddy’s secret bank accounts), the near-certainty that any bids for state contracts will trump all the competition, and a growing national and international network of complicit politicians, financiers, directors, business advisors, managers, and consultants to create an intricate, complex and almost-indecipherable network of corporations, shell companies and cartels to make it harder to follow the money trail. Enter Isabel dos Santos, the eldest child of the Angolan leader, who is understandably keen to recast herself as the internationally-recognized, award-winning […]

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Power: From Major to Minor

There was a time when my gaze was turned to the big picture: international relations, the behaviour of national governments and multi-national corporations.  These days, my focus has narrowed to governance on a small scale.  This is what I like to call “micro” politics compared to the “macro” politics that occupies the major news networks. Yet both can be equally afflicted by corruption and abuse of power. My ‘people’  (i.e. my particular community) elected me President without really knowing me all that well.  The previous ‘regime’ had failed in so many ways that it was enough that I was not the incumbent.   It was unexpected.  But somehow rather flattering (at least until realisation dawned as to just how much hard work lay ahead to right wrongs). In political life it’s a given that any individual or party’s early promise will eventually give way to cynical manipulation. Democratic procedures get nudged […]

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The Tertulia and the Luanda Book Club

Some countries, Portugal and Brazil amongst them, have a vibrant cafe society where philosophical and political views can be expressed, debated and dissected without fear or favour.  All-comers are welcome to interject or just listen and learn.  These are the political salons of the streets, where lecturers, students, journalists, politicians, workers and passers-by can drop by and join in. In Portuguese these encounters are called “tertulias”. It’s been one of life’s great pleasures to take part in these public “tertulias”, whether over coffee and pastries in Lisbon, or caipirinhas in Rio de Janeiro.  So why not in Luanda, that other major Lusophone city where political scandal is the order of the day? Linked by their shared colonial history and language, Portugal, Brazil and Angola have all experienced periods of political turbulence but today all three boast modern democratic constitutions guaranteeing freedom of expression and of association. Unfortunately, in Angola the […]

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Portuguese Vested Interests Trump Human Rights in Angola

The three Portuguese political parties who formed an unholy alliance to vote down a parliamentary motion which would have censured Angola over the imprisonment of 17 dissidents in the ‘Luanda Book Club’ trial, have attempted to justify their action. The Christian Democrat leader of the CDS (Centro Democrático e Social-Partido Popular), Paulo Portas, has invoked what he says is official party policy requiring them “to remain silent regarding active judicial processes (…) whether in Portugal or abroad”.   Similarly, a statement from the centrist PSD (Partido Social Democrata) says it was upholding “the principle of respect for judicial decisions”.  Conveniently they choose to ignore solid evidence that judicial process in Angola routinely fails to respect its own constitutional and legal dictates, acting instead in defence of the powerful. Apparently, the CDS and PSD party policy permits silence, complicity or shameless opportunism as convenient. Meanwhile on the far left, the communist PCP […]

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