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Morais in white with Angolan embassy to the left

Morais in white with Angolan embassy staff to the left

I wrote Monday of a NED Fellow who lamented the lack of a presence of grassroots human rights activists at policy events in DC.  Yesterday the Africa program of CSIS hosted one such individual, Rafael Marques de Morais, an British educated Angolan journalist/human rights activist who was also a NED Fellow in 2011.  Although I became quite interested in Angola as a student in Namibia and submitted a Boren Fellowship proposal to study Angolan migrants of Portuguese origin to Namibia in the 1970s, Lusophone Africa has not figured prominently in my Africa in DC posts to date.  Consequently, despite a busy work schedule I made a point to drop in on the conversation (disclaimer: I arrived slightly late and left a bit early).

Morais is the founder of Maka Angola, a human rights organization, and a prolific writer.  His latest book, on ‘blood diamonds’ in Angola, incurred the wrath of Angola’s military, the nominal subject of yesterday’s talk, although he focused on a wide range of human rights issues, including his own persecution by the state (all while several representatives from the Angolan embassy sat just an arm length away).

Given the diversity of the topics covered, I don’t think that my usual narrative can begin to adequately cover the array of issues presented before the audience.  Accordingly, please indulge the bulleted list:

  • Guinea-Bissau – It was hinted that the Angolan presence in this west African country, which was blamed as precipitating a coup in 2012 was due to the business interests of Angolan military figures
  • Chinese – Morais mentioned the discontent of former war veterans (of various factions).  He stated that manual labor jobs which could have gone to Angolans as part of the country’s infrastructure reconstruction following the civil war went to Chinese instead
  • Policy – If there was any theme to the talk, it was Morais’ view that Angola had no clearly articulated foreign policy (in the DRC, Zimbabwe, etc) and that too much power was concentrated in the hands of a cabal centralized around President Eduardo Dos Santos. Morais stated, ‘they don’t have the time to think about the country’ as they are too busy pursuing private business interests
  • General Manuel Hélder Vieira Dias Jr, aka ‘Kopelipa’ – According to Morais ‘the one top name’ in regards to corruption in Angola, belongs to this general, who has business interests in Guinea-Bissau and apparently plays a leading role in controlling the movement of good through Angola’s ports
  • The Military is politicised – High ranking military officials are members of the National Assembly, have business interests that work with the state, and the Secretary General of the MPLA is a general
  • NGOs – Almost all NGOs in Angola operate with international assistance and are unlikely to have the latitude to vigorously critique the government (Morais seemed to indicate that the US, given its prior support for UNITA, is something of an exception, at least historically)
  • Cabinda – A quote on Cabinda should suffice here: “to me, military solutions to a political problem are always problematic”

I won’t conclude with any extended analysis, just one point.  Recently, President Santos’ daughter received a lot of attention for becoming Africa’s first female billionaire.  This sparked some debate, but for the most part, it was placed neatly into the ‘Africa rising’ category.  Here’s to Morais’ voice drawing that same level of attention.

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