A note on the run-up to the Angolon elections that were held on August 31st, 2012.
By Roberto Valussi, 4th September, 2012
The 31st August 2012 marked the day of the Angolan presidential elections; the second one after the 27 years of civil war of 1975-2002. The last time the Angolan population went to the poll was in 2008, when the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) – which emerged victorious in the conflict – obtained an enviable 82%.
The transparency of the electoral process was a concern then and it has only grown on this occasion. Many have denounced the irregularities, some of which has already hit the international news. The main opposition party, UNITA – which lost the war – organised a rally last Saturday calling a postponement of the elections until a decent standard of transparency is met.
In spite of its immense oil revenues, Angola has ranked near the bottom of the United Nations Development Program’s Human Development Index for many years. In the 2010 Index, Angola ranked 146 out of 169 countries, between Haiti and Djibouti. The first cause of this contrast can be found in another statistic: Transparency International, the global coalition against corruption, ranks it 168 out of 183.
Given these circumstances, it is not surprising to hear a general call for boycott from the population. Certainly some people do, but It is not the case of Dionísio Casimiro. Dionísio, aged 29, born and raised in Rangel, one of the most populated municipalities of Luanda, speaks on behalf of an unnamed, undefined, uncounted and partially clandestine social movement. This movement represents the first sparkles of civil society in his country.
On the phone from Luanda, he tells me, “we want to vote to clearly express our dissent from MPLA and our willingness to change the situation.” Who they will vote for count less than voting against MPLA; “ours is a tactical voting”.
This movement started with an anonymous call on internet for a protest on 7 March 2011 against the regime. The demonstration ended up attracting only a few people, but the response of the government was so virulent that ended up for sparking more protests.
In the last year and half, the movement has been able to organise several demonstrations in Luanda, as well as in the provinces of Biè, Benguela, Lundas and Huila. “This movement is made up by whoever is interested in a country with more social justice and more democracy”, he adds.
The people who have an interest in this movement potentially outnumber the 1000 or 2000 who showed up in the rallies.This movement has the big potential for growing, and as is the case with non democratic regimes, the government is determined to crack down upon it. In a country where 47% of the population is under 15, “most of the movement is formed by youths between 15 and 35 years old”.
What seems to be happening is that part of the vacuum left by the politics is being filled up by a social movement led by musicians. The immediate term of comparison is the Nigeria of the 70’s and 80’s stormed by Fela Kuti’s afro-beat, whose unrealised dream was to become president.
The youth seems to be very responsive to the inflammatory political rap which fills up all sorts of venues in Angola. Names such as MC K, Ikonoklasta, and Dioniso himself, whose artistic name is Carbono Casimiro – are extremely popular.
As of now, Carbono and his affiliates do not cultivate this high ambition. “We are not thinking to form a party. The idea for now is to gather all the people who are against this status quo. There is no plan to formalise our movement. We want to be as inclusive as possible. We don’t even have a name.”
On the web, it is possible to follow some of their debate on the blog Central 7311, whose name derive from the first demonstration organised on March 7 last year and mentioned earlier in this article. In that occasion, 17 people – including Carbono and Ikonoklasta – were arrested.
In one post of Central 7311, they define themselves in these terms: “We’re called “troublemakers”, “rabble-rousers”, “drug addicts”, “criminals” and a host of other less than flattering names, but for social degenerates, as the regime would want you to believe, and even in our perpetual state of disorganization, we sometimes produce good, honest work.”
Recently, they launched the Movement for the Electoral True (MPVE) online. Conceived as a website, it is meant to host the denounces of irregularities about the elections.
Facebook and other social media are also part of the game, but the door-to-door campaign is more efficient in a country where only close to 6% of the population use Internet.
Their modus operandi rely heavily on the activism of different cells in Luanda, and other provinces.
Abroad, this informal group has not received yet all the credit it deserves. Who instead has dedicated it lots of attention is the Angolan government. As the movement grew, so did the police repression.
A Human Rights Watch report released in June states that “Police and plainclothes security agents have forcibly dispersed anti-government protests, beating and arresting peaceful demonstrators, organizers, and opposition politicians, and obstructing and intimidating journalists ”.
For Victor Nogueira, born in Angola and raised in Portugal where he works as President of the Board of Amnesty International Portugal, the intervention of the State can be interpreted as an unnecessarily heavy-handed reaction. But it can be also seen as a sign of a regime which is nervous to lose its grip on power.
At a first sight, for dos Santos, the situation could not be more under control: the economy is booming; its strongest economic partner are China and USA; he will win the elections. Scratch behind the surface and the first cracks in the system will begin to appear. The whole country is accumulating a huge mass of people who do not have much too lose and do not buy the myth of dos Santos as the ‘peace architect’.
Fearing a tangible decrease of legitimacy, he decided in 2010 to revise the Constitution. There is not any more the direct election of President. It is possible to vote only for the political party, whose front runner becomes President in case of victory. In this way, dos Santos avoids the risk of receiving less votes than its party.
Another main source of concern regards his age. After 33 years in power, he is now 70 and the moment for relinquish his authority seems near.
His designated successor most likely will be Manuel Vicente, which ran the oil-state company Sonangol (the real engine of Angola) for the last twelve years. In January 2012, he has been appointed Minister of State for Economic Co- ordination and, only two months ago, Vice-President in case of victory in the elections.
Over the next five years, the current setting is destined to change. It is hard to say if for better or for worse. When asked about it, Carbono comments with a concerned “We are in Africa […]. The transition will be a difficult moment for Angola.”
Roberto Valussi is an Italian freelance journalist and documentary maker based in London. After a long period of infatuation with the Balkan politics, he now covers the the socio-economic developments of the Portoguese speaking countries in Africa.