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Dear President of Angola: Your Soldiers Are Starving

Rafael Marques de Morais is an internationally known Angolan journalist specializing in corruption, human rights, and governance. He is the winner of a number of major journalism awards. He is also the author of The New Imperialism: China in Angola, an essay that appeared in the March/April 2011 issue of Word Affairs, as well as several books on blood diamonds and the oil sector in Angola. Marques de Morais runs the website MakaAngola.org, where the following letter was originally published.


Comrade President of the Republic of Angola, Commander-in-Chief of the Angolan Armed Forces, President of the Peoples’ Movement for the Liberation of Angola:

Excellency: it is with great sadness that I must inform you of a dangerous mood of unrest in the ranks of the Angolan Armed Forces, the FAA. Your soldiers have empty bellies. Their units are so deprived of equipment and supplies that many have no boots; even their uniforms are ragged. In contrast, their most senior commanders ostentatiously flaunt their wealth. Is there any other country that has so many millionaires, even billionaires, serving in the high command?

Your soldiers are not blind to the surplus of luxury enjoyed by their Generals while lower ranks are deprived of a living wage, unable even to provide bread for their families. The men can no longer stay silent about the corrupt behaviour of the men who lead them. Senior commanders are so adept at embracing the joys of capital accumulation and so brazen about flaunting their ill-gotten gains that a chorus of voices is echoing across Angola, deriding the top brass as rogues and thieves.

Sir, when was the last time the Commander-in-Chief visited the men and women in uniform? When did he last, if ever, take note of their reality? No doubt the loyalty of the Generals has been assured, but the rest of the Angolan Armed Forces, the FAA, are drowning in the same poverty as the populace they are sworn to defend.

Last year you gave orders that our army should produce uniforms and boots. I think you may need to explain to the unit commanders how to make this happen. And during your visit, perhaps you can also school them in how they should provide food for the men. After all, as Napoleon once said: “an army marches on its stomach.”

Can’t Angola’s wealthy entrepreneurs share their good fortune with the less fortunate? Take your lovely daughter Isabel dos Santos, the President of Angola’s Red Cross and allegedly Africa’s richest woman. She must surely have a raft of good works to her name. Yet we only see her in pictures with international celebrities like the Kardashians, and not one in which she engages with the sick and needy, those her position implies she seeks to help. Or take your son José Filomeno dos Santos “Zenú”, chairman of the Sovereign Wealth Fund, which is at his disposal. He must have done something to help ordinary Angolans, beyond helping himself. Why haven’t we heard of his good deeds?

I don’t want you to think that I am complaining. Far from it. We all know how you and the MPLA deal with critics. I simply want to draw your attention to an injustice which I’m sure only exists because the true picture has been kept from you. Prove wrong those who say the MPLA’s power rests on the pillars of rule for life, propaganda, ineptitude, corruption and violent repression!

As for these silly rumours that your Generals fear they may not be able to protect their assets – surely there can be no doubt about the loyalty of their men at arms? Even while their bellies grumble, your men think constantly of their Commander-in-Chief and the well-being of his family and friends.

Some say it’s time for a big conversation about the future. No one can live forever, or rule forever and Angola needs a peaceful and orderly succession. There seem to be many voices suggesting that it is time for you to reform the MPLA, open it up to pluralist ideas, encourage it to engage with society in frank and open debate. They also want respect for human rights, a war on corruption and a genuine commitment to good governance and social justice.

One rumour is heard more than all the rest: that the country has run out of money. And that even the President cannot now, from his own purse, reward his acolytes as he did in the old days. Sir, can’t you assure the people that this is false? And that your fortune remains protected at all times?

Sir, your people need to do a better job of silencing your critics. Let us demonstrate as baseless, these terrible accusations and complaints about you, your family, Generals and Ministers. Let us take heart from the slogan of the upcoming 7th MPLA Congress: “MPLA – with the people, heading for victory”. The MPLA has always been really good at coming up with slogans. After all, who needs bread?

 

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