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Balance art in Luanda

The trial against Angola's most famous dissident is a litmus test for both Norway and Angola, the Joint Council of Africa believes.


The skyscrapers that characterize the panorama of Angola's capital Luanda have become the symbol of a bittersweet success story seen with Western eyes. After the civil war in the country ended in 2002, foreign investors flocked to the country and the oil industry gave the country huge revenue. Last year alone, Statoil paid out 23 billion in taxes, fees and bonuses to Angolan authorities. In addition, since 1987, Norway has provided technical assistance to the petroleum administration, including through the Oil for Development program. Despite economic growth, hopes for more democracy and better times for large sections of the population have been put to shame. “Angola is a robust example of a postwar state that deviates from Western aid countries' hopes for liberal state-building. They have rejected the Western model, "Oxford professor Ricardo Soares de Oliveira states in his latest book on Angola, Magnificent and beggar land – Angola since the civil war (2014). Corruption and the enrichment of a small elite have been defining for Angola after the Civil War. Western criticism of the lack of democracy and human rights is dismissed in government circles as "a hypocritical scapegoat for material interests," says the author and Angola expert. Now the regime faces more problems than hesitant Western criticism. The fall in oil prices has hit the economy hard, in a country where the oil industry accounted for 97 per cent of export revenues in 2012. However, Angola experts in both Norway and Africa believe that falling oil revenues could cause changes the country is in dire need of. They offended. "This is a Kafka process. The trial is historic, it is the first time a defendant is met with new charges in the middle of the trial. " The words belong to the Angolan human rights activist Rafael Marques de Morais, and are received by Ny Tid as he himself sits in the courtroom in the capital Luanda. Marques is charged with «defamation» and «false accusations». When the trial began on March 24, Marques entered the courthouse in Luanda with nine charges. He came out again with twenty-four. In 2011, Marques published the book Diamonds of the Sangue (Blood Diamonds). There, he and the organization he leads, Maka Angola, documented over a hundred killings and extensive human rights violations related to diamond mining in Cuango Province, northeast of the country. The disclosures have set the minds of high-ranking generals and the leaders of the mining companies, which Marques believes are behind the crimes. It is the close ties between the government, the army and the leading industrial companies that have now led Angola's best-known activist to the bench.

"We can hope that reforms are now forcing" Magnus Flacké

The face of fear. Magnus Flacké, general manager of the Joint Council for Africa, believes the trial against Rafael Marques could be a litmus test of the Angolan regime's attitude to critical voices. "The government is concerned about its international reputation, but at the same time they want to spread a certain degree of fear among the population and among human rights activists," Flacké told Ny Tid. He urges the Norwegian authorities to follow the case, and condemn the trial if Marques is convicted unfairly. "In this sense, this can also be a litmus test on the Norwegian authorities, who say they use human rights as their guideline in development policy. How do they react when our most important trading partner in Africa strikes at human rights defenders in this way? " asks Flacké. This is not the first time that the regime of President José Eduardo dos Santos has been accused of cracking down on critical voices. "Authorities respond to all forms of peaceful, regime-critical protest with 'excessive use of force, random arrests, unfair trials, harassment and threats against activists'," Human Rights Watch wrote in its 2015 country report. have been subjected to similar abuses. In February, gunmen broke into the house of the leader of the organization, José Cínio, and knocked down his security guard, taking mobile phones, photos and cameras from the house. "We have no reason to believe that this was a common robbery," Patrocínio told the independent internet radio station Radio Angola. Restructuring Coercion. It is the former guerrilla movement MPLA that has been in power in the South West African country since 1979. Party peaks and President Santos are in control of the oil industry, mining and the army, the most expensive in sub-Saharan Africa, according to British The Economist. However, the regime faced the rapid fall in oil prices in the fall of 2014 with great unrest. During a revision of this year's state budget in January, the country's parliament cuts spending of more than $ 14 billion. Infrastructure and transfers to the poorest in the country fell victim to the biggest cuts, while the army was spared. The new budget created great dissatisfaction among activists fighting for a fair distribution in the country. “If they couldn't help the poor under high oil prices, how are they going to do it now? This will create more excitement among the population, ”commented Angolan activist Elias Isaac in the Open Society Initiative to the Reuters news agency.

"This is a Kafka process" Rafael Marques de Morais

However, some have pointed out that the fall in oil prices may force a diversification in the economy and a settlement with what critics believe is an inflated and top-heavy government administration. "The fall in oil prices may be good news, because the Santos government will have to deal with institutional corruption, waste and money use, as well as diversification of the economy. All other avenues ahead will lead to the regime destroying itself, ”Rafael Marques wrote in a comment on the African analysis site, before being tried. Magnus Flacké joins the analysis. “Angola is one of the most concentrated economies in the world, and the elite has been unwilling to diversify the economy. An example is that the country is a net importer of food, despite large unused agricultural land, ”says Flacké. The biggest obstacle to such reforms is the government itself. A diversification can help the emergence of other power bases in the country, apart from those that are currently dominated by government loyal people. The African Common Council sees it as a possible path to the goal of a more open Angola. “By and large, Angola is not moving in a more open and democratic direction. We can hope that reforms are now being forced. Maybe it can contribute to a greater spread of power in the country, ”concludes Magnus Flacké.

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