Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
The MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola), the party that has ruled Angola since independence in 1975, last year affirmed its status as a party of the left, concerned with the most disadvantaged members of society. The reality is rather different. In a country that produces two million barrels of crude oil a day, and which is a major energy supplier to the US and China, the political elite enriches itself while most people see little benefit from the oil boom.
Any kind of opposition initiative quickly gets stifled or co-opted in Angola, but one of the few outspoken critical voices has been that of journalist and activist Rafael Marques. Having previously researched human rights abuses in Angola’s oil and diamond producing regions, more recently he began investigating corruption, and pinpointing who exactly is benefiting from the wholesale privatisation of state assets, as well as from lucrative contracts resulting from inward investment in oil and construction.
What does your research tell us about how Angola is governed?
For the past three years I have been investigating Angola’s political economy through the government’s decisions vis-à-vis the privatisation process, state contracts, national legislation, theft of state assets, and local and foreign beneficiaries. The official data I have been able to collect, and local knowledge, allow me to chart what is really happening and how, the web of players, and individual and corporate interests.
So far, I have been able to establish that government officials, particularly from the presidential inner circle, are the main businesspeople and private investors in the country. The most important business contracts involving the state benefit mostly government officials’ private business interests in association with foreign enterprises. Corruption is the mainstay of foreign investments in the country, and it is done in the open because of the impunity of the officials with whom outside investors establish business partnerships.
There is also an unprecedented transfer of state property and funds to the private ownership of government officials. This happens through the council of ministers, in which the president and ministers decide on the distribution of state wealth, contracts and significant foreign investments among themselves. Furthermore, western multinationals, Chinese and Brazilian enterprises, and their governments provide the international ‘legitimacy’ and complicity for laundering the looted state assets through joint ventures.
To give one example, Miguel da Costa, Angola’s ambassador to France, founded a company called Sadissa, whose joint venture with the French Thales Group obtained a $200 million arms contract. Da Costa abused his position as ambassador by negotiating with the French authorities on a deal that benefited him personally.
What is your reaction to the MPLA’s self-description as a party concerned with the most disadvantaged members of society?
The reality is different. Angola has become a privatised state, and the president, José Eduardo dos Santos, is the de facto chairman, CEO and main shareholder of this enterprise.
How can the information you are providing be used to support positive change?
An Angolan magistrate once wrote that the main problem in addressing corruption is that people are so used to it that they find it absolutely normal. When I started studying the legislation on corruption, I consulted several concerned lawyers, and most of them either told me that the laws against corruption had been revoked, or had no clear idea of what I was talking about.
Thus, my job is to lay the ground for more serious and informed debates on corruption and governance. Countries with major investments in Angola, and international institutions like the World Bank and the IMF, tend to narrow their focus only on legislation to favour and protect foreign investment, overriding or concealing the rest.
Do you see yourself as part of a wider movement for socio-economic justice in Angola?
As far as I know, there is no organised movement for social and economic justice in Angola yet. There is no popular response yet to issues of injustice and inequality. There is an illusion that corruption is a kind of lottery, in which a winning ticket sets you up for life. It has eroded the social fabric. Thus, civil society is used more as a source of financial benefits than as a concept to represent common interests.
In my view, institutional corruption, propaganda and misinformation can easily sow mistrust among any emerging social networks, as well as co-opting those who can mobilise for change. So I see myself as part of a new generation who believe in individual responsibility, take it to heart and use it to address this reality through research. The quest is to contribute to a change in the social mindset, and information is critical.
NGOs have to face a number of institutional dilemmas. The most critical question is leadership in the face of government and donors’ pressures. In Angola, NGOs are either totally dependent on major western donors whose priorities are to defend the status quo, or on the government.
In 1999 you were imprisoned over an article critical of President Dos Santos. Are you worried about further reprisals from the state against you and other activists?
I have spent so many years in run-ins with the authorities that it no longer worries me. I pray and renew my faith every day for good judgement in my actions. That’s all.
Journalists have to be constantly mindful of lawsuits: there are two directors of independent newspapers who regularly collect lawsuits. In Angola, the rulers control both public and private sectors, and hold sway over donors and foreign firms to cut off any activist who seriously threatens their interests. Very few will risk their welfare or savings to stay the course.
Angola’s first parliamentary elections since 1992 took place in 2008, and the MPLA gained 81 per cent of the vote. How should we interpret this result?
The same way we interpret the results in Equatorial Guinea, Belarus, Kazakhstan and the like. Democracy is used as the legal name for authoritarian rule. It is a cocktail of intimidation, fraud, bribery and fear.
Is there any meaningful way for people to express solidarity with the struggle for economic and social justice in Angola?
Indeed there is. Solidarity is a key component in the struggle anywhere in the world. But solidarity starts at home. International solidarity is most effective when it taps into internal solidarity, and is in response to a clear and articulated call for help or to build up individual responsibility in taking up these issues.
As a personal example, I started the anti-corruption initiative penniless, and in complete isolation. For a time I could not even top up my phone. A US friend received a small inheritance, and sent me a cheque for me to continue my work. Solidarity is not necessarily about big project templates or the workings of the international humanitarian industry. It is, first and foremost, about ideas and individual responsibility in serving the common good.
Rafael Marques’ research on Angola can be read at www.makaangola.com
We work ourselves into the ground for little economic benefit. It's high time to for a change, writes Aidan Harper.
Deregulation and tax loopholes are justified by saying that they 'protect growth'. But really, they just protect the wealthy, writes James Fox
Inequality is often treated as a law of nature - but really, it's the result of conscious political choices. It's time to choose equality, writes the IPPR's Carys Roberts.
Tom Palmer, aka Agent Kingfisher, was the 'messiah' of London's squatting scene until his death last year. But who was responsible for his fate? MI5, late capitalism or simply a drug overdose? Matt Broomfield investigates.
'Docs Not Cops' write that we must resist attempts to make our NHS any less universal
Louis Mendee explains the real human costs of climate change for the global south.
From climate change to automation to demographic shifts, Mathew Lawrence explains the challenges our economy will face in the coming decade.
Fifty years after the Abortion Act, women are still dying from being denied basic services, write activists from Feminist Fightback
We need to tackle the patronising ideology that lets Tory think-tanks sneer at social tenants, writes Emma Dent Coad
Acid Corbynism allows people to imagine a future beyond the paltry offerings of capitalism, writes Keir Milburn
Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism
Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists
Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson
As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win
The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution
Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.
‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright