Global Voices coverage of Angola in the past twelve months saw a collision between the path of development of one of the fastest-growing economies of the world with grassroots demands for a better life and a freer voice. Year after year, the history of protests and repression repeats, but the general elections in August didn't bring renovation to the political arena, as President Eduardo dos Santos was re-elected for another 5 years term after 33 years in power.
The economy keeps growing steadily (from 2001 to 2010, the average annual GDP growth was 11.1%) and Angola's rich natural resources have put the country in second place in the production of oil in Africa, just behind Nigeria. 70% of the oil exported by the country is produced in the forgotten Northern lands of the Cabinda enclave, the eighteenth and most disputed province of Angola, which has been waging an ancient struggle for its independence.
Meanwhile, the capital city, Luanda, with a population of 5 million and considered the second most expensive city of the world, has become an El-Dorado for foreign companies and mercenaries. The past of war and history of colonial rule are now giving way to modernization. One of the most iconic developments has been settled in Kilamba Kiaxi, about 30km outside Luanda, where a Chinese company hired by the government started building what will possibly become Africa's biggest ghost town due to the high price of the estate that the majority of the population cannot afford.
Social-economic disparity is huge and the corruption level is one of the highest in the world. While Angolan money circulates inside the spheres of power and abroad, dominating businesses and the economic sectors in Portugal, there is stark contrast with 70% of Angola's population which “is barefoot, have empty stomachs, (and) live in a slum”.
Demonstration rhymes with repression
As in 2011, discontent has taken to the streets throughout the year, but the voices of dissent have been violently repressed.
The latest report came on December 22, 2012, from one of the most prolific digital activism platforms of the country, Central Angola. A rally in protest against the disappearance of two citizens in May (Kassule and Kamulingue) was violently broken by the riot police before reaching its final destination, the Ministry of Justice, as the following video shows:
Something similar took place in March when the State made its strong arm felt repressing a protest “Against Fraud in the Next Elections”. The demonstration ended up with missing activists and police violence.
In early May, the assassination of one of the volunteers of human rights group OMUNGA [pt], Júlio Kussema, threw light again on the rise of “police intimidation and alarming levels of state violence”. Shortly afterwards, Amnesty International reported that as August elections approached, attacks against freedom of speech were expected to escalate.
As in the past against colonial rule, musicians of resistance are now playing an important role on raising awareness about the meanderings of the political elite too. Rappers such as McK, Luaty and Carbono have become favourites of political persecution and attacks by the police.
Aljazeera's “Angola: Birth of a Movement”, released in November, tells the story of three young activists inspired by Angola's underground rap scene:
(Not many) Angolans go to the polls
Claims that the 2012 election process was strongly biased came out as early as March, with a protest against the nomination of a member of the ruling party MPLA, Suzana Inglês, to head National Electoral Commission.
Throughout the year, while mainstream media painted a festive picture of the electoral campaign, with many public openings by the ruling party, national bloggers reported on what was happening behind the scenes. On the eve of Angola’s elections at the end of August, the opposition party was loud and clear to the media, stating the electoral process was the worst ever.
The day of elections came and citizens reported on lack of transparency around the electoral rolls, problems with polling staff assignments and lack of accredited observers. Besides the high abstention figures, the result was not surprising: Eduardo dos Santos renewed his mandate, and his right arm, Manuel Vicente, former president of the state oil company (Sonangol) and considered one of the world's most influential Africans in 2012, became Vice-President. Vicente is under investigation in the Portuguese courts for cash laundering and tax fraud.
The executive took over on September 26, a few days after another repressed protest, on September 20, which intended to “pressure the opposition not to take their place in parliament after clearly fraudulent elections”.
An article published on Global Voices in November argues that the model of Angolan censorship is getting increasingly sophisticated.
In fact, the year started with the controversial decision of RDP (Portuguese Radio Broadcast) to cut off a Portuguese state radio program after the broadcast of an opinion piece on Angola. Bloggers claimed alleged control over the Portuguese media by Angolan economic groups:
The truth about the Angolan “petroligarchy”, in a country where the cornucopia of riches is restricted to some and more than half of the population lives in the most abject poverty, is a line which one simply does not cross.
In February the Angolan corruption watchdog Maka, launched an online campaign petitioning CNN International to stop accepting advertisement from the government of President Dos Santos. The presidential budget for 2012 allocated about US$17 million for promoting a positive image of Angola on CNN International, through a company run by the Dos Santos family.
In March, the Committee to Protect Journalists condemned a police raid at the Angolan independent weekly Folha 8, where 20 computers were confiscated for political reasons, as a “crude act of censorship”. In the same month, Mohamed Keita, Africa Desk Officer at the Committee to Protect Journalists, was interviewed by Global Voices, and stated that Angola is one of the African countries where freedom of expression is most at risk:
President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos and his associates of the ruling MPLA control most of Angola's media outlets and enforce censorship of news and information. only 2 newspapers and 2 radio stations were not controlled by the government. Journalists reporting about official corruption are prosecuted and given prison sentences. Security forces attacked and intimidated journalists reporting on anti-government protests by youths calling for Dos Santos to step down.Angola and Cameroon have introduced legislative measures to combat “internet crime” but the laws punish the electronic dissemination of photos and videos of public events with prison terms.
In May Guinean journalist Milocas Pereira mysteriously disappeared in Luanda, where she lived, and no one has seen her since then. She had reported on the presence of the Angolan military “Missang” deployed to Guinea-Bissau for military reformation, and went missing upon the coup d'etat in April 2012. In November, nine generals and two Angolan companies opened a court case [pt] in Portugal for libel and defamation against investigative journalist Rafael Marques and his publishing house Tinta da China, who edited Marques book “Diamantes de Sangue – Corrupção e Tortura em Angola” (Blood Diamonds – Corruption and Torture in Angola). Marques is the editor for Maka and investigates corruption in Angola.
Keita also added that like in other African countries, “social media in the hands of young citizen journalists is fuelling protest movements in Angola”, though many citizens, such as Carlos Lacerda on Facebook, don't expect many changes in the year to come:
BOM 2013. Em Angola os poucos que têm milhões vão ter ainda mais milhões e os milhões que têm pouco, ou nada, vão continuar na mesma.
[Have a] GOOD 2013. In Angola the few who have millions will have even more millions and the millions who have little, or nothing, will stay the same.