democraciaAbierta: Opinion

What happened to democracy in Angola?

After several weeks of tension in the streets, several casualties were reported during demonstrations in Luanda during the celebration of Angola’s 45th Independence Day.

Osvaldo Silva
14 November 2020, 12.37pm
Police forces getting ready durting Luanda streets demonstrations on November 11.
Osvaldo Silva. All rights reserved

Social unrest is mounting in Angola since the first large protest on October 24th and the death of Dr Silvio Dala in the hands of the police. At the previous protest the urban youth came in hundreds only to be met with threat and “kidnapping”. Many were taken in by police and several journalists were taken in custody for no apparent reasons except the purpose of doing their job. But it would seem that the regime does not like to show its real issues to the world.

Angola would like to portray itself to the world as a democratic and lawful country, and yet its ruling political class is misplacing its political interests first, placing those of the bottom million people last. This is a non-resolved issue simply because there is no real desire to.

Since the new president's arrival in 2017, the climate of uncertainty and tension in Angola has escalated. Even before the COVID, economic situation was catastrophic where the local currency lost more than 40% of its value in a few months. Today it is at breaking point where people feel they have nothing else to lose. Some lost their businesses, are unable to pay their loans, people just can barely afford to make ends meet. The country is governed by an elitist class who appoint themselves to these positions and only see self-interest. Those so-called authority within the political party hiding beneath masks, calling themselves guardians of Angola.

This nation’s independence, that was fought with sweat and blood of the common people, in now jeopardized by a political class that works selfishly for their own personal gains and the future of their off springs who will continue “their legacy”.

The fundamental principles, as for Article 1 of the Constitution of the Republic of Angola (1992), state that;

"Angola shall be a sovereign and independent Republic, based on the dignity of the individual and the will of the Angolan people. The Republic of Angola shall be a sovereign and independent nation whose primary objective shall be to build a free and democratic society of peace, justice and social progress.”

These are words we appreciate, but the reality is that democracy in Angola is far from being felt and understood, in particular when our livelihood is dependent on it. It almost feels like we are disposable bodies to service the government when it serves them well. November 11th was no exception. Who can defend the country’s constitution if the government does not even protect the survival of its people and their interests? November 2020 was a milestone for us to realize that the 45th anniversary of independence, the right to speak and demonstrate will continue to be silenced and even denied by force. This year on camera at least one young demonstrator reportedly died fighting for that right.

Justifying that COVID measures required the prohibition of protests, head of police gave a strict warning on television a few days before Angola’s Independence Day. Instead of creating a feeling of unity and hope for better days, the authorities issued a decree that stated loud and clear that protests would not be tolerated, withholding the right of demonstration. Yet, according to the constitution, this right could only be prohibited in a state of emergency such as a war, which clearly was not the case.

Many have died not just from malaria, which is widespread in the country, but even more from police brutality.

By show of force, the police were ready and prepared ahead of the protestors’ arrival. Many on camera were confident to use rubber bullets and tear gas, beating with no mercy on defenseless people. Their questions falling on deaf ears. What happened to all the promises of jobs and better living conditions?  In a tone considered by many to be arrogant, Police General Commander Paulo de Almeida stated that “disorder will not be tolerated, and everything will be done to maintain peace and order”.

Since 1975, the day Angola gained its independence, the country has been marked by increasing inequalities, in which the rich get sickly wealthier and the poor increasingly more miserable. This can only be attributed to poor management of the country’s immense resources, as western NGO’s keep saying. The wealth is distributed purposely among a concentrated group supporting the political elite. As a consequence, citizens’ only strength comes from the idea of revolt for not being given the dignity of a simple human being, one with basic needs such as healthcare, education and adequate sanitation. Many have died not just from malaria, which is widespread in the country, but even more from police brutality. Until when can we live like this? Is misery our destiny, a misery that will forever haunt us?

According to population census, today there are an estimated 31.83 million Angolan citizens. Because of lack of freedom of expression and demonstration, most of those 31 million remain silently protesting against the ruling party regime. The police represses citizens for senseless acts and arrests journalists to mute the reality of this country. It is a big question mark whether any of the NGOs are reporting the gravity of the reality. Democracy in Angola only applies if you have the position to claim it.

Since 2017, a climate of growing despair has taken over the country’s youth and middle class. Desensitized and numb, every day is a fight for survival. We witness innumerable brothers, cousins, friends and innocents dying when they shouldn’t be. If many were injured during the protests, some will likely die from lack of healthcare and not being important enough to have access to a doctor. Their families desperately searching hospital garbage bins for a miracle to bring their son’s life.

This is Luanda, the capital of one of the richest countries in Africa. How does one measure the value of an Angolan life? The government should listen to the people if it is to avoid a monumental tragedy.

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