For the past week I’ve perused a steady stream of facebook posts about Movimento Revolucionário’s peaceful protest planned for Thursday September 19, 2013. A week prior to the planned ‘manif’ (Angolan shorthand for manifestação or protest), police arrested seventeen year-old activist Nito Alves when he went to collect t-shirts he’d ordered (ostensibly for use at the event on the 19th) that allegedly defamed the president and incited violence. Speaking to Makangola his mother, Adália Chivongue, declared “the problem in this country is that if someone speaks the truth they are imprisoned or killed. So the President had my son imprisoned because of the t-shirts? Because of this they can kill him?….If anything happens to my son, I’ll become a revolutionary.”
As Shrikesh Laxmidas noted in a piece reporting on the Angolan National Police’s promise to crackdown on the youth protest, “though small in number, the Angolan Revolutionary Movement has survived a police clampdown and attacks by pro-government groups.” We’ve covered some of their activities here, here, and here. Last week President José Eduardo dos Santos held a forum with 3,000 youth, no one in the MR received an invitation. Not surprising perhaps, given that the President, in the first television interview (albeit pre-recorded) granted in twenty-two years (not, by the way, to an Angolan television station or journalist but to a private Portuguese station – SIC -with brown-nosing journalist Henrique Cymerman), described these young people as “frustrated” and “failures at school” when asked about the Movement that emerged in March 2011.
Strange then that what the President deems such a lackluster group of social misfits would merit such an outsized response. Time and again they and their supporters have been subject to beatings, prison torture, disappearances, and infiltration. On the 19th the state sent out the kaenches (muscled up, private, plain-clothes forces) and the regular uniformed national police. Elias Isaac, director of Open Society in Angola, earlier this month pointed to a worrying increase in police violence against citizens. Referring to violence against prisoners at the Viana prison he asserted that “it’s a demonstration that we have a system of police and governance that believes in repression, violence, torture, and the physical punishment of people, which is an aberration in a democratic State and a rights-based State.”
Our own Claudio Silva described the scene Thursday on his Facebook page as a “comedy”–thousands of armed police to protect the President against some fifty-odd, if even that, “frustrated” young people. With all the police sabre-rattling prior to the event, Amnesty International sounded its alarms. Precisely the kind of international attention the MR loves and the PR detests, especially as Angola vies for a spot on the UN Security Council. To say nothing of the irony of its membership on the UN Human Rights Council. Rafael Marques told Radio Despertar (between 7.10-14.45) that the state is MR’s best promoter.
Reginaldo Silva, a Luanda based journalist and political commentator, in a FB post on the day of the manif, mused that “with all this political apparatus, it’s easier and easier to create political facts in Angola with a world impact, without a big investment.” And once the dust settles, some “comunicólogo” will show up to give us lessons on “the non-events/non-facts” (a little Rumsfeldian, isn’t it?).
If world impact was the goal, Friday they hit the jackpot. Three journalists went to court to attend the arraignment of the 23 activists arrested before the protest got underway. Rafael Marques de Morais, of makangola, Coque Mukuta (VOA), and Alexandre Neto Solombe (VOA, VP of National Committee of the Angolan Syndicate of Journalists, and President of Media Institute of Southern Africa -Angola) began to interview the activists as they were released from court. The Rapid Intervention Police – heavily armed, numbering over 50 – surrounded and detained them, despite the papers of release issued by the judge to the activists and the fact that the journalists had done nothing, except their job. They were taken to the headquarters of the PIR and beaten up while still in the police trucks. Solombe recounted their ordeal to VOA:
They made us lie down–and they walked on top of us with their boots on … on our heads … each of them, at least 100 kilos … When we received our phones and cameras back, we realized the state they were in – some with the lenses torn off….We’re very angry. Very annoyed … This is the first time I’ve traveled in PIR cell car units. This is first time I’ve experienced this level of violence against citizens. So don’t tell me that the police are treating people well.
The PIR then transferred them to the Provincial Police headquarters where, after about an hour, they were released following an apology. The journalists stayed on to lodge a complaint against the police for damage and destruction of personal and professional property.
Thus far, aside from the Committee to Protect Journalists, the greatest news flurry has been in the Portuguese press where even the football paper, A Bola, reported on the detention of Marques. Leading up to the protest, earlier in the week, in Germany, the Green Party questioned Prime Minister Angela Merkel’s government about its relationship with the Angolan government.
Sousa Jamba, an Angolan writer and journalist who lives in Florida, received 37 phone calls and 230 messages asking about Rafael Marques. He posted that he’d been watching a heated debate among Angolans ensue on FB. One Angolan said that the world is only paying attention because Marques is an intellectual who writes books and studied at Oxford whereas illiterate zungueiras (ambulant vendors) are picked up and beaten every day by police and no one says ‘boo.’ Central Angola’s comment: “What’s surprising about that? Hasn’t it always been that way everywhere and won’t it continue to be? Only when the common practice reaches people with visibility does the world stand up. It’s a waste of time to blame the world for not paying attention to us when we aren’t capable of emitting more than an angry opinion from the sofa!” This riposte was the most liked.
Commentators suggest that police presence in the street will remain high as long as the World Championships in roller hockey, that kicked off this week, continues. The Angolan government spent $89 million on new pavilions: “officials say the 16-nation event will boost employment and attract interest from the country’s youth.” Protestors and theirs supporters disagree. Among them, MCK who posted this auto-critique (that would have made the old MPLA proud) on his FB page. Smell like Brazil?