Africa: Politics and Societies South of the Sahara

‘West Should Support Democratic Forces in Angola, not Corrupt Elites’

Posted in African Politics, Angola, Global Africa by ruben eberlein on August 28, 2009

Here is my interview with the Angolan human rights and peace activist Emanuel Matondo. The journalist and author, residing in Germany since the early 1990s, reports on the recent persecution of journalists, the general state of press freedom and on political corruption in the Southern African country.

Which kind of situation are the media independent from the state in Angola facing?

The state of media freedom is very poor. The regime in power employs a quite new strategy with regards to the repression and persecution of its critics and especially journalists. People working with the independent press are showered with unfair lawsuits and fake allegations. The power holders in Angola hope to silence all those regarded as detractors. William Tonet, publisher of the independent bi-weekly Folha 8, is the subject of altogether 69 investigations. His destiny stands for this new strategy employed by the state.

Can you please detail the case of Tonet?

As a human rights activist, journalist and lawyer he faces the prosecution by the Angolan security apparatus since 1994. Back then, he was imprisoned and charged. His reputed crime: He did denunciate the degrading conditions within the Angolan prisons as well as the widespread practice of torturing convicts and letting them disappear. Today, Tonet is considered one of the loudest voices for those people in Angola who do not have a voice in public.

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Many war criminals walk freely in Angola.

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Why is Tonet a prominent target of the government?

He founded Folha 8 in the mid-1990s, and this bi-weekly is very popular in the country. Opinions that are repressed elsewhere, especially about the thievish power holders, are published there. This made him a Public Enemy Number One, and the Angolan government put his name on a country-wide search list for felons. Early in May, Tonet was arrested at the border to Namibia, his passport was confiscated. He is thus not able to leave the country and effectively put under a kind of house arrest.

It is simply ridiculous that Tonet is treated like a hardened criminal if you consider how many war criminals of the army and the party in power or from other former warring parties all over Angola walk as free people. They are those who should be arrested and face a court for war crimes of the United Nations for Angola. But obviously the UN does not have the courage or the will to establish such a court.

Which people are so eager to hush Tonet?

The most recent complaint was prompted by four high-ranking generals who all belong to the Angolan Presidential Office. Among them one finds the most powerful general of the country, Manuel Hélder Vieira Dias Júnior alias Kopelipa, who is as well the head of the Military Bureau within the Presidential Office. Another figure from this circle is José Maria, also a very influential general and former chief of the Military Counter-Intelligence Service. Another lawsuit was initiated by the Director of the Court of the Military Police, Hélder Pita Gróz.

What are they Tonet charging with?

These most powerful generals from within the President’s circle, which are considered in Angola to be highly corrupt, accuse Tonet of all sorts of things: to be a threat to national security, to damage the reputation of the army, of the Court of the Military Police and of the President. The latest attempts to browbeat him can be ascribed to the many interventions of Tonet in favour of the former head of the Foreign Intelligence Service, Fernando Garcia Miala. Since July 2007, Miala is jailed because he allegedly planned a coup against President José Eduardo dos Santos in early 2005.

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The alleged coup of Miala is considered

by many to have been an orchestration.

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Did Miala actually plan a putsch?

William Tonet and some of his colleagues suggested back then that this alleged coup be an orchestration of the regime. The arrest and conviction of Miala and his supporters have been criticised heavily in his newspaper. For him, the true reason for Miala’s arrest was that the former intelligence chief produced an internal report about a massive corruption scandal in connection with loans from China. Moreover, Tonet named the backers of this staging and brought the fights amongst several fractions within the corrupt system to daylight. This is probably the real reason of the rage against him and his paper.

You suggest that Tonet is not the only journalist who faces prosecution by the government …

This is true indeed. Many journalists in Angola cannot work fearlessly any more. For some of them, the reminiscence of the pictures showing the brutal murder of their brave colleague Micardo de Mello back in 1995 are very present. De Mello, a co-founder of the independent press in Angola and Director of the now defunct paper Fax Imparcial was downrightly executed at that time, and everything pointed to an act of a hit man. The culprits or their backers were never ascertained or arrested. Until today, the murderers of the journalist walk free in Angola, and maybe they work as well as diplomats somewhere abroad.

In July 2009, journalist Eugénio Mateus, a former editor of the independent weekly A Capital, was convicted to three months prison in a trial instigated by the Chief of Staff of the Angolan Army, Pereira Furtado. The Attorney General charged Mateus with the ‘misuse of the media and injury to the honour of the Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos’. The journalist just published a critical text about the excessive powers of Dos Santos and specified his responsibility for the misdeeds of his government. His editor in chief, Tandala Francisco, was called before the National Directorate for Criminal Investigations, that is the political police in Angola in disguise.

In another case in Cabinda, the oil rich exclave, a military court on 16 September 2008 convicted Fernando Lelo, a former journalist and correspondent for Voice of America (VOA), to 12 years in prison because of ‘crimes against the security of the state’ and ‘active aid to the FLEC separatists’.

What is the background of Lelo’s arrest?

Fernando Lelo participated in 2006 in a peaceful rally of the local Catholic Church that was brutally broken up by heavily armed security forces. In all his reports from Cabinda, Lelo criticised the serious human rights violations of the army, the police and other security outfits which are carried out permanently and with impunity. And he exactly did that again in his article about that particular demonstration. In November 2007, he was arrested and charged. Lelo was accused of sabotage. Three of four soldiers which stood trial with him were released by the military court. The journalist and another soldier were convicted to 12 years each. This was not a fair trial at all.

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The government still monopolises the media.

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How do the restrictions of the media affect the political climate in Angola?

First of all, they negatively affect the development of the media in Angola. If you compare our situation with, let’s say, the DR Congo, you will have to admit that Angola is quite behind. The state still holds the exclusive right to broadcast country-wide, both for radio and TV stations. Private radios, no matter if they belong to people close to the government or to opposition figures, will get a license only for ultra short wave frequencies that cover very restricted areas, mostly in a few cities. Since 1998, 60 applications for a grant of short or ultra short wave licenses were brought forward, but to no avail. Even the Catholic Church which asked for an approval to broadcast its private and critical station ‘Rádio Ecclésia’ countrywide is confronted with this repressive and restrictive media politics. It is allowed to broadcast only in the capital Luanda.

In 2008, shortly before the elections to the Parliament in Angola, the government shut down the private station ‘Rádio Despertar’ which was close to the opposition party and former rebel organisation Unita. This station existed only for a short time. What concerns TV – the state, or the regime, holds a monopoly as well. There is not one private TV station all over the country.

Which consequences does this situation have for the political landscape in Angola?

The regime is very good in manipulating the opinions within the country, and it does that foremost by way of propaganda and a personality cult surrounding the President. Other forces are almost completely excluded from distributing their views in a constructive discussion about Angola’s future development. Diversity is lacking – and you realised this fact strongly in the preparations for the elections in 2008. The monopoly of the ruling class facilitates the dictatorship within the country, and through its propaganda the regime tries to dispread a false picture. Many people don’t know what is happening in other regions of the country or at the political level. What we find is a climate of angst, desperation, anger and resignation that besets the country. It is exactly this mixture that is dangerous for the security in Angola.

What does corruption mean for the average Angolan?

For many people, corruption implies the deprivation of their future by the President and the elite of the country that surrounds him. In daily life, corruption makes it difficult or sometimes impossible to survive. The Angolan government under the MPLA only succeeded to stay in power that long by way of corruption and cronyism. Many Angolans somehow accepted corruption. They only want to go after their businesses untroubled while they hope for better times and changes.

Angola in the 21st century is a very inequitable class society, a modern system of predator capitalism: On the one side you have this tiny minority which enriched itself quite quickly at the expense of the general public and lives an extravagant life in luxury both in Angola and abroad. On the other side you have the majority of the population living in extreme poverty which doesn’t see anything from the oil bonanza. Corruption also blocks the development of democratic institutions as well as the social and human development of the Angolan people.

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Development means social justice,

participation and an end of repression.

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Thus the picture popular in some circles in the West that Angola is the latest success story of development in Africa is not appropriate in your view?

This really depends on what you understand by ‘development’. Is developmental politics all about the realisation of big construction projects – so called White Elephant Projects – as it is the case in Angola? In this case, the West is not honest with itself, less so with the Angolans or Africans. According to Western definitions, development politics is a politics of forming and changing structures. A reform politics that ‘aims at social justice, participation and the liberation from repression and exploitation, in other words at the realisation of political and social human rights’, as Professor Franz Nuscheler put it.

In Angola we see exactly the opposite in many essential domains: Education, the health sector, farming and other economic branches suffer from a massive absence of investments. The majority of Angolans, for example in the capital Luanda, lives with less than two US-Dollar a day or from litter. Others die after they are sent away by the hospitals that do not have sufficient capacities. An economy built on only two export products, oil and diamonds, cannot stimulate a sustainable development. A diversification would be healthier, and a reasonable politics to fight poverty is desperately called for in order to reduce the massive misery in the country.

What do you expect from the international community in their relationship with Angola?

Many Angolans expect from the international community to stick to the principles of compliance with human dignity that are demanded in many other regions of the world. These principles have to be employed vis-à-vis Angola as well. Those who criticise injustice and the disregard of fundamental rights in China, Iran or Zimbabwe and even quarantine such regimes must do the same in the case of Angola in view of the corrupt and repressive government of Dos Santos and his friends. Otherwise such a critique rings hollow and dubious.

The West dealt with Mobutu in Zaire similar as with Dos Santos until a mass revolution was not avoidable any more, and in 1997 Mobutu was toppled. The inequity in Angola slowly reaches a limit, and it could lead to a new open conflict. Nobody wants to return to war again. That is exactly why the West is well advised to deal with Angola in an appropriate manner. It should support the democratic forces but not the despotism of the President and his small elite.

Emanuel Matondo is a human rights and peace activist as well as a conscientious objector from Angola. He lives in Germany since the early 1990s. As a journalist and author, intimately familiar with Angola, Matondo founded the Angolan Antimilitaristic Human Rights Initiative (IAADH e.V.) in 1998.

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3 Responses

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  1. Dr. Ken Uzor said, on August 28, 2009 at 6:33 pm

    Hi, Ruben thanks for that insightful interview.
    The situation in Angola is similar to what obtains in most countries of Africa and other developing countries. It is in situations like this that one wonders what interest the West and even global bodies like the UN are protecting – the deprived and silenced citizens of policed states or the political actors that prosecute the atrocities we keep witnessing in Angola, Nigeria, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Kenya etc.

    My position has always been that the West has the clout and power to stop most of the injustices and make most societies and demoncracies free indeed. But this has not been the case since most western countries place their national interest far above human right considerations in countries where most citizens are oppressed. Corruption and oppresive tendencies of most African societies has retarded the development of Africa and the West is aware of this siutation yet they refuse to intervene.

    The truth is that in some instances they aided corrupt and oppressive regimes perpetuate inhuman acts against their citizens. It does appear that the West would rather contend with an impoverished Africa where disease and war have ravage the inhabitants than a prosperous and peaceful African society. The irony is that the effects of evil regimes in Africa would eventually affect the west now or in the long run. We still share one humanity, and the dignity of every human person should be protected by all and the west can work to realise this even in the most obscure parts of Africa and the rest of the world.

  2. madalina said, on August 29, 2009 at 2:10 pm

    It was a pelasure to read the interview, but elites are enmeshed in networks of patronage, not corrupt. Patronage and corruption are very different things.

    • ruben eberlein said, on September 2, 2009 at 3:59 pm

      This is a very interesting point. But what to do when people, for example in Angola, complain about what they call “corruption”?

      I think practices viewed as corrupt simply transgress bargained boundaries within a society of patronage (or in other political cultures, for that matter) and are considered to be unacceptable by most folks. And this often seems to be the case in Angola.


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