As the country marks its anniversary, the authoritarian and entrenched MPLA regime rules with the excesses of a colonial power
Angola is celebrating 40 years of independence on 11 November. Now, however, people are no longer just asking for peace, democracy and bread, but also freedom.
On the same day, the ruling People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) will celebrate 40 years in power. Angolans have only known two kinds of rule: Portuguese colonialism and the authoritarian regime of MPLA.
During those years, the MPLA has chosen to perpetuate the worst practices of the very regime it claims to have replaced – the Portuguese colonial state. Economic extraction, the central objective of the colonial state, has become the means for the Angolan elite to assimilate into the Portuguese elite. The prime example is the president himself. His first born, billionaire Isabel dos Santos, is a major investor in Portugal.
The process of extraction is no longer about raw materials. It is about the plundering of Angolan state assets, primarily transferred to Portugal by way of investments in banking, the takeover of floundering companies, real estate and media among others. These investments provide the veneer of respectability, public relations and other resources for Portugal to be the laundromat for the Angolan regime, and to maintain its open door to international markets and diplomacy.
But the Portuguese are beginning to have second thoughts about their partnership with a dictator.
The Portuguese media reported extensively on the arrest of 15 young Angolans in June, while they were discussing literature on non-violence at a bookstore. Initially, the attorney general and the president himself publicly accused the young people of plotting a coup. In September, they were finally charged with the crime of rebellion and attempting to assassinate the president. They remain in detention, and will be tried on 16 November.
The arrests brought an outpouring of national and international solidarity that has overshadowed any official celebrations of the regime’s achievements. The young people have become the heroes and, for the first time, the president the villain.
One the youngsters, rapper Luaty da Silva Beirão, who has dual Angolan-Portuguese citizenship, went on a 36-day hunger strike to protest against their illegal detention. In Portugal he became the unifying symbol of Angolan and Portuguese struggles against the MPLA regime and its Portuguese backers. Liberdade Já has become the motto of Portuguese civil society.
MPLA leaders have hit back with a propaganda campaign aimed at the Portuguese and the Angolan public.
Recently, I participated in a television debate with the former Portuguese minister of foreign affairs, António Martins da Cruz, a paid consultant for the MPLA regime . He argued that human rights issues could only be discussed at the UN human rights council. With him making these arguments, and through selective editing, Angolan state media was able to present the debate as a success for the regime.
Meanwhile, Dos Santos dispatched his newly appointed tsar for propaganda abroad, ambassador-itinerant António Luvualu, to Portugal to deliver a message that any challenge to the Angolan president’s authority would be a declaration of war.
Luvualu claimed that the 15 young people were planning for “Nato or some of its member countries to participate in an attack against Angola, to bring about the same horror unfolding in Libya or which happened and is still ongoing in Tunisia”. The comparison is surprising, given that the Tunisian national dialogue quartet received the 2015 Nobel peace prize for ensuring a successful and peaceful transition.
Recently, Luvualu attempted to disavow the arguments of celebrated Angolan writer José Eduardo Agualusa, because of his dual Angolan-Portuguese citizenship. Agualusa has been an ambassador for freedom of expression and respect for human rights in Angola. Luvualu’s comments are odd, given many members of the Angolan government have dual citizenship.
The MPLA’s propaganda keeps criticising Portugal for allowing its media and citizens to take a stand for freedom of expression and human rights in Angola, suggesting that this is a sign of Lisbon’s colonial mindset.
However, the colonial mindset seems to be more instilled in the MPLA regime than in the Portuguese public. Portugal remains the mirror for the Angolan elite, making it impossible for Angolans to forge a country in their own image. Angola is trapped in an independence in which the ruling elite still yearns for Portuguese acceptance through a colonial perspective of assimilation.
As a result, the promises of independence have yet to be realised. Liberdade Já is the first step to be taken towards fulfilling those promises.
*Source The Guardian