15 January 2013

Angola in 'Pre-Conflict' Stage - Rights Activists

HUMAN rights organisations from Angola, Mozambique, South Africa, and Namibia currently meeting in Windhoek yesterday said civil society organisations in the Southern African region should restart deliberations on peace and stability as many regional countries, particularly Angola, are hovering on the brink of renewed conflict.

Sentiments are that Angola, despite having experienced relative peace and astronomical economic growth in certain sectors over the last 10 years, continues to experience large gaps between rich and poor, poor service delivery, a lack of social cohesion, and intolerance of those seen as critical of Africa's longest-serving president, Eduardo dos Santos. People are reportedly being harassed and intimidated, and in worst-case scenarios, are kidnapped or disappear.

Critics also say while large amounts of money are being spent to rebuild the country's infrastructure, unemployment among particularly the youth remains rife while Chinese expatriates are recruited for jobs.

They say the independent media are gagged, while there is a wholesale selling off of media to the political elite.

"The situation in Angola is extremely serious," said Dr Marcoline Jose, adding that the situation there is worse than in Zimbabwe where there has been a power-sharing crisis since the 2008 general elections. "We are already heading into the pre-conflict stage in Angola."

Jose is the first Angolan prime minister after the democratic elections in Angola in 1992, and was the former secretary general of the ruling MPLA [People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola].

Jose said one of the woes of the country is its abundant natural resources - "We have too much oil" - while the democratisation lags behind.

He was also of the opinion that since Angola's independence from Portugal in 1975, liberation movements have failed to unite to enable the new state to accommodate the diverse interests of the Angolan people.

With its "mono-political" setup, he said, citizens are unable to resist injustices, while state assets are privatised in the hands of businesspeople linked to the "ruling families".

"Angola lives under extreme silent political coup d'etat," which includes the selling of public assets, said Jose, adding that there remains very little or no space for dissent and critical probing of Angola's socio-political life as control of the media is being bought up by the 'ruling families' and their cronies.

"It is done in such a way that people do not know," Jose said. "We want the MPLA to proceed with its historic mission without putting other parties down. We must build a country where people are free of prosecution."

He further criticised President Dos Santos's overriding powers. Dos Santos can, among others, dissolve parliament.

The roundtable discussion with regional civil society organisations focuses on peace, justice and reconciliation in an attempt to build bridges with regional non-governmental actors that can learn from each other's experiences in post-conflict and transitional justice matters.

"Governments are talking to each other. It is high time we as civil society organisations do the same," said Namibian human rights activist Pauline Dempers, one of the organisers of the discussions.

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