With its totalitarian government headed by President José Eduardo dos Santos who has been in power since 1979, Angola stands out as one of the most repressive countries in the southern African region. Dubbed a ‘psychological prison’ in the words of one activist, Angola’s constrained civil society environment has recently gotten worse.
Last month, scores of concerned citizens were rounded-up by Angolan security agencies and accused of attempting to disrupt public order and state security.
In one incident, 13 activists, including prominent rapper Luaty Beirão, freelance journalist Sedrick de Carvalho and various other members of civil society groups, were picked up from a meeting where they had gathered to discuss non-violent strategies for civil disobedience. There are credible reports that the activists remain in detention and that their lives may be in danger.
This form of suppression is not new to Angola. Journalists and activists are regularly harassed and prevented from doing their work. In May, investigative journalist Rafael Marques de Morais was punished with a six month prison sentence suspended for two years and the seizure of his passport on charges of defamation for writing a book.
His 2011 book, Blood Diamonds: Torture and Corruption in Angola, exposes serious human rights abuses in the diamond mines, describing murder and torture perpetrated by private security agents and mining companies while also implicating army generals considered close to the presidency in corrupt deals.
This appears to be a classic case of ’resource curse’ where a tiny group of political and economic elites conspire to control and deny the vast majority of the people a share of the country’s vast natural resources. Of late, there is increasing interest in Angola’s oil wealth which is concentrated in the militarised enclave of Cabinda.
Attack on CSOs
With state-controlled media, civil society organisations (CSOs) play an important role in exposing government corruption and human rights abuses in Angola. But their existence remains imperilled by bureaucratic red tape.
The existing process of registering CSOs in Angola is ambiguously administered, and often used by the authorities to keep organizations in legal limbo and uncertainty.
Under a new presidential decree passed in March, officials are empowered to suspend the activities of NGOs on suspicion of money laundering, illegal or harmful acts against Angola’s sovereignty and integrity. The decree also places heavy burdens on CSOs requiring them to provide information about their programmes, budgets and sources of funding.
CSOs are already subjected to various forms of intimidation by state authorities. The decree provides further ammunition to officials to limit CSO activities.
All this is happening while Angola is being courted by several political leaders and captains of industry for its oil. In a country suffering from searing inequality, rampant corruption and rights abuses, the latest assault on civil society will further impede the ability of concerned citizens to challenge their unjust predicament.
For more information about rights abuses in Angola and 95 other countries, see the 2015 Civil Society Watch Report.