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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The Cash-Strapped Kleptocracy Seeks an IMF Bailout

Angolan Finance Ministry officials seem to have learned nothing from the past.  With low oil prices dragging the economy into crisis, the Ministry has had to turn to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout.  But Angolan officials are so desperate to conceal the extent of their troubles, that their official statement pretends this is a ‘normal’ IMF intervention, not at all like the rescue that Portugal needed just a few years ago. In fact, it’s exactly the same type of financial aid programme that Portugal got in 2011, just as the IMF reported at the time. Portugal was given a three-year aid plan.  Angola too is now negotiating a three-year aid plan. According to Min Zhu, the IMF Deputy Managing Director: “We have received a formal request from the Angolan authorities to initiate discussions on an economic program that could be supported by financial assistance from the IMF.”  […]

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General Zé Maria: The Puppet Master

One of the most powerful men in Angola is a septuagenarian soldier accustomed to operating in the shadows. A career military man whose name is feared across the nation. Yet outside Angola his role and legendary status is little known, and even less understood. General António José Maria “Zé Maria” is an interesting character, to say the least. During the ‘War of National Liberation’ (against Portuguese colonial rule) he served in the colonial army. Yet since Independence he has been a key figure behind the scenes, prodigiously rooting out palace intrigues and imaginary coups d’état and purging suspected malcontents. His actions are purposefully directed to reinforcing and consolidating the position of the person who occupies the highest office in the land. As President, José Eduardo dos Santos (familiarly known as Zedú) is the titular Commander-in- Chief. But it’s the man who has his ear, the man who has been his […]

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A Dictator’s Immunity for Life is no Longer Guaranteed

For as long as José Eduardo dos Santos remains President of the Republic of Angola, and even after he steps down (if he ever does), he is guaranteed immunity from prosecution under Articles 127 and 133 of the Angolan Constitution. This begs the question:  Up to what point is this statutory protection legitimate?  Can a President loot his country with impunity or are there any circumstances under which a serving or past president can be brought to justice? Ever since the United Nations was founded in 1945, jurists in the field of International Law have tried to create legal instruments to prevent political leaders from committing crimes while in office.  To date, the best-evolved and most comprehensive legal instrument for this purpose emerged from the Rome Statute which created the International Criminal Court at The Hague. The ICC was set up to prosecute international individuals for international crimes such as […]

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Fears of the Fatherless

Angola’s Chief of Military Intelligence and Security Services, General António José Maria, better known as General “Zé Maria”, recently told a meeting with subordinates that President José Eduardo dos Santos had made “a grave mistake” in announcing that he would retire from politics in 2018. Maka Angola has learned from reliable sources, that the meeting was ostensibly called for operational purposes.  However, General Zé Maria was “visibly angry” over the presidential decision which apparently had “taken him by surprise”. He kept speculating aloud that the announcement may have been precipitated by the volatile socio-economic situation in Angola, for which the government has failed to come up with adequate solutions. According to General Zé Maria, “the announcement would only serve to sow confusion amongst the party faithful”, given that the President as yet has no effective exit strategy to prevent political upheaval or worse. Not that the General was offering any […]

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Angola’s House of Cards

Angola’s Vice-President, Manuel Vicente, is reportedly under investigation in Portugal over allegations that he bribed a Portuguese public prosecutor, Orlando Figueira, to put an end to scrutiny of his murky affairs in the country. Oddly, the Angolan authorities have been silent about this affair. This is a noteworthy change of tactics. After all, this is Portugal, where Manuel Vicente has been lauded as a world-class leader and manager while he helped enrich any number of opportunists and carpetbaggers.  Equally, there seems to be no sudden rush to “protect Portuguese interests in Angola”.  This is odd.  Has he been hung out to dry? It appears that Manuel Vicente placed too much trust in the invincibility of José Eduardo dos Santos. Above all, he trusted in the impunity assured by the Angolan president to those loyal to him as they too were granted a role in the pillaging.  Did he overstep?  It’s […]

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Dictator Dos Santos Going, Going… But Not Just Yet

It is rare for an African dictator to give up power voluntarily.  Thus, on March 11, when Angola’s President announced that he would retire from public life in 2018, the news reverberated across the world.  If he holds true to his word (and that is a big “if”) by the time José Eduardo dos Santos steps down he will have held power for a staggering 39 years. If he is preparing to go, why then is the President employing tactics straight out of the despot’s rulebook?  Why is he casting himself as the ‘victim’ of an imaginary coup plot to justify purges that further embed a culture of fear in Angola? Why would a politician on his way out, bring global ridicule upon himself and his regime with trumped-up charges and a show trial? Seventeen young dissidents are currently standing trial on bogus charges of plotting a rebellion and attempting […]

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The Cafunfo Witch Hunt

The diamond-mining region of the Lundas in Angola’s Northeast spews immense riches into the hands of a favoured few.  While this area is heavily controlled by private security and state intelligence, “traditional rulers” still hold significant sway in adjudicating and managing conflict amongst the majority Lunda-Tchokwe ethnic group, guided by a system of animist beliefs (Kimbanda). In this they are advised by high priests (Kimbandeiros) who, as interpreters of orally transmitted beliefs and guardians of knowledge, operate both as diviners and healers. Angola’s government acknowledges these customary leaders and healers, exercising indirect supervision over them through local committees of the ruling MPLA (Peoples Movement for the Liberation of Angola).  For the most part, these civil and customary systems co-exist peacefully, but from time to time they collide; sometimes violently. Such was the case in Cafunfo last month.  Extreme poverty and high levels of infant mortality have resulted in desperate villagers […]

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Angola’s President Suspected of Money-Laundering

The European Justice Commissioner, Vera Jourova, has called on the Portuguese authorities to investigate how Isabel dos Santos, the Angolan President’s daughter, acquired 65% of the Portuguese Energy giant, Efacec Power Solutions, in June last year for US $220 million. The commission wants proof that the transaction was in compliance with the rules to prevent money-laundering in the EU. Last October, the European Parliament’s Intergroup on Integrity, Transparency, Corruption, and Organised Crime called for an investigation into the legality of the purchase. Speaking to the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, the Portuguese MEP Ana Gomes said that the banks had failed to perform due diligence in accordance with EU money-laundering rules. Ms Gomes pointed to the source of funds: transfers from the Angolan State into offshore companies to leverage financial operations by the President’s daughter. “Such transfers are obviously suspect and require extra diligence in checking the origin of the funds”, the MEP […]

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