Angola’s authorities are cracking down on rights activists, journalists and transparency advocates in an apparent attempt to halt exposure of rampant corruption within the ruling elite.
“On 1 May 2012, unidentified individuals broke into the home of journalist Coque Mukuta (left)for the third time in recent months,” Front Line Defenders reports, “in the most recent act of harassment against the journalist, who has been the subject of several threats and intimidation.”
The Steering Committee of the World Movement for Democracy, a global network of democracy activists, practitioners, and scholars, has condemned the Angolan government’s reportedly violent response to a youth-led protest on Saturday, April 28, in Cacuaco, a suburb of the country’s capital, Luanda:
Wearing masks to hide their identities, members of a militia assaulted some 100 protestors with guns and pickaxes. A video (above) provided by the Association for Justice, Peace, and Democracy (AJPD) shows police officers watching as protestors are attacked by what appear to be civilians in plain clothes. Acting on “orders from above,” hospitals turned away injured protestors, according to Africa Review.
Meanwhile, the trial of journalist Ramiro Aleixo began on 11 May, 2012, at the Luanda Provincial Court, in Angola, campaigning journalist Rafael Marques de Morais* (below, right) reports. Aleixo stands accused of the crimes of defamation, slander and injury against the military justice system, namely its Supreme Court and office of the military attorney.
In September 2007, the defendant wrote two articles in the now defunct weekly newspaper Kesongo, about the trial and conviction of the former director of the Angolan Intelligence Services, general Fernando Garcia Miala, exposing the judicial process as a farce. Initially, it was publicly revealed that there was an investigation of general Miala for an attempted coup.
To the journalist’s surprise, and to the surprise of the Angolan public at large, the general ended up in court accused of insubordination, for refusing to attend a public ceremony in which he was to be demoted from the rank of three-star general to lieutenant-general. He was convicted to four years in jail, while three of his closest aides were sentenced to two-and-a-half years in jail.
In his editorial ‘The Dangerous Track’, before expressing his opinion of the proceedings that lead to the incarceration of the general and his aides, Mr. Aleixo rejoiced over the role of the privately-owned media’s coverage of the case. According to Mr. Aleixo, the Miala case “showed the country, and the world, the importance of private media in the country’s democratization process.”
The trial of Mr. Aleixo is now an extraordinary opportunity to evaluate the Angolan judicial system. The defendant was notified through an edict published in the state-owned daily newspaper Jornal de Angola, on 11 April, 2012. The presiding municipal judge, Alfredo Lourenço Martins, justified the decision of publishing the edict on the grounds that the court clerks had not been able to locate the defendant over the previous three years. In fact, Mr. Aleixo has maintained the same residential address, in Benguela province, where the newspaper was published, and the same address was included in the edict. …..
It is chilling to note that, with one of the fastest economic growth rates in the world, the Angolan regime has no money to replace the broken lamps in a courtroom where the honor and dignity of its ranking officers are supposed to be upheld. Nor are there the meager resources to fix the air-conditioning and maintain the comfort of the magistrates who, in disregard of the laws, defend the power-holders at all costs.
Recent revelations in the Financial Times have underlined concerns that senior government officials “have attempted to make private profits from the impoverished country’s oil sector via undisclosed interests in front companies,” Global Witness reports:
The newspaper reported that three top officials are hidden owners of Nazaki Oil & Gaz, an obscure private company in partnership with the U.S. oil firm Cobalt International Energy in two oil exploration licences in Angola. Cobalt is being investigated in the United States under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in relation to its dealings with Nazaki, although it denies any allegation of wrong doing. The revelations raise serious concerns about the risk of corruption in the oil industry at a time when industry lobbyists are trying to gut transparency laws in the United States and European Union.
[In January 2012, a complaint was filed with Angola's Attorney General by rights activist Rafael Marques de Morais alleging corruption in the Nazaki case.]
The Financial Times reported that it had received letters from two senior officials confirming that they had held interests in Nazaki via another company. Manuel Vicente, a minister who until the end of last year was the head of the powerful state oil company Sonangol, and as such had a key role to play in the determination of which companies obtained concessions in the Angolan oil sector, and a presidential advisor, Manuel Helder Vieira Dias “Kopelipa”. The two men confirmed that a third senior official, a presidential advisor named Leopoldino Fragoso do Nascimento, had also held an interest in Nazaki. It was not clear whether they still hold these interests….
These revelations demonstrate the urgent need for strong implementation of Provision 1504 of the Dodd-Frank Act in the United States, and for the European Union to pass similar laws, together commencing a new global standard for extractive industry transparency and accountability. It is vital that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in the United States and the European Union (the EU Parliament and Council) resist the contemptible efforts of big oil to keep the oil industry in the dark. This must include reporting on a project by project basis[ii] and must not include exemptions for any country, which would in effect amount to a “Dictator’s Charter”.
The recent Cacuaco protest came after more than a year of anti-government demonstrations throughout the country, says the World Movement for Democracy:
On March 7, 2011, a small group of Angolans held a symbolic demonstration in Luanda’s Independence Square. While all 17 protestors were arrested that day, youth activists have continued to organize protests against widespread unemployment, corruption, and poverty, for which they have suffered assaults, threats, arrests, and criminal convictions. Although Angola is Africa’s second most oil-rich nation, only a small percentage of the oil revenue reaches the general population. The Economist has described Angola as a country with one of the world’s highest levels of economic inequality.
According to Human Rights Watch, Angola’s “2010 constitution guarantees freedom of assembly and peaceful demonstration, and Angolan laws explicitly allow public demonstrations without government authorization. However, since 2009 the government has banned or obstructed a number of anti-government demonstrations, and the police have prevented the majority of peaceful demonstrations from taking place.”
The members of the Steering Committee, along with thousands of other World Movement participants around the world, are deeply concerned about the Angolan government’s long history of using unnecessary force against peaceful anti-government protestors, and the government’s reported arrangements of counter-demonstrations at state expense to build and maintain support for President José Eduardo dos Santos, who has remained in power since 1979.
With this statement, therefore, we express our solidarity with the courageous World Movement participants and others in Angola who have joined together to express their demand for an end to repression of peaceful civil society association and assembly in that country. We call on the Angolan government to respect the provisions in the country’s own Constitution intended to protect those rights, and to adhere to the principles articulated in the World Movement’s Defending Civil Society report: The right to freedom of association; the right to operate free from unwarranted state interference; the right to free expression; the right to communication and cooperation; the right to seek and secure resources; and the state’s duty to protect civil society rights.