As Africa grapples with the after – effect of the Arab Spring, with the lingering crises in Libya and Egypt, another great African nation, Angola, is currently on the precipice of political upheaval, which, if not properly managed, is capable of degenerating into prolonged chaos.
The country’s President, Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, came to power in 1979, just four years after the country gained independence from the Portuguese. He became leader on the death of Agostinho Neto, who led the country upon attaining independence in 1975.
As Head of State and Head of Government, Dos Santos controls executive powers, and a significant amount of legislative authority, which enables him to govern by issuing decrees. Though a multi – party state (and supposedly a democracy), it is predominantly a one – party state, with the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) dominating the country’s politics. It won 82% in the 2008 elections.
Furthermore, presidential elections have only been held once in the country’s history – in 1992 – and it was won by the MPLA, though the results were vehemently rejected by the other political parties as rigged. Under the current constitution which was adopted in 2010, the leader of the political party or coalition of political parties with the most votes in the general elections gets elected as the country’s president.
The said constitution sets a limit of two terms for a president, but does not take into account time spent in office prior to the adoption of the constitution. With the MPLA controlling majority in the national assembly, this is obviously a huge advantage to them.
President Dos Santos and the MPLA have been embroiled in controversies.
Prominent among them are:
- The crisis that started on May 27, 1977 resulting in the massacre of faction members who attempted to seize control of the leadership of the MPLA, but failed. It is estimated that between 12,000 and 80,000 people, mostly civilians were slaughtered.
- The crisis that proceeded the controversial presidential election of 1992 that led to the Halloween Massacre of late same year. Though the MPLA made every effort to contain evidence and deny involvement, it was blamed for it.
- In May 2012, former soldiers António Alves Kamulingue and Isaías Sebastião Cassule disappeared following their involvement in organizing a protest in Luanda on behalf of the country’s war veterans who had not been paid their entitlements.
- On the 16th of April 2015, Police officers were dispatched to arrest Jose Kalupeteka in his camp on Mount Sumi. Jose Kalupeteka is a pastor and gospel singer who heads an offshoot of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, known as A Luz do Mondo, Light of the World, with about 3,000 followers. He and his followers are known to flout government pronouncements. During the attempted arrest, Kalupeteka’s followers resisted, and the ensuing crisis resulted in the death of several police officers. In response, some detachment of military and police personnel were sent in and this resulted in the death of 13 persons, while Kalupeteka himself was severely beaten and taken into custody. However, the country’s main opposition group, UNITA, claimed that about 1,080 died in the attack, including women and children.
- The arrest of thirteen (13) readers at their regular book club in Luanda, the country’s capital, and two (2) other activists, in 2015. The government claimed that they were “preparing to carry out acts aimed at disrupting public order and security in the country” –theguardian.com”The highly publicized incident is seen by human rights groups and the media as a clear indication of the country’s political situation where the exercise of basic human rights to assemble and read can be termed an act of subversion by government agencies. Among those arrested are popular rapper Luaty Beirao who has been arrested previously over a peaceful protest, and Manuel Nito Alves who in 2013 was sent to a two – month jail term for producing T-shirts critical of Dos Santos. One of the books on the reading list was Gene Sharp’s “From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation”, which is considered as “a blueprint for nonviolent resistance to repressive regimes”. Another was Angolan journalist Domingos da Cruz’s book, whose title translates as “Tools To Destroy A Dictator And Avoid A New Dictatorship”. Da Cruz was also arrested.
President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos is also accused of leading one of the most corrupt governments in Africa, ignoring the wellbeing of Angolans, amassing wealth for his family and silencing his opposition.
He and his family are alleged to have amassed a huge fortune, with significant holdings in leading domestic businesses and foreign corporations where he fronts his daughter and other proxies. Both Dos Santos and the government have also been accused of suppressing the media when the media try to dig into their suspicious financial dealings.
The country is currently at the crossroads with several challenges to contend with: the next general election scheduled for 2017, the controversial subject of presidential succession, the perennial economic crisis occasioned by the volatile oil sector which is the country’s main source of foreign revenue, youth unemployment, and reintegration of former militias.
With these challenges in view, any case of government’s high handedness and brutality is a catalyst for political instability and dissension. Though the government is taking concrete steps to avert that, it doesn’t seem to be paying attention to the potency of social media as a veritable tool for mass mobilisation.
There is also the wide gap between the haves and the have-nots in the country where over 60% of the population are below the poverty line, living on less than two dollars a day. Hence since 2011, the country’s youth have been calling for protests aimed at bringing an end to Dos Santos’ 36 years rule.
In a Report on its Africa Programme published in June 2011, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies asserted that: “The main dynamics that could lead to instability in Angola lie outside national politics and are rooted in the rampant poverty still experienced by the majority of Angolans”.
When dictators rise to power, it is common to see them welcomed as heroes, patriots, or saviours of the fatherland. They elicit sympathy and support by flaunting a populist agenda, such as bogus promises to promote equality, better wealth distribution, or a more effective representation of minority interests, which easily appeals to the sensibilities of the masses.
But as soon as they consolidate their grip on power, they begin to unleash their dictatorial tendencies, and any perceived opposition is considered a serious threat that must be crushed with all vehemence. If political history serves us right, we have seen this trend play out with the likes of Hitler in Nazi Germany, Idi Amin of Uganda, Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, and the very Jose Eduardo Dos Santos of Angola, to mention a few.
But they fail to realize that the relentless voice of democracy, truth and justice cannot be silenced by the coercive force of governance. At least, not for long. “Fifteen youths have been jailed, but rather than silencing dissent, the crackdown on free thought reveals just how nervous the government (of Angola) is” writes Simon Allison.
Consequently, there is an urgent need for the MPLA to provide better services, build infrastructure, and create new jobs and opportunities to positively engage the masses. In addition, The African Union (A U) should play a timely advisory and mediatory role between the government and disaffected people of Angola, with a view to diffusing the bellicose opposition that is insidiously heating the polity.
Looking at the role natural resources (minerals) have played in the conflict of several African countries (The Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, Nigeria’s delta region, Liberia, et al), Angolans should make every effort to prevent the current tension from escalating into civil unrest and war, where illegal arms dealers and all kinds of unscrupulous individuals would profit at the expense of the country’s misfortune, by supplying weapons to dissidents in exchange for the looted minerals of the state.
Alphonsus Aigbokhan is a freelance blogger and aspiring social entrepreneur. His work experience traverses the oil and gas services sub-sector, shipping / maritime, commercial banking, solar power technology, and logistics / supply chain industries. He lives in Ontario, Canada and tweets at @AlphLeo.