Angola: Amid Protests, Angola Marks 45 Years of Independence

Angola marked 45 years of independence this past week.

President João Lourenço said the independence and national sovereignty are the two sacred values the people must guard.

President Lourenço took over in September 2017, at the end of José Eduardo dos Santos's 38-year reign. Mr Santos was the only man most Angolans had ever known as their leader.

But Angola has only known stability for 18 years. Today, the country's scars are still reflected in unexploded underground bombs, and the many orphaned victims of the conflict.

The country's first president, Antonio Agostino Neto, ruled Angola for four years after independence from Portugal in 1975, before the country descended into a civil war that lasted until 2002. Half a million people died and some four million civilians were displaced in the conflict.

On Thursday, Adalberto Costa Júnior, the leader of the opposition party Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita), said the country must pursue unity and dialogue.

Peace is far better than war, he said adding that dialogue, unity and friendship were some of the lessons Angola learnt from the war.

"We are really independent now, but for the country to grow and develop as a nation, we need to fight corruption, ill practices and improve accountability," he said in a statement.

Angola, is however, fighting other battles today -- Covid-19 and protests. By Wednesday, it had recorded 12,816 cases of coronavirus, with 308 deaths, 6,036 recoveries and 6,472 active cases.

Higino Carneiro, an MPLA member of parliament, asked for patience as the country rises from the ashes of its troubled history. "It is the only way we can honour the memory of our founding fathers during these independence festivities," he wrote on his Facebook Page.

On Wednesday, police dispersed a demonstration in Luanda, against the high cost of living.

According to organisers, some 700 people were expected to protest but a violent dispersal by the police stopped the event, and injured some participants. Malanje, Huíla, Uíge, Namibe, Cabinda and Benguela provinces had also planned to hold protests.

"Angolan authorities must guarantee that protesters can exercise their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, which are protected by the Angolan constitution" Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International's deputy director for Southern Africa said on Tuesday in a statement.

CELEBRATING ACHIEVEMENTS

On Tuesday, President Lourenço told the country in a televised address that, despite the upheavals, Angolans must celebrate the achievements reached in the 45 years.

"The democratic state, the free market economy, the hard-earned peace and the national reconciliation, women empowerment, freedom of expression, press freedom, gathering and demonstration freedom, worship freedom are realities and fundamental rights achieved, and we have to respect and protect them," the president said.

"The formation of an unpartisan and republican army also constitutes an important milestone for the edification of the Angolan state. We are consolidating the foundations of a true democratic state and of a true market economy where the private driven sector has an important role in the creation of wealth and jobs," he added.

However, some analysts say Angola never really departed from the colonial mentality. João Pacatolo a political analyst in Luanda told The EastAfrican on Wednesday that the business environment in Angola is too bureaucratic.

"Our country still needs real economic freedom," Mr Pacatolo said, adding that native businesses are often sunk in a labyrinth of paperwork, a tradition supposedly inherited from the colonialists.

Angola, Mozambique and Guinea Bissau are all former Portuguese colonies that have experienced upheavals in the past.

In his speech, the president said his administration will continue to work towards better public participation, transparency and prudent management of resources. President Lourenço inherited an administration whose key figures, including Mr Santos and his family, controlled the economy and were accused of siphoning public funds and stashing them abroad.

In 2017, the president sacked Isabel dos Santos from the state-owned oil firm Sonangol over mismanagement. Angola has since frozen her assets in the country after she refused to return funds from abroad, and which Luanda suspects to have been siphoned from the public purse. Ms Santos termed the accusations a witch-hunt.

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