Isabel dos Santos in Sonangol: Fox Put in Charge of the Henhouse

It doesn’t get any more blatant than this.  One of Africa’s worst kleptocrats (according to Forbes Magazine and Transparency International amongst others) demonstrates his unshakeable assurance that he does not expect to be called to account. No lessons learnt here from the trial of Hissene Habre. Barely a week after reports emerged that the ‘billionaire’ daughter of Angola’s President of 37 years (and counting) only amassed her fortune in stock acquisition thanks to a nifty diversion of funds from the state-owned oil company Sonangol, who does President José Eduardo dos Santos name to head the Angolan oil giant?  None other than his favoured heiress, Isabel.   Should Angola now expect Isabel to repay Sonangol the seed money funnelled through front companies Exem Africa and Esperaza Holdings for her shares in the Portuguese oil and gas company GALP?    Or is it more likely that she will organize a massive cover […]

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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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Luanda Book Club: The Frontliners

All charged with conspiracy to plot a rebellion and criminal association. All sentenced to four years and six months in prison. All transferred to Viana Penitentiary on April 14. Name: Fernando António Tomás, aka “Nicola Radical” Age: 37 years old Birthplace: Lunda-Norte province Occupation: Self-employed power-generator technician Known as “Nicola Radical”, Fernando Tomás is the oldest of the group and one of those who regularly turned out for the street protests against the government.  He had been detained five times for participating in demonstrations and was subjected to beatings and ill-treatment by police officers. Fernando Tomas is a technician, married and has two children aged 7 and 3. His wife, Sara João Manuel, was astounded when police came to her home looking for “subversive material” after his arrest at the book club.  All they found was her husband’s collection of local newspapers.  She told reporters: “He [Nicola] doesn’t even have […]

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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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The Luanda Book Club: The Viana Three

Reports from Luanda today (April 13) say that the Angolan National Director of Prison Services, Commissar António Fortunato, has responded to international outrage over the inhumane conditions in the prisons to which the 17 prisoners of conscience, sentenced in what has come to be known as the Luanda Book Club trial.  Commissar Fortunato told Angolan National Radio (RNA) that the authorities would be moving all the imprisoned dissidents to one jail, Viana, one of the municipalities on the eastern outskirts of Luanda. Three of the jailed prisoners of conscience are already being held in Viana – the two female activists Rosa Conde and Laurinda Gouveia are in the women’s wing, while Laurinda’s partner, Nito Alves is in the male wing. Name: Manuel Baptista Chivonde Nito Alves Age: 19 years old Birthplace: Huambo Education: Law student, Instituto Superior Politécnico São Francisco de Assis Occupation: Student Charged with conspiracy to plot a […]

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The Luanda Book Club: Sedrick de Carvalho

Name: Sedrick de Carvalho Age: 26 years old Place of Birth: Luanda Education: Law, Jean Piaget University Occupation: Journalist for Folha 8, O Golo Charges: Conspiracy to rebellion and criminal association Sedrick de Carvalho began his career in 2011 at the weekly publication Folha 8 as a page layout designer, going on to become a journalist. In 2013 he joined Novo Jornal, where he regularly wrote features on social and economic issues. At the end of his contract last January, he returned to Folha 8, where he still covers social and economic affairs. He also launched a sports blog O Golo and was its main contributor. Sedrick taught a course on page design at the Evangelical Church of Angola before joining the Luanda Book Club on Saturday, June 20, 2015. His colleagues state that Sedrick’s laptop was broken and that he had borrowed one from journalist and writer Domingos da […]

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The Truly Guilty Will Not Rest Easy

It’s not easy to find sleep when your thoughts are filled with the plight of 17 colleagues. By daring to explore ways of expressing dissent – in what is supposed to be a democracy – they  are persecuted, beaten, deprived of their liberty, subjected to a kangaroo court, convicted on the most spurious evidence by puppet judges, and then sentenced to long prison terms in unsanitary conditions where they will be denied their most basic human rights, including medical attention. Will Judge Januário Domingos sleep easy tonight?  Will Prosecutor Isabel Fançony Nicolau?  Do they know or care that their reputations will now forever be sullied by the infamy of their roles in a tawdry show trial? Isabel was apparently so embarrassed by having to play the part of prosecuting attorney that she adopted a disguise (a face-obscuring wig, glasses and exaggerated cosmetics) during the trial. This dastardly duo has previous […]

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Luanda Book Club Dissidents Convicted

As they predicted from the moment of their arrest, the political dissidents who dared to think about a transition from dictatorship to democracy in Angola, have been found guilty at their show trial of a “conspiracy to rebel” against the 36-year government of President José Eduardo dos Santos. All 17 defendants caught or suspected of reading Gene Sharp’s book advocating nonviolent means of resisting dictatorship in June last year, have been found guilty of the crimes of “preparation for rebellion” and “criminal association”, and handed prison sentences ranging from two to eight years.  Charges of preparing a coup against the President were dropped. The development has been widely condemned by human rights organizations around the world.  In New York, the Human Rights Foundation issued a statement strongly condemning the convictions and sentences and called on the Angolan government “to vacate the convictions and release the activists immediately.” Journalist Domingos da […]

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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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Justice Denied Amid Compassion Fatigue

Remember this man?   He’s Angolan activist Manuel Chivonde Baptista Nito Alves – one of the defendants in a trial known abroad as the “Luanda Book Club” case.  He was one of 15 young men arrested for “plotting rebellion against the President” in June 2015 as they discussed Gene Sharp’s Book about peaceful ways to overturn dictatorships Nito Alves and his cohort (two others were subsequently added to the docket) have already endured seven months of ill treatment in preventative detention and a stop-start show trial so incompetent that witnesses were only notified by the state television newspaper reports that they must give evidence. The international outcry finally embarrassed the regime and just before Christmas, they passed a law on preventative detention which allowed the ‘15+2’ (as the expanded group are dubbed in Luanda) to be placed under house arrest for the remainder of the trial. It was seen as compassionate, […]

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