12 January 2016

Angola: The War On Social Media and the Trial of Activists

Photo: Deutsche Welle
All 17 activists have been on trial for several months.
analysis

Following the president's outline of his war on social media, Judge Januário Domingos is making history by being the first to hear a case of a political joke on Facebook that has displeased the regime.

Yesterday, the judge of the Luanda Provincial Court questioned a Catholic priest, Father Jacinto Pio Wakussanga, for being part of an imaginary government, generated in a playful Facebook discussion, as the head of the National Electoral Commission. In court, the priest told the judge that he had heard through social media about this imaginary government and thought it was just a joke.

Last May, a lawyer Albano Pedro set up an open online forum on his Facebook page to entice discussants to come up with names for what would be an ideal government of national salvation. The leader of the millennial religious sect "The Light of the Day", José Julino Kalupeteka, who has been in jail since last April, was chosen by the participants as president of the Republic. On April 16, 2015, police and military forces massacred Kalupeteka's faithful, after he resisted arrest in the Central Highland Province of Huambo.

This was the ultimate insult. The president, who has been in power for 36 years, came up with an ingenious constitution in which he is neither directly elected by the people nor by parliament. He projects himself as the Chosen One.

How could the leader of a sect he had just crushed with the might of his defense and security apparatus be chosen to replace him? He could not see it as a joke, but only as an affront by insurgents. He sees social media as a rebel- controlled territory that continues to elude his capture for absolute control of people's minds.

The president and his men are conjuring up a blitzkrieg against the remaining critical forces in the country who continue to question his authority and will to rule for life. These scattered and ragtag opponents, no longer able to sustain any level of real organization, have been regrouping on the Internet like partisan forces sabotaging all propaganda efforts, and the golden rule of silence. That is the last frontier of debate or war.

So, in June, the police arrested 15 youth activists who were engaged in a book club and brainstorming peaceful methods of protest. In this blitzkrieg strategy the youths were charged with the crime of rebellion and attempting to assassinate the president. According to the charges, they would assassinate President José Eduardo dos Santos by literally burning tires in the presidential palace to smoke him out.

Albano Pedro's list of the imaginary government, in which he plays speaker of the National Assembly, was appended to the youths' charges as supposed proof of their effort to get rid of the current regime, and install a new one.

However, of the 15 defendants, only the popular rapper Luaty Beirão got chosen for a relevant job, that of the Attorney General of the Republic. The three other defendants on the list are: Mbanza Hamza (deputy minister of Culture), rapper Hitler Jessy Chiconde (governor of Moxico Province), and Domingos da Cruz (general inspector of state administration).

This list of 53 names, apart from the choice of Kalupeteka for president, is a veritable cast of some of the voices whose influence in certain sectors of Angolan society the regime has not been able to silence, co-opt or undo. Bingo! Dos Santos's chief intelligence officer must have thought.

For instance, the former prime minister and ex-secretary general of the ruling MPLA, Marcolino Moco, who is now a sworn enemy of the president, was given the job of chief justice of the Supreme Court. As a matter of fact, this author is the purported Minister of Justice and Human Rights of that imaginary government.

Nevertheless, the government-makers were apparently so lazy that they did not care to provide names for six ministries, including Energy and Water, Transports, Geology and Mining, Tourism, Fisheries and Sports. Most positions for the deputies of all portfolios were left vacant.

Out of the 18 provinces, the jokers could only come up with the names to govern six provinces! As for ambassadors, they only picked one for the United Nations, convicted human rights activist José Marcos Mavungo, who is serving a six-year jail sentence for rebellion. Mavungo had attempted to hold a peaceful protest for the respect of human rights and against bad governance in the oil-rich province of Cabinda.

Now, the judge is calling all the members of this imaginary government to court to be interrogated. I am one of the 50 to be called, and I cannot wait.

Nowadays, these online insurgents call the Luanda Provincial Court "the Luanda Provincial Theater". Twenty years have passed since I last performed as a stage actor, while practicing journalism during the day. This play of an imaginary government, used by an Orwellian leader to squash dissent, is very appealing to me, and I want to play my small part in it.

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