Angola: In Search of Democracy
It is an honor for me to be here at CSIS (Center for Strategic and International Studies) to talk about Angola, and before such a distinguished audience.
I have come here as a citizen who has for many years been deeply committed to changes in Angola, especially in the areas of peace, human rights, and freedom of expression.
The country is at peace, and is now in search of democracy and a more meaningful existence for the average citizen.
First, I would like to examine what exactly were the fruits of peace, a peace that was achieved in April 2002. It raised the expectations of Angolans as far as the processes of democratization and national reconciliation were concerned.
Yet there is still no clear agenda for the democratization of the country. On October 27, the president vaguely said it will take no less than 24 months to prepare for the elections . In 1999, he stated elections would take place in 2001, and in that year he set a tentative date for 2003. As 2003 draws to a close, even 2005 now looks like a fading hope.
The indefinite postponement of the elections is just one of a number of ways in which Angola’s present rulers are consistently in breach of the constitution supposedly established to guide them. One might also look at the way in which the president in 1998 unconstitutionally assumed the office of prime minister, relinquishing it only under pressure and when it suited him, late last year.
At the same time, much of the country remains without magistrates or lawyers, and those courts that do exist barely function. The police are more than simply corrupt – they are completely beyond the justice system, and respond only to the whims of powerful individuals. Take for example the case of Jorge Artur, a young journalist who spent a month in police cells without any charge being brought against him. On February 24, 2003, Jorge Artur was arrested in the offices of the tourism ministry on the orders of the minister himself, Jorge Valentim, who was unhappy that the journalist had come to interview him about a labour dispute in the ministry.
Another case in point is what happened on October 19, 2003. The son of the Prime Minister Fernando dos Santos “Nandó,” crashed his posh BMW into an ordinary citizen’s car. Cláudio dos Santos, who was at fault, beat the man so hard, that when the victim tried to seek protection from the police, who were witnessing the abuse, the police officers threw him back to the perpetrator. When the victim, Celestino Henrique, passed out, the son of the prime minister tried to take him home “to feed him to the dogs.” Needless to say that impunity has prevailed and the prime minister ignored the public outcry. Furthermore, Celestino Henrique continues to receive threatening, anonymous phone calls. For some consolation, the media have dubbed the thug as Uday & Qusay, an allusion to Saddam Hussein’s late sons.
There is an urgent need for a new constitutional and legal framework, a legitimate government and reformed and functional State institutions so as to transparently define the country’s political, legal and economic system. Such institutions are indispensable to set the checks and balances that are required for people to peacefully demand delivery of services, and make power holders politically and legally accountable for their deeds.
An interim arrangement for a period of transition should be considered. The government and other sectors of the society would work together, within a clear time frame, to set a consensual agenda to give a direction to the country as it is now sailing adrift.
As for reconciliation, it has been dismissed from the political arena by both the Government and UNITA, with the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding of April 2002. The process of reconciliation was narrowed to the granting of a general amnesty with respect to all crimes committed in the context of the armed conflict.
After 27 years of civil war, a process of reconciliation would enable Angolans to count the tragedies and the cost of war.
One has to bear in mind that, according to police figures, a third of adult Angolans have weapons at home. On October 26, the Minister of Interior, Serra Van Dúnem, stressed that the disarmament of civilians is now of pressing importance for the consolidation of peace. Furthermore, it seems rather suspicious that, at the present moment, a male citizen under 35 cannot leave the country without presenting documents to prove that he is not wanted for military service. In a country at peace. I was subjected to this process at the airport before I was allowed to come to the United States.
One horrifying example of the absence of reconciliation and the lack of dialogue, is the situation in Cabinda. In October 2002, the government unleashed a major military offensive against local, independent movements, sending over 30,000 soldiers to the territory. The local population became, in fact, the main target of the military operations. Now, the government has to increase its diplomatic and financial efforts to conceal or play down, at national and international levels, the tragedy that has befallen Cabinda, where cases of torture have become the daily bread for the people. This is a reminder that the war mentality still prevails in Angola, especially within the government.
Nevertheless, citizens are learning to claim one of the four essential freedoms, the freedom from fear. Since independence, fear has been the main term of reference in the relationship between government and citizens. As they begin to free themselves from this fear, citizens, especially in the capital Luanda (where a third of the population lives), must find other terms of reference on which to deal with the government. This can and should only be democracy.
For instance, on October 17, 2003, President Dos Santos unveiled a U.S. $600 million plan to build two artificial islands in Luanda’s Bay, for a luxurious real estate development . This happens at a time when most of the capital’s residents lack electricity and running water, much of the country has been reduced to rubble, and over 80 percent of the people live in absolute poverty.
So, what would happen if people, after enduring wars and famine, shook off their fear and recognized that their hopes were being shattered by a regime that is both impotent to address their needs, and too arrogant to care about or notice them?
What would happen in circumstances in which people might not even have the option to turn to an opposition or an organized civil society to lead them in their claims or to offer a viable alternative for change?
What would happen if the international community cynically continued to turn a blind eye to the conflict in Cabinda and to the deepening of political, social and economic exclusion in Angola?
The current situation of exclusion, in which only foreign business ventures and those who wield power in Luanda truly benefit from the country’s wealth, might undermine the sustainability of peace and the very future of Angola.
On October 29, a senior Sonangol economist, São Vicente, reckoned that in the next 10 years the oil sector in Angola will attract investments estimated at 50 billion U.S. dollars . It demonstrates a clear perspective as to where oil development will be in such a timeframe. What about the rest of the country and the people?
I have brought more questions than perspectives, because I have come to the land that champions democracy and human rights. Since Angolan independence, the United States has been an active part of our political and economic life. I am here to ask how the United States, besides humanitarian support and business interests, can also do more to help foster democracy in the country.
Let me say, however, that if two years ago the late rebel leader Jonas Savimbi was the major obstacle to achieve peace, today President Dos Santos stands out as the major obstacle to move the country towards democracy.
Dos Santos is an impediment because he has built a cult of personality around himself, which is based on corruption, military bullying and disregard for the rule of law.
Angolans and people in other countries who are genuinely interested in democracy in Southern Africa, should combine efforts to help Mr. Dos Santos find a dignified way out of power through a consensual transitional mechanism. It would save many Angolan lives, as well as much time and money.
It is time for diplomatic and business relations with Angola to be reviewed beyond the predictability of power maintenance by force and plundering.
Democracy shall be the promissory note for international business ventures in Angola to prosper without political worries, and it shall be the key for the well-being of the majority of Angola's people as well.
Washington, November 03 2003