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Supporting democracy, fighting corruption

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    Are you suffering from corruption fatigue? Yes, it gets to us all. There is just so much of it. Everywhere. Shameless, unethical, immoral, illegal, self-serving behavior is rampant. From the USA to North Korea, it seems few countries are immune to the self-enriching predations of the “one-percenters”. So how should we react to the news that the jobless, student, twenty-something year-old child of an ageing African dictator threw down €500,000 on a charity bid just so he could be photographed alongside some Hollywood stars like Will Smith? Before you yawn and turn the page, consider this. While this pampered princeling was quaffing champagne at the AMFAR gala in Cannes, dozens of his fellow countrymen of all ages were dying unnecessarily for lack of the most basic medicine and medical equipment. That’s because his country’s oil wealth has been siphoned off year after year, leaving little in the state budget for [...]

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  • 06/01/17--03:42: Sonangol on the Brink
  • Putting the President’s daughter in charge of Angola’s national oil company has been such a ‘good move’ that the company is now reported to be on the brink of bankruptcy. The ‘genius’ businesswoman and her cabal of Portuguese consultants have succeeded only in a level of mismanagement greater than ever before. And so it has come to pass that the state monopoly that controls Angola’s main source of income is now reduced to the role of beggar. Maka Angola is reliably informed that on May 17 Isabel dos Santos went to see the Finance Minister, Archer Mangueira, to request an injection of three billion dollars (!!) to rescue Sonangol from imminent bankruptcy. A source close to the Portuguese consultancy firm which has been the de facto administrator of Sonangol on behalf of Isabel dos Santos, told Maka Angola that the Minister had to inform the President of the Sonangol Board [...]

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  • 06/02/17--02:18: All Aboard the Gravy Train
  • Angola’s gravy train has been rumbling along one set of tracks for the past 37 years, with all-encompassing corruption tainting the ruling MPLA party under President José Eduardo dos Santos. Those at the apex of the pyramid have diverted billions of dollars from the economy to their own bank accounts, while ensuring the loyalty of those beneath them by dispensing cash, goods and favors as needed. With just over two months to go to the presidential election that will see a change of leadership, members of the National Assembly (Angola’s parliament) are being given a sign that it will be ‘business as usual’. The National Assembly is chaired by veteran MPLA politburo member, Fernando da Piedade Dias dos Santos “Nandó”. Nandó is a rather sinister character with a smile likened to that of a cat which has just devoured its prey. His official job titles (police chief, Interior Minister, Prime [...]

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    Reports of bizarre behavior by the Angolan President’s loyal henchman, General José António Maria, aged 74, have become so frequent that people are openly questioning whether the elderly security head honcho is succumbing to senility. Already past the official retirement age, the man better known as General “Zé Maria” remains the head of the Military Intelligence and Security Service (Serviço de Inteligência e Segurança Militar, SISM) despite the concerns for his mental health. Once again his unprofessional behavior towards female employees is causing a stir in Luanda. The General is a notorious womanizer, who propositions almost every woman he encounters. When it comes to sexual harassment in the workplace, he appears to ignore both Angolan laws and the passage of time. Have none of his senior colleagues thought to whisper in his ear that this is the 21st Century and ‘droit de seigneur’ is past its sell-by date? The latest [...]

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  • 06/21/17--13:51: When You Can’t Shoot, Sue!
  • Recently, the Angolan ruling party MPLA proposed, in Parliament, that the outgoing President and Vice-President be given absolute immunity from prosecution for any crimes they committed while in office. Consequently, within days the regime has launched new indictments against whistle-blower and human rights defender, Rafael Marques de Morais. Rafael Marques de Morais is the fearless, award-winning editor of the online news site Maka Angola. It focuses on  investigating and publishing citizens’ complaints about the all-too-common cases of corruption, abuse of power and human rights violations in oil-rich Angola. He has been a thorn in the side of Angola’s President, José Eduardo dos Santos, who has amassed a multi-billion dollar fortune for himself, his family and his loyal supporters in the ruling MPLA party. Meanwhile, only permitting a trickle of the country’s oil wealth to be used for the benefit of the people he was supposed to serve. Outside Angola, the [...]

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    It is right and proper that anyone who has served as head of state or government should be accorded due honors upon exiting the job. The peaceful transition of power is a cornerstone of democracy and those who have reached the pinnacle and who willingly step aside when their time is up, are rightfully guaranteed some special treatment for the rest of their days. It’s a mark of respect for their service. With the prospect of a voluntary exit for José Eduardo dos Santos, who has held power in Angola for an astonishing 37 years, few would be so churlish as to deny the man who likes to call himself “the Architect of Peace” the consolations of orderly retirement. What is customary around the world? No doubt his name will emblazon important civic works. Perhaps he is granted an annual pension and a security detail for life. Perhaps the state [...]

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    Reports from the diamond-rich province of Lunda Norte in north-eastern Angola say police opened fire without warning on peaceful demonstrations by separatists on Sunday, killing one bystander and wounding others. Protest marches in the region had been organized by a banned political organization, the ‘Movimento do Protectorado Lunda-Tchokwé’ (MPL-T, Movement for the Lunda-Tchokwé Protectorate), which advocates independence for the Tchokwé peoples who live in the former ancient kingdom of the Lundas. The separatists have argued for a measure of autonomy, similar to that accorded to Scotland within the United Kingdom. Insiders say the MPL-T wrote to Angola’s President José Eduardo dos Santos earlier this month to ask for dialogue and for permission to hold a public demonstration. It appears that no march permit was sought from the local authorities. Up to a thousand supporters are said to have turned out in the town of Luzamba at 7am with the aim [...]

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    More than 30,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are housed in two temporary reception camps, Kakanda and Mussunga, in Lunda-Norte province. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that about 500 refugees are arriving in these camps each day. Congolese citizens are continuing to cross the border to escape the current conflict in the Kasai region, which erupted in April last year. Last April, in addition to the refugees, around 180 armed men from the Congolese armed forces and police also escaped from the clashes between government forces and the Kamwina Nsapu militia, according to the data this website received from the local authorities. The same sources say that more than 100 members of the Congolese forces managed to escape the control of the defence and security forces, and ‘disappeared’ in the Angolan town of Dundo, while the rest were repatriated. In the same month, [...]

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    Aisha Lopes, the fashion designer, and her husband Angelica Bernardo da Costa (also known as Mujahid Kenyata) are Angolan nationals who converted to Islam in 1996.   Aisha, a diabetic, was nursing her 26-day-old infant delivered via high-risk Caesarean surgery when security forces raided the family’s apartment at 5 am on December 2 nd , 2016.  More than 20 armed officers from the Criminal Investigation Service (SIC) and the security branch burst in and detained her and her baby, along with her 39-year-old husband. Aisha says they ransacked the apartment, seizing computers, phones, more than 200 books, the couple’s bank cards and all the personal documents belonging to the couple.   “They even took my medical reports. They did not leave a single sheet of paper. “ “We are poor and the agents mocked us, saying that the head of the terrorists in Angola had almost nothing of worth in [...]

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    Members of Angola’s National Electoral Commission (CNE) have described how the legal procedures for collecting and tabulating the results of Wednesday’s election were flouted by officials who reported favorable results to the MPLA, with no indication of how these results were calculated. Opposition leaders have accused MPLA of inventing the results. The reports of malpractice come as opposition parties release the results of parallel counts, calculated by adding up the results posted at individual polling stations. These parallel counts show the MPLA in first place, but without an outright majority. The CNE began to announce the preliminary election results on Thursday afternoon, before results from the provinces had been approved either at local level or by the National Counting Center. According to the numbers the CNE announced, the MPLA won a majority with 64.57%, more than double the total of UNITA, which was in second place with 24.4%. CASA-CE took [...]

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  • 09/08/17--23:32: A New Angolan President
  • On September 21 we will have a new president, after 38 years with José Eduardo dos Santos. The National Electoral Commission has named João Lourenço president-elect, without legally validating the votes in 15 of the 18 provinces. The MPLA, already in power for 42 years will continue to rule for a further five-year term. Anyone who things that the law is worth when MPLA’s leaders’ interests are at stake, is mistaken. It is worth taking a look back at the history of presidential power in Angola and its popular legitimacy. In 1975, Agostinho Neto became president through the unilateral declaration of independence, after expelling the other liberation movements, FNLA (led by Holden Roberto) and UNITA (led by Jonas Savimbi), from Luanda. The three movements had formed a transitional government, and the process of declaring independence ought to have happened only after elections were held. Instead, the most cunning and strategic [...]

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    Note: This text was initially delivered as the Hormuud Lecture of the African Studies Association, at its annual meeting in Chicago, on November 18, 2017.   Within days after delivering this lecture, I will be publishing the first report focused exclusively on extrajudicial killings in Angola. These executions were carried out in the past year by the Angolan Criminal Investigation Service operatives across the two most populated neighborhoods of the capital Luanda, namely Cacuaco and Viana. In the report there are more than 100 victims identified and additional unidentified individuals suspected of being delinquents or simply innocent. During my investigation I discovered the existence of an open field, next to a primary school in Viana (Escola Primária e do 1º Ciclo do Ensino Secundário nº 5113), that locals called the slaughterhouse or more commonly the death camp. The state operatives usually took their victims to this slaughterhouse in broad daylight. [...]

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    The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a health emergency alert about a possible Zika outbreak in Angola, urging the Angola Ministry of Health to immediately begin implementing its planned interventions to minimize the impact. The WHO’s alert is particularly alarming because it is issued in response to a growing number of cases of microcephaly among newborns in Angola particularly in Luanda. Microcephaly is a rare neurological condition in which an infant’s head is significantly smaller than the heads of other children of the same age and sex. Sometimes detected at birth, microcephaly is usually the result of the brain developing abnormally in the womb or not growing as it should after birth. An infected pregnant women can transmit Zika to her fetus, which can lead to brain abnormalities. As of 29 November 2017, a total of 42 cases of microcephaly had been reported, of which 39 occurred in live [...]

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    The latest episode in the long-running saga of the alleged plunder of Angola’s public coffers has just come to light. Thanks to the diligence of British financial watchdogs and a change of regime in Angola, what is alleged to have been an attempt by the former President’s son to divert US $500 million, with his father’s blessing, looks to have been halted at the eleventh hour. Full details of the alleged fraud have yet to be revealed, but information confirmed by separate sources indicates that the new Angolan President João Lourenço has taken steps to reclaim the funds which have been frozen pending the outcome of an international investigation. A spokesman for the UK’s National Crime Agency told us: “We can confirm that the NCA’s International Corruption Unit is investigating a case of potential fraud against the Angolan government.” The NCA spokesman said they could not provide any further details [...]

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  • 02/05/18--04:51: Angola’s Death Squads
  • Nearly two years ago, rumors began circulating in the Angolan capital, Luanda, that police officers working for the Criminal Investigation Service (SIC) were routinely rounding up suspected petty criminals and killing them. Human rights journalist Rafael Marques de Morais began an investigation, taking oral and written testimony from dozens of witnesses, family members, friends, and even from the occasional survivor. He says “Compelling testimony points to a systematic SIC death squad operation targeting young men merely suspected of undesirable or criminal behavior.” Over a period of months, a clear pattern emerged with eye-witnesses naming individual police officers who had been seen to kill victims in broad daylight and in view of members of the public.  It was alleged that specific SIC units were acting as death squads with impunity. “The SIC death squads are blamed for the summary executions of hundreds of young Angolans, without even a cursory investigation of [...]

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    In the plunder that has been carried out in Angola, little has been said about the extraordinary role of Portuguese facilitators – especially bank executives, lawyers and intermediaries – in setting up related operations. Little is also said about the extremely harmful role they play in Angola, while pretending to be above reproach. Maka Angola brings to light the US $518.5 million operation orchestrated in 2013 by José Fernando Faria de Bastos, a Portuguese lawyer living in Angola, and Rui Guerra, a Portuguese citizen and then-CEO of Banco Espírito Santo Angola (BESA). Let us start on June 28, 2013. On that day, BESA carried out five credit operations to five shell companies totalling US $379 million. This operation financed the purchase of assets of Espírito Santo Commerce (Escom), 66 percent owned by the Espírito Santo Group (GES) of Portugal, and 30 percent by the Portuguese-Angolan citizen Hélder Bataglia. An addendum [...]

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  • 03/20/18--11:47: My Trial
  • My trial has begun. I am standing on the dock accused of two crimes for nearly four hours straight. It is my punishment for not exercising. Now I feel the pain in my back. Under the Law on Crimes against State Security, I am accused of an outrage against a sovereign body, the former President José Eduardo dos Santos. The second crime is of insult against a public office holder, the former Attorney General João Maria Moreira de Sousa. Both carry a maximum sentence of four years. The courtroom is packed. Judge Josina Mussua Ferreira Falcão notes how disrespectful the former attorney general and his counsel have been. For the second time, they submitted a last minute request to postpone the trial sine die (without a set date), and this time with an unreasonable justification. The judge decides to go ahead with the trial without the plaintiff or his counsel. [...]

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    Why does the president of the Republic, João Lourenço, allow his government to be tarnished with fabricated accusations regarding the supposed attempted murder of his vice-president in the first months of his term? Why would the president allow the National Police and the Criminal Investigation Service (SIC) to use a machete as an official torture tool? Why does the president allow the judicial system, especially SIC, to be so inhumane, specializing in forging absurd evidence and incarcerating innocents? Why does João Lourenço allow the involvement of staff members of the Security House of the Presidency in an act of torture to go unpunished? Let us turn to the facts. Five citizens, detained more than a month ago, are accused of the attempted murder of vice-president Bornito de Sousa. The accusation was concocted from a banal discussion about parking the car which the five were in. They were barbarously tortured, filmed [...]

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    José Filomeno dos Santos (son of former presidente José Eduardo dos Santos, known as Zenú), and the former governor of the National Bank of Angola, Valter Filipe, were indicted two weeks ago by the Attorney General’s Office for their involvement in the 500-million-dollar fraud. This refers to the transfer last September of 500 million dollars from the National Bank of Angola to an account with Crédit Suisse in London as a guarantee for a supposed funding of 30 billion dollars. In fact, as already investigated by Maka Angola early in January the operation would turn out to be a fraud against the Angolan State that was carried out by José Filomeno dos Santos. To carry it out, he used his dummy company, Mais Financial Services. London’s financial authorities suspected the fraud and blocked the funds in London. The referred transfer led to the resignation, on October 27, of the then [...]

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    Before agreeing to step aside after 38 years in power, Angola’s former President, José Eduardo dos Santos, made sure he obtained guarantees of permanent immunity from prosecution for any crimes committed during his time in office. For Angola’s ruling party MPLA and lawmakers, it was a pragmatic necessity: how else could Dos Santos be persuaded to step aside? The man had an international reputation as one of Africa’s most zealous kleptocrats, using his position to enrich himself and his extended family. Six months on, however, a complex international investigation into an attempted US $1.5 billion fraud involving his son José Filomeno dos Santos “Zenú” has put Angolans openly discussing whether the Dos Santos family en masse should have those immunity guarantees removed. His son is firmly in the sights of criminal investigators who have documentary evidence that it was his father who oversaw the attempted scam.   The Weakest Link [...]

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