State of Denial

The government in Angola is in denial. Last week, it denied sending troops into the Republic of Congo, claiming instead the Congolese soldiers tried to occupy Angolan territory.

October 29th, 2013

The government in Angola is in denial. Last week, it denied sending troops into the Republic of Congo, claiming instead the Congolese soldiers tried to occupy Angolan territory.

It also appears too proud to want to the severity of the drought affecting 1.8 million people – a situation so severe it’s been called ''.

This is a dangerous approach that is putting lives at risk.

And many Angolans are frustrated that while children are dying from malnutrition and faith-based organisations are to help those most in need, the government sees fit to donate US$10 million to the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) Africa Solidarity Trust Fund for food security.

In the words of OSISA’s Angola director, Elias Isaac: “It is a lack of regard for its own people and a question of national pride. To accept help from other organisations would contradict the picture that Angola is one of Africa's most successful economies.”

And via its mouthpiece newspaper, the Jornal de Angola, the country misses no opportunity to assert is achievements and criticise others for criticising it.

Portugal has become one of editor Jose Ribeiro’s favourite punch bags, the paper ripping into the former colonial power long before President Jose Eduardo dos Santos used his State of the Nation speech to say ” with Portugal, referring to Lisbon court probes into several members of the Angolan elite.

This weekend the paper served up , in which it argued that Angola was better and more democratic than Portugal, and most of the rest of Europe.

It made the point that in Angola the MPLA won 72 percent of the vote in the August 2012 general election – a margin never seen in the West. Those who alleged during those polls will not be surprised.

The editorial also said that while in Angola there were jobs, housing, education, health care and free medicines, in Portugal children were going hungry and infant mortality rates were rising ‘dangerously’.

Angola has certainly made progress since the end of its war in 2002 but it still has Africa’s second highest under-five death rate after Sierra Leone.

All the numbers are here in this from September 2013. But you won’t find them talked about in Angola, where state media only reports good news.

Indeed, who remembers when the editor of Jornal de Angola denied that was a ‘Ghost Town’ – accusing me of having and mistaking the residents for ghosts. Some months later President Dos Santos visited and where the residents were. People in Angola are still talking about Kilamba and lamenting its failures and they are likely to do so for years to come.

And then there was the IMF in late 2011 questioning the whereabouts of US$32 billion. Needless to say the Jornal de Angola lashed out and, once again, denied the claims.

And parliament is also happy to jump on the denial bandwagon. In 2011, a parliamentary inquiry into political clashes in Huambo between the ruling MPLA and the main opposition party, União Nacional pela Independência Total de Angola (UNITA), denied – according to the MPLA man leading the inquiry – the existence of .

However, denials in Angola are individual too.

Angolan football-club-owner-turned-ruling-party-youth-mobiliser, Bento dos Santos ‘Kangamba’, who also happens to be married to a niece of President Dos Santos, was recently accused of being involved in a trans-Atlantic prostitution ring – something he has .

When contacted by international media last week, the police in Angola also denied any knowledge of the alleged prostitution ring.

However, rather awkwardly for everyone – not least for Kangamba’s uncle-in-law – the Public Prosecutor in Sao Paulo subsequently published a about the investigation – naming Kangamba, another Angolan, Fernando Vasco Inácio Republicano, and four Brazilian nationals.

Kangamba is alleged to have been part of a gang “trafficking people overseas for purpose of sexual exploitation” and “holding people against their will.”

Almost as quickly as the story about the probe reached Angolan Facebook pages, the 48-year-old businessman made a beeline for to deny the charges. He said he had not been contacted by the Brazilian authorities and that he “did not go to Brazil.”

Meanwhile, President Dos Santos’ children have also got in on the denying act.

His eldest daughter, Isabel, has of illegal enrichment made by Rafael Marques de Morais in the US magazine Forbes, while one of her brothers, Jose Filomeno dos Santos, has that it is nepotism that led to his appointment as chairman of Angola’s new US$5 billion Sovereign Wealth Fund.

Indeed, the Fundo Soberano de Angola (FSDEA) is become a font of denials. A Portuguese lawyer hired by the Fund, which was set up over one year ago but is yet to make an investment, that the fund’s formation was had violated the country’s constitution. And in a statement one of the FSDEA’s PR teams (it has several spread between Europe and the United Arab Emirates, though curiously no-one in Angola itself) a media report that Dos Santos jnr – also known as Zenu – had bought a US$4 million property in the fund’s name.

All of this makes it clear that when in doubt, denial is the preferred option in Angola – for both the authorities and the elite. However, denial is not a new strategy. For the Angolan government, in fact, it appears to be their default strategy.

I can’t remember a time when the government has actually admitted it did something wrong or that mistakes were made.

It’s true that in recent years some officials, even President Dos Santos himself, have acknowledged that poverty remains too high and that more must be done. But in the same breath, they say don’t blame the government or Angola’s elite, blame the war – which ended back in 2002 – and the old civil war enemy UNITA for destroying all the country’s infrastructure.

Sure, not every rumour is true. But in Angola’s case? The ‘lady doth protest too much, methinks’.

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