Angolan youth lead pro-democracy push

2012-04-02 19:37

Johannesburg - Young Angolan protesters who have been able to mobilise online have invigorated anti-corruption and pro-democracy campaigns, traditional political activists in the southern African nation said on Monday.

Elias Isaac, country director in Angola for the independent Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, Marcolino Moco, a member of Angola's ruling MPLA who is nonetheless a sharp critic of long-time President Eduardo dos Santos, and  of the opposition Unita party held a news conference in neighbouring South Africa on Monday to discuss their concerns about the state of democracy in the southern African nation.

Attempts to reach Angolan diplomats in South Africa for comment on Monday were not immediately successful.

In South Africa, the three said, they have access to a free media lacking at home. Young protesters have circumvented censorship by using Facebook to spread the word about gatherings, and have posted videos of their demonstrations - and the often brutal police response - on YouTube.

Human Rights Watch has called on the Angolan government to "end its use of unnecessary force, including by plainclothes agents," against the peaceful anti-government protests.

The youth movement has little formal organization, Isaac said. He said it includes people from impoverished neighborhoods in the capital, Luanda, that are seen as opposition strongholds.

But he said young people with the means to travel abroad and links to dos Santos's MPLA party also are protesting, demanding that Angola enjoy the economic and political developments that they have witnessed abroad.

Moco, who was prime minister from 1992-1996, said those calling for greater political freedoms are fighting an entrenched and powerful machine run by dos Santos, who has been in power since 1979 and is expected to run for re-election later this year.

Dos Santos' critics say he has been able to use the country's oil wealth to consolidate power for himself, his relatives and his cronies even as most Angolans remain poor. The war-ravaged country ranks among the world's most corrupt.

Moco said the protests by young Angolans, though small, give him "hope that something is going to change, one day."

Civil war threat

Angolans have endured decades of violence, starting with an anti-colonial war that began in the 1960s, followed by a civil war that broke out after independence in 1975. The civil war ended in 2002 when the army killed Unita leader Jonas Savimbi.

The country would be at peace but for a separatist movement in Cabinda, a small coastal enclave that is Angola's main oil-producing region.

Today, many older Angolans fear pushing too hard for political reforms could lead to renewed civil war, said Junjuvili, the Unita politician.

"The younger generations are fed up," Junjuvili said. "It's a matter of time. The most important thing is to be persistent."

The youth protests began in 2010 with fewer than a hundred people at scattered demonstrations in Luanda, Isaac said.

He said the number of protesters who turn out is slowly starting to grow, and that demonstrations are being held more frequently. Last month, one was even held outside Luanda, in Benguela, a southern coastal town.

"We believe that, bit by but, these things are going to spread," Isaac said, though he acknowledged a mass protest could be met with mass repression.

To date, the protests are far from the scale that was seen in Egypt or Libya, where popular demonstrations toppled long-time leaders. But Moco, the former prime minister, said the president should heed the lessons of the Arab Spring.

"I don't see," he said, "how Mr Eduardo dos Santos can't see what is happening in the world."

- AP
Read more on:    unita  |  angola  |  southern africa
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