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Troublesome legacy

by Johannes Beck

In depth

Poverty is at home in Luanda’s musseques. In recent years, hundreds of people have died of cholera

Poverty is at home in Luanda’s musseques. In recent years, hundreds of people have died of cholera

What remains of the Africa Cup in Angola are unused stadiums, a constitution tailored to the president – and imprisoned human- rights activists. [ By Johannes Beck ]

Rarely ever is Angola the focus of worldwide public attention. This changed in January when FLEC – the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda – attacked the Togo national football team during the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations.

In fact, the government wanted to use the Africa Cup in order to present the South African country as a rising economic power. Above all, President Eduardo dos Santos was supposed to shine. But instead, serious problems were revealed: the president’s personality cult as well as the massive gap between the enormous wealth of a few people and the extreme poverty of the majority.

It is mostly oil that brings money into the country. In 2009, Angola produced roughly $ 40 billion worth of petrol. The OPEC statistics of February 2010 show that Angola, with 1.95 million barrels a day, was closely behind Nigeria, the biggest oil-producing country in Africa with 1.96 million barrels.

Despite high oil revenues, the country needs external credits. Only recently, Angola received a credit of $ 1.4 billion – Brazil and Portugal contributed another $ 400 million.

Both countries are particularly interested in prolonging Angola’s economic boom. Their national building contractors are benefiting from the infrastructure projects – new motorways, railway renovations and the construction of public buildings – financed by credits and billions of petrodollars.

The semi-private Brazilian Petrobras is involved in oil production. Several Portuguese banks maintain significant subsidiaries in Angola. The Espírito Santo Group (BES) is active in the diamond industry as well as in agriculture and the ­real estate sector, profiting from the partnership with the president’s daughter ­Isabel dos Santos, who holds 20 % of BES Angola.

Benefiting from the economic boom

The interests of the former colonial power of Portugal are closely intertwined with those of Angola’s élite. The state-owned Angolan oil company Sonangol controls GALP, the largest Portuguese oil group. Sonangol is also one of the most important shareholders of the Portuguese private bank Millennium BCP. The biggest investments in Portugal were made by the president’s daughter Isabel dos Santos: at the Lisbon stock exchange, she holds shares of an estimated worth of € 1.8 billion.

To an increasing extent, Portuguese entrepreneurs are trying to benefit from the boom in Angola. From 2005 until 2008, the economy had annual growth rates between 12 % and 21 %, thus counting among the fastest expanding national economies of the world. After a year of stagnation in 2009, the London analysis company EIU (Economist Intelligence Unit) predicts a GDP increase in 2010 of eight per cent.

Recently, a contract was landed by the Portuguese building contractor Teixeira Duarte for the new parliament building in Luanda for € 185 million. The construction contracts for the Africa Cup stadiums went to Chinese corporations – securing one billion dollars altogether.

“In my opinion, the government of President Eduardo dos Santos has thrown money down the drain,” argues Luís Araújo of the human rights organisation SOS Habitat. “Why do we need stadiums if they are empty, whilst people are starving?”

In point of fact, it is questionable why the country needed five new stadiums for the Africa Cup. Now, only one of them is regularly used by the national football league.

Angola has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world. According to the UNDP Human Development Report, one out of four children dies before the age of five. This is the same as in Sierra Leone, yet the Angolan GDP per capita exceeds ­
$ 6,000, which is more than eight times higher than in Sierra Leone, with a GDP per capita of roughly $ 750.

Driving past the slums in a Porsche

The export statistics show us the riches now being produced by Angola. In 2010 alone, the country will be exporting $ 53.7 billion worth of oil, as estimated by the EIU. With a population of 19 million, this amounts to $ 2,800 per capita.

However, average figures are of little importance in Angola. When driving through the capital of Luanda, you spend more time in traffic jams than in other metropolis in the world, surrounded by Hummers, Porsche Cayennes and Toyota Prados on their way to the luxury malls. The musseques, the slums, stretch along the sides of the road, filled with miserable abodes, often without water or electricity and mostly without garbage collection. In recent years, hundreds of people have died there of cholera.

The government is reluctant to deal with poverty; it is easier to just dismiss the topic. Already back in 2005, glossy prospects were announcing the 30th anniversary of Angolan independence from Portugal: “30 years of Angola – war, famine, illiteracy, misery and disappointment are overcome.”

Also, the state television TPA and the official news agency ANGOP report only about success stories; poverty is virtually non-existent. In the past few months, the president has focussed on his new key issue: corruption. Several executives of the Angolan Central Bank were arrested. They are said to have siphoned off millions for personal purposes. But how family dos Santos came into billions of dollars is a question not to ask.

Checks and balances is a thing of the past

At any rate, dos Santos is not likely to be asked critical questions. In 2008 his party, MPLA, the former Marxist independent movement, won the elections by a large majority. Ever since, 191 of the 220 delegates are from the MPLA. Opposition parties are left with 29 seats. According to EU election monitors, they did not have a fair chance in the elections against the MPLA party that unashamedly availed itself of the state’s resources.

National media were not reporting in a balanced way about the election campaign, either. Only the capital has independent radio stations – and they were extensively intimidated before the elections. The broadcasting channel of the Catholic church, Rádio Ecclésia, and the channel of the UNITA opposition, Rádio Despertar, were threatened with closure lest they confine their transmit signal to the capital.

Dos Santos had promised presidential elections – at the latest one year after the parliamentary elections. He has been governing the country for more than 30 years without ever having been elected. He stood for election only once, in 1992. However, it only came to the first ballot – the indispensable second ballot was cancelled as the civil war between MPLA and UNITA was rekindled.

Ever since the year 2002, when peace was restored, Angolans have been waiting for presidential elections. And they will have to keep waiting for a long time. As the games of the Africa Cup were distracting the people, a new constitution was bulldozed through the parliament by the president. This changed the political system in a fundamental way – and without the usually extensive public discussion.

“Dictatorial exercise of power”

The independent civil rights activists Raul Danda argues that “the constitution is a basic law that has to be broadly discussed by all. This cannot happen in a fast forward way.” In protest, Danda – opposition delegate elected for parliament in the province of Cabinda – refused to take part in the ­final vote.

In the future, there will only be parliamentary elections. And the first candidate of the party with the highest number of votes will be made president. This method will already be applied in the next parliamentary elections in 2012. Until then, dos Santos remains in office. And he does so without elections, i.e. without democratic legitimisation, as criticised by Emanuel Lopes, scientist at the Africa Centre of the Lisbon research institute ISCTE: “According to the existing valid constitution passed in 1992, the president is elected by direct, universal and secret ballot. What happened now is illegal and against the currently valid constitution. In my opinion, this is a coup d’état.”

With the new constitution, dos Santos – one of the longest serving head of states in the world – continues to secure his power. The prime minister’s office was abolished and replaced with the vice-presidency. The government is now directly controlled by the president and his presidential office, thus dropping the last institutional counterbalance.

What remains is a constitution that is tailormade for dos Santos. According to Angola expert Emanuel Lopes of the ISCTE, it is particularly alarming that the separation of powers is virtually suspended: “The president exercises his power in a dictatorial way. The national electoral commission has eleven members, eight of which were appointed directly by the president. The constitutional court counts seven judges, six of which were appointed by the president.” Lopes expects dos Santos to stay in power until at least 2022.

No peace for Cabinda

Cabinda remains the only province where the power of the president is not completely secured. For years, there has been a war of the independence movement FLEC in this northern enclave at the border to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Those in favour of independence refer to the Treaty of Simulambuco of 1885 – the year of the Berlin conference, where Europeans redrew the map of Africa. In this treaty, the traditional leaders of Cabinda placed themselves under Portuguese authority as a protectorate. In turn, the Portuguese offered protection for territorial integrity. The Angolan government refuses to recognise this, arguing that Cabinda had already been an integral part of Angola in colonial times.

In 2006, the government managed to sign a peace treaty with several of the rebels united in the Fórum Cabindês para o Diálogo (FCD). Since that time, their leader Bento Bembe is a minister in the government. But not all factions of the completely fragmented FLEC have joined the peace treaty. Yet, the government did not refrain from choosing Cabinda as a venue for the Africa Cup so they could show the world that the war is over. The attack on the Togo team on 8 January by military FLEC groups showed that peace is far away in the oil-rich enclave.

Beside the military groups, a strong civil autonomy movement has formed in Cabinda over the past years, working against the growing militarisation of the province: the Mpalabanda organisation led by civil rights activist Raul Danda and Agostinho Chicaia. After several cases of torture and arbitrary arrests, the organisation was banned by the government in 2006.

When the Togo team bus was attacked, the assistant, a spokesman and the driver died. The government used this opportunity to take massive actions against the civil rights activists in Cabinda. The Catholic priest Raul Tati, the lawyer Francisco Luemba and the university professor Belchior Lanso – all former Mpalabanda members – were arrested.

Ever since, human rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International (AI) are demanding their release. The AI Angola expert Muluka-Anne Miti explains that: “Amnesty International is concerned that the attack on the football team was used as an excuse to arrest human rights activists.”

What exactly the arrested activists are accused of remains unclear. Allegedly, they have committed “crimes against state security”. As yet, all appeals to release them were fruitless. Therefore, what remains of the Africa Cup in Angola are unused stadiums, a constitution tailored to the president and arrested human rights activists.