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“32 anos e muito!”: An Angolan Spring?

The impetus of the Arab Spring has moved south with some Angolans demanding a change of leader.
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A part of a poster encouraging Angolans to support an end to Dos Santos' rule.

2011 was the year swathes of Angola’s youth said enough. Thousands of Angolans took to the streets in the capital Luanda and other major towns under the banner “32 anos e muito” (32 years is too much). Critical of the three-decade rule of José Eduardo Dos Santos, the pro-democracy protests were spread via social networking sites such as Facebook, YouTube and twitter.

The protests against the president and his ruling party the MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola) were marred by the suppression and force with which police agents and unidentified men dispersed protestors, but the event as a whole signals a growing political consciousness in the country – the kind that drove Angola’s northern counterparts in the Arab Spring.

However, even though the Arab Spring has been an inspiration for the protests, analysts have been quick to point out that it is unlikely that any Angolan revolution will emulate its speed. Pedro Seabra, of the Portuguese Institute of International Relations and Security in Lisbon, argues that Angola is still a long way off from an Arab Spring.

Similarly, Paula Roque of the South Africa-based Institute for Security Studies (ISS) argues "This is more of a chipping away of the regime,” adding "I do not believe we will have the tornado like we saw in North Africa. Angola is not ready for that. But certainly, there is slowly starting to be a change."

Indeed despite little immediate success, these protests have been highly significant for Angola, and that these actions, along with the activities in North Africa, may be paving the way for increased political consciousness across Africa and beyond.

Chipping away

Dos Santos’ 32-year reign has defined Angola’s recent history, and he is now the second longest serving African leader, behind Equatorial Guinea's Teodoro Obiang. It is no wonder that protestors, many of whom who have lived under the MPLA from birth, see the government as a “dictatorial virus”.

Since coming into power in 1979, the MPLA has remained powerful. At the end of last month, the youth wing of the MPLA, the JMPLA, attested their support for Dos Santos, holding that he has done good things for Angolan youth.

Indeed, Angola has experienced a recent boom in economic, social and cultural wealth. The recent proposed bailout of Portugal flattered Angola’s projected position as the fifth largest African economy in 2011. And Think Africa Press’ report on the Rise and Rise of Angola documents a country growing in wealth and prosperity making Angola an attractive prospect for foreign investors such as China.

Rather than being an indication of positivity, however, this seem to have done little to ease anger towards the MPLA regime; if anything, the lack of advantages felt by ordinary people in midst of this apparent success has fuelled grievances.

Catalysts for change

In the midst of Angola’s “injustice, incongruities, inconsistencies and gaps”, some believe that the protests were inevitable.

But the Dos Santos regime has done itself few favours in stemming grievances. One anti-MPLA website, for example, documents the use of excessive force on unarmed protestors during anti-government rallies, the neutralisation of the protest movement, the misappropriation of funds in areas such as sport and state defence, censorship and the use of foreign labour in lieu of domestic workers to name but a few.

Indeed, the MPLA has responded to such claims by stating, perhaps rather enigmatically, that "Anyone who demonstrates…we're going to get you."

Disenfranchisement of the people

Additionally, there is a distinct sense of the disenfranchisement of the Angolan people and inconsistency in the trickle down of wealth.

Reports in The Economist, for example, explain how the Queensway Syndicate, a group of private investors from Hong Kong which has struck a number of infrastructure deals with Angola, has contributed to the uneven distribution of wealth. High levels of secrecy surrounding deals, the failure of the Syndicate to live up to pre-deal obligations, the use of profits in funding conflicts, and the lack of oversight have all ensured a poor deal for the Angolan people.

Furthermore, corruption is a major factor guiding the pro-democracy efforts and Dos Santos’ tenure has been coloured by claims of the mismanagement of oil revenues while IMF statistics suggest significant macroeconomic imbalances.

Power to the people

There are a number of lessons to be learned from the Arab Spring, and how it will affect movements such as “32 anos e muito”. We can see notions of political anger and collective consciousness have spread down the continent and bolstered confidence in the power of mass movements, yet are also reminded of the difficulty of transition post-revolution.

Angola may not follow to routes laid down by Egypt, Libya or Tunisia, but the strength of its collective voice symbolises African pro-democracy movements as a whole. And in taking inspiration from North African movements, which saw the eradication of regimes that had lasted longer Dos Santos’, Angolans have given themselves an audible political voice.

Angola is due to hold elections this September – only the third set of elections since Angola gained independence from Portugal in 1975 – and Dos Santos is yet to specify if he will run. It is also uncertain whether or not the MPLA will take into account the voices of Angolan people. What is evident, however, is that the party is growing increasingly less comfortable as the counter-voice grows more so.

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