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Britain’s silence on Angola deafening

What do Britain’s journalists look for in a story from the African continent? How about a 71-year-old dictator who has presided over an oil-rich country for 34 years, lining his family’s pockets with billions of dollars, and who extinguishes his opponents by torturing them to death and feeding their bodies to crocodiles?

Lara Pawson

It’s almost too good to be true — a cliche of an African state to have foreign correspondents drooling. But despite possessing all the ingredients of a thoroughly gripping news story, British media interests in Angola’s contemporary political stage remains close to zero.

Today, in the Angolan capital of Luanda, a funeral will be held for 28-year-old Manuel de Carvalho, known as Ganga, who was allegedly shot dead by the presidential guard last Saturday morning. Ganga had been distributing leaflets about the killing of two former Angolan soldiers, António Alves Kamulingue and Isaías Sebastião Cassule, who were abducted in May 2012 while organising a demonstration for war veterans demanding payment of their pensions. Information leaked last week to the independent news website Club-K revealed that the two former soldiers had been tortured in police custody before being killed. One of them was then thrown to crocodiles.

Hours after Ganga’s death, hundreds of Angolans took to Luanda’s streets in a demonstration organised by the main opposition party, Unita, to demand justice for the deaths of Kamulingue and Cassule. In response, armed police, supported by reinforcements in helicopters, used tear gas to break up the protest. Hundreds of people were arrested and at least one was shot and injured.

Appalled by the authorities’ repeated use of excessive force, this weekend saw many Angolans, both at home and abroad, expressing their anger and also their shame. One Angolan suggested that the abbreviated name of the MPLA (Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola) ruling party should now stand for Matamos o Povo que tenta Lutar pela liberdade de Angola (We Kill the People who try to Fight for the Freedom of Angola).

From London, I spread word of the day’s events, e-mailing my networks and engaging in the online debates. Later on Saturday evening, at a private view at the Victoria Miro gallery in one of London’s most exclusive neighbourhoods, I reflected on the links between Britain and Angola, and on the chasm that distinguishes the ease of my daily life from that of my friends in Luanda.

I’ve given up asking why, however, I’m certain that our colonial history and our very British attitude to language remain influential: “Portuguese, isn’t it?”. Of course, if Saturday’s events in Luanda had taken place in Harare, we would never hear the end of it — and questions of impartiality might become more pertinent. For the time being, if Lord Patten is serious, he should put aside a salary for an Angola-based reporter to live and work in the country: not because it’s an African country, but because of what is happening to the people who live there and what this may mean for one of the world’s longest-serving rulers. The Guardian.

Opposition parties say they will step up protests

ANGOLA’S main opposition parties said this week they would step up street protests that have already left at least one person dead as it was the only way to shake President Jose Eduardo dos Santos’ tight grip on Africa’s number two oil producer.

Speaking three days after some of the biggest demonstrations since the end of a civil war in 2002, the parties’ leaders said they had little room to manoeuvre in a highly centralised system in which parliament has been rendered toothless.

“We are left with no other way than to go to the streets.
Maybe then they (the ruling MPLA party) will listen to us,” said Isaias Samakuva, leader of main opposition party Unita.

There was no one immediately available for comment from the MPLA which last week accused Unita of trying to spread “chaos and anarchy” through the illegal rallies, which had been banned by the interior ministry.

Unita, which lost a 27-year civil war against the MPLA in 2002 and has since been trounced in two elections, last Saturday organised nationwide rallies to protest against the kidnap and suspected murder of two opposition activists in May 2012.

A large, heavily armed police force clamped down on the protest, dispersing crowds of hundreds with teargas. They also shot and killed a member of Angola’s second-biggest political party, Casa-CE, who police said tried to flee detention.

“Democracy is a process and in this process there may be martyrs. But we cannot stop because of that. We have to continue to develop peaceful action, protest and demands,” said Casa-CE leader Abel Chivukuvuku.

He questioned whether it was still worth it for his party to remain in parliament, something it will discuss following the public funeral of its member on Wednesday.

The United States said it was deeply concerned by the killing, the use of violence and arrests.

Opposition parties and international human rights groups have long accused dos Santos of suppressing human rights and using violence to block dissent during his 34 years in power, but analysts say Saturday’s events could backfire for the government.

A private visit to Spain since November 9, on top of a similar 56-day visit earlier this year, has sparked speculation about the 71-year-old leader’s health.

“We see this very badly. Whether it is for health reasons or other matters, we are concerned and want to know what is going on with the president,” Unita’s Samakuva said. Reuters.

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