Little to celebrate in Angola

Angola's President was greatly missed at the official ceremony to mark the 36th anniversary of our independence on the 11th November in Ndalatando, which is 250 kilometres from the capital, Luanda. Instead of appearing in person, President José Eduardo dos Santos was represented by the Minister of Territory Administration, Bornito de Sousa, and three other government ministers.

Richard Lee's picture

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Strategic communications for WWF

November 23rd, 2011

Angola's President was greatly missed at the official ceremony to mark the 36th anniversary of our independence on the 11th November in Ndalatando, which is 250 kilometres from the capital, Luanda. Instead of appearing in person, President José Eduardo dos Santos was represented by the Minister of Territory Administration, Bornito de Sousa, and three other government ministers. And it was left to de Sousa to conduct the usual Independence Day inauguration of some new public infrastructure – in this case the new building for the provincial government, the new airport in Kuanza-Norte and the new production centre for Angolan state television, TPA, in Ndalatando.

The main objective of these inaugurations is to show all citizens that our government is working effectively and helping to rebuild the country, which was destroyed by about three decades of civil war.

Shadowy aspect

Despite the importance of Independence Day, citizens were not informed why neither the president nor his deputy travelled to Ndalatando for the celebrations. Interestingly, I saw both men at a football match in the afternoon, while our President attended a concert in Luanda on the previous evening.   

Whatever the excuses given for his non-attendance, this kind of behaviour has reignited an old debate among political analysts in Angola, who feel that the Angolan President to be distancing himself from the people. Citizens in the provinces rarely see him and even when natural disasters (floods, heavy rains etc) occur in the suburbs of Luanda, he is conspicuous by his absence.

But what is more important than whether he appeared or not is whether his government is leading us in the right direction or not. After 36 years of freedom, is Angola on the right track under dos Santos?

Our Independence

In a recent speech to the Angolan parliament, the President gave a speech that was – unusually – flooded with figures on the state of the nation!

It is true that Angola is developing in many respects. One can see new roads, buildings, hospitals and schools. But some of the figures in the president’s speech seemed to be a little too optimistic.

Let me give you two examples from the health sector. According to dos Santos ‘Routine vaccination reached 91 percent of children under one-year-old throughout the country’ and ‘Water consumption per inhabitant, which was 67 litres per day in 2008,  is now 101 litres per day’. Truly amazing!

But what scientific method was used to come up with this result? Angola has had no population statistics during our 36 years of independence. We do not know how many citizens inhabit Angola so all the official statistics about the country are based on estimations. 

And who measured how much water is used by citizens in Angolan villages, where people walk long distances to collect impure water from rivers? How many people have benefited from new water schemes since 2008, and where? Even in Luanda, water is a headache for almost everybody.  

In view of this, one can see that our government has the habit of creating unrealistic illusions about the country. Of course, the executive is making great strides in relation to many aspects of our country’s reconstruction, but some of the work is not being done correctly. As a result, we now have many new cities, such as Kilamba and Talatona, which continue to have a shortage of electricity and water!

And the majority of people continue to live in miserable conditions. The virus of corruption, although talking about it upsets those who govern the country, is a real problem well known to all – with no solution at hand.

Meanwhile, why do citizens know so little about the country’s finances? We know that Angola has borrowed billions of dollars from China but we do not have enough information about the amount of debt that our country is now burdened with.

Last but definitely not least, many people say that some of the ‘reconstruction-related’ actions of the government are indefensible. The destruction of the homes of thousands of citizens – in the name of public interest – before the creation of acceptable alternative accommodation for them, has affected the rights of ordinary families in many regions.

This is the truth about Angola – the truth hidden behind the president’s statistics.

The Independence we want

The success of Angola cannot be assessed purely by the quality of our infrastructure and the abundance of our natural resources.

The most important thing to strive for at present is to recover our identity and our values as a nation. The quality of our education and health should be the government’s first priorities. Sadly, they are not.

Independence also means freedom of expression. In view of this, the government should reflect on the dissonant voices from civil society and common people in the media – and take opposing views seriously.

If not, then the government should consider an old African proverb: ‘Who does not reflect repeats’.

Because if we continue to repeat the same mistakes 36 years later, our independence will remain simply political, with no real impact on our real lives – except that we will end up creating more and more debt for our future generations to pay.

By Jose Paulo in Luanda

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