Soccer, Terrorism, Repression and Constitutions in Angola

January 23, 2010

Angolan president Eduardo dos Santos
Angolan president Eduardo dos Santos

The new decade started off with a bang in Angola-literally. Fireworks exploded in the night sky at the opening games of the Africa Cup of Nations soccer tournament on January 10th; and, sadly, gunfire shattered the day as the Togo soccer team was attacked on their way to participate in the tourney.

The attack on the Togo national team occurred at they traveled through the Cabinda province. Cabinda is a small spit of land separated from the northern territorial borders of Angola by the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is rich in oil and struggled with a separatist movement for many years now. Those who live in the region wish for autonomy and there is an armed rebel faction, the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC), that claimed responsibility for the attack on the Togolese team.

However, there are many individuals in the Cabinda region engaging in peaceful measures to demand autonomy. Journalists, lawyers, priests and citizens argue for the right of self determination. The Angolan government has harshly suppressed these individuals, denying them right of free expression and association by dispersing peaceful protests, arresting individuals and banning organizations. One journalist, Fernando Lelo, was imprisoned following an unfair trial because of his criticisms of the president.

In the wake of the Togo bus attack, the Angolan government has used anti-terrorism policies as an excuse to crack down further on peaceful activists in the region. Francisco Luemba, a prominent lawyer and former member of banned human rights organization Mpalabanda, was arrested on January 17th and charged with crimes against the state. Mpalabanda, the only human rights organization previously operating in Cabinda, was banned in 2006 following charges that the organization incited violence and hatred.

Belchoir Lanso Tati, another former member of Mpalabanda, was arrested on January 13th and Padre Raul Tati, a Catholic priest, was arrested on January 16th, both charged for the same offence of crimes against the state. Both Padre Tati and Belchoir have been outspoken about the political tensions in Cabinda. Amnesty International urges the Angolan authorities to ensure that a thorough and impartial investigation into the circumstances surrounding the attacks is carried out in accordance with international human rights standards.

“Amnesty International calls on the government to ensure that this deplorable incident is not used as an excuse to violate the rights of citizens in Cabinda through arbitrary arrests and detentions or any form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”

Amnesty International USA is urging the United States government to speak up during the United Nations Universal Periodic Review process Angola will participate in next month, specifically asking that the US urge Angola to respect freedom of expression and association in the Cabinda province.

Finally, in what many observers also see as a reaction to the terrorist attack, Angola also expedited the ratification of a new constitution this week that no longer allows for the direct election of the president. Going forward, the president will now be selected by Parliament; thus the majority party following the next election will choose the new president. Considering current president Eduardo dos Santos’ MPLA party won parliamentary elections in 2008 with more than 80% of the vote, this move is seen as further cementing his domination of Angolan politics. The main opposition party, UNITA, boycotted the constitutional vote.