UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA - AFRICAN STUDIES CENTER
ANGOLA NEWS ONLINE/ANGOLA NEWS ONLINE/ANGOLA NEWS ONLINE
Edition #15 21 May 1998
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RACISM AND XENOPHOBIA: WHO ARE THE VICTIMS?
"Your country has been devastated and your cities burnt to ground. While you look on, foreigners take over your land". This passage - from today's English version Bible - refers to the prophet Isaiah's call for "righteousness and justice" in the ancient Kingdom of Judah in the latter half of the eighth century BC. Now, seemingly impelled by the social and economic hardships of this time in which they live, thousands of Angolan families have been joining religions they would never have even imagined, let alone joined, before. With this they become active and in some cases blind agents of an unprecedented proliferation of religions in Angola.
The culture ministry says that of the less that 10 religions identified in the early 80s, the country has now more than 270 different churches or sects with most of them preaching illegally. Illegally or not, the fact is that unlike the veteran Christian churches,Catholic and Protestant, most of the emerging and imported options add to their messianic doctrines claims that they can promptly cure chronically ill people, bring the poor to wealth and restore happiness to the disgraced.
The majority of the leaders of these sects are Brazilians, Portuguese with some few Africans and it is AIDS, tuberculosis, blindness and deafness that are some of the diseases they can allegedly treat.The question is: does religion necessarily have to be associated with poverty? Why is it that these sects find it so easy to grab the attention of the masses, and how do they put across their message so successfully?
The responses to this question can be many. However, the wise and particularly the intelligent manner in which prophets' ideas are structured in the Bible could provide the explanation. People hear with their own ears and read with their own eyes messages written thousands of years ago but which carry vivid and live images of the very situations by which they are confronted in their everyday lives.
Isaiah, in the same chapter where he talks of devastation and destruction, also says: "(...) Your leaders are rebels and friends of thieves, they are always accepting gifts and bribes. They never defend orphans in court or listen when widows present their case". Words of this kind, especially if interpreted by a talented priest, sound fresh and appealing to the Angolan man or woman, boy or girl feeling they suffer racism or any other form of discrimination and deprivation in their own land.
Reflecting this, many local intellectuals are of the opinion that while struggling to rid the country of the troubles caused by wars imposed upon them, foreigners take advantage of this situation to dictate the rules of the game. "They come in convinced that we are not capable of anything. And this happens in front of a total indifference from our authorities," says frustrated Alberto Fontes, a former Angolan soldier now an architect and father of four who is struggling to find a job.
Indeed, foreigners, old or new comers, take advantage of the weak legal system of the country to prosper through both legal and illegal business, whilst the locals have to more and more tighten their belts. They take advantage too of the complex of inferiority raging around the key government institutions to encourage or promote systematically discriminatory policies against the locals where it comes to job opportunities.
Angola is described as a multiracial country, yet it is one of the few places in Africa, if not in the world, where foreigners have better business and job opportunities than the locals. Local businesspeople complain of their expatriate colleagues enjoying more help from the government when setting up a business. And in almost all state companies, not to mention the private ones, expatriates usually get higher wages as compared to their local colleagues with the same qualifications. The government in such cases offers many excuses,but these are rejected by those affected as unjustifiable and unacceptable.
An example of this is the case of university lecturers who had long complained of earning less than their expatriate colleagues, going as far as to declare a strike on May 7. According to the strikers, expatriates at the country's only university, Agostinho Neto University in Luanda, earn monthly between 3,500-6,500 US dollars whereas their Angolan workmates get US$150-650. This is just one of many cases of terrible aberrations which many immigrants take good advantage of to look down upon the so called indigenous people who, in their turn and to a large extent, blame their misfortunes on the outsiders.
SOFOGOR is the name of a firm run by Portuguese immigrants who have been forced to give up a TV advertising spot widely rejected by the civil society as outrageous and racist. In an attempt to market spirits, SOFOGOR used the state-owned TPA television to display blacks at a seaside downing full bottles of spirits straight from the bottles. Just opposite them were white couples in a garden enjoying scotch-on-the-rocks and gin and tonics out of fine glasses.
The successful anti-SOFOGOR campaign was led by the Luanda-based "Folha-8" independent bi-weekly, which also bitterly accused TPA and the government authorities of aligning themselves with "the racists of SOFOGOR to insult the aboriginals". This earned Folha-8 massive popular support as the defender of national values while at the same time other classes of the society labelled the paper as anti-white and racist. The government authorities did not react.
Also, many foreign firms have been repeatedly accused, at least in the media, of developing different activities in the country other than those that they declared when entering Angola. Only now and then does the government comes out and say that many foreign firms operating in the country do not observe the legal requirements.
So what is the next step, some people might ask. Of the main political leaders of the country, only the ruling MPLA secretary-general Lopo do Nascimento has so far had the courage to say what this might be...and in public. In what was at that time feared could affect political relations between Angola and Portugal, Mr Do Nascimento last year criticized specifically the Portuguese construction firms and banks which he accused of "racist and discriminatory" behaviour towards the Angolan workforce.
Expressing disappointment at what he called "unfair and unbalanced economic cooperation with Portugal" at a time when Angola was expecting an official visit of prime minister AntÛnio Guterres, Lopo do Nascimento maintained the need for defining a "real strategic partnership" which, in his opinion, should result from joint action from both Portuguese and Angolan companies. He said that this should not be, as happens now, in a partnership that only benefits the Portuguese firms and citizens.
To many people, intellectuals or ordinary citizens, it is now clearer than ever that complexion colour has become a key requisite to success or promotion everywhere, and this is mainly because of the complex of inferiority cultivated and spread downwards in different spheres of life. Critics say, for instance, that it is hard to understand the fact that, coincidentally, the three key economic posts in the government - the ministries of finance and planning, and the central bank - are all held by whites who are believed to hold dual-nationality, something allowed by the Angolan constitution.
And, despite a considerable race hybridization resulting from years of European colonization, not a single coloured child can be found among the hundreds of street kids overcrowding the physically degraded capital city, Luanda. To anyone coming across a coloured man, woman, boy or girl wearing an expression of hardship causes surprise because people have been accustomed to the fact that that miserable modus vivendis is only expected to be among the underprivileged, and this has come to be seen as a synonym for blacks, the local ones.
Amid such an environment of social discrimination, a mutual repulsion of the majority of Angolans and some groups of immigrants, is certainly unavoidable.
Shall this then be called racism or xenophobia?
1. TROOPS IN CONGO "GRADUAL WITHDRAWAL" SAYS PRESIDENT
President JosÈ Eduardo dos Santos of Angola recently announced in Luanda that his government has already started a gradual withdrawal of troops from the neigbouring Congo where the situation is now said to be calm.
Dos Santos said that a significant number of troops has pulled out of Congo under a plan agreed between the two countries which, he added, were now negotiating terms for a programme on military training.
According to the president, it was difficult to estimate the costs of keeping troops in Congo but he acknowledged that this had attracted "significant expenditure". Unofficial sources in Luanda say that the Angolan state was spending about US$10 million a month to keep an estimated 1,500 soldiers in Congo where they helped current president Denis Sassou Nguesso topple the democratically-elected Pascal Lissouba.
The United States had expressed its displeasure with this when it declared months ago that it was suspending unilaterally its military cooperation with the Angolan government unless all Angolan troops in Congo were called back home.
2.DOS SANTOS CONCERNED WITH REGIONAL POLITICAL STABILITY
Worried about securing a more effective peace and political stability in the central and southern regions of Africa, the Angolan head of state, JosÈ Eduardo dos Santos recently invited to Luanda his colleagues Nelson Mandela of South Africa, Sassou Nguesso of Congo and Sam Nujoma of Namibia for discussions on "necessary common strategies".
In relation to central Africa, Dos Santos said, there was an urgent need for countries in the region to set up a political regional body for the exchange of viewpoints on how to cooperate towards peace and stability in central Africa. When it came to southern Africa, Dos Santos maintained that neigbouring countries should stick to the UNSC resolutions on Angola to make Jonas Savimbi's UNITA "assume their commitment". The three visiting heads of state all promised more efforts to help Angola achieve peace in what is commonly accepted as crucial to economic development in Africa in general and for the southern sub-region in particular. Particularly, the visit of South Africa's Nelson Mandela was viewed by observers as aiming essentially at settling some misunderstandings that had emerged with repeated reports of Angolan airspace violations by planes from South Africa to supply UNITA guerrillas.
At the end of the visit, Dos Santos thanked Mandela for what he called his "contribution to improving friendship and cooperation," and accepted an invitation to visit South Africa before the end of Mandela's presidential mandate.
3. NEW UN MILITARY COMMANDER
Lt-General Obeng Seth Kofi of Ghana is the new military commander with the UN observer mission to Angola (MONUA), replacing Zimbabwe's Major-General Philip Sibanda who returned home early this month.
Shortly before flying back home, General Sibanda expressed the belief that despite the situation of some tension prevailing in some regions of the country, a peaceful solution in Angola could be found in a wise way by the two Angolan leaders - President JosÈ Eduardo dos Santos and the UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi.
Sibanda said his mandate of more than two years with MONUA witnessed the realization of 80 per cent of the tasks agreed in the 1994 Lusaka peace agreement for Angola and that because of this he was leaving Angola with a feeling of fulfilled duty. 4.UNITA'S ARMY INTACT - DEFENCE MINISTER
The Angolan defence minister, General Pedro Sebastiao, has rejected UNITA's "total demilitarization" as endorsed earlier by the United Nations and said that all compact military units of the movement remain intact.
General Sebasti"o says that UNITA's combative capacity was still active, because during the quartering of troops months ago, Jonas Savimbi's movement presented to the UN thousands of men, women, and children "instead of surrendering its compact military units".
The minister said this recently in Luanda at a gathering of Angolan military attaches to discuss new functional strategies prepared by the government of unity and national reconciliation. Reacting to some criticism of Angola's military intervention in the latest armed conflicts in the ex-Zaire and in Congo-Brazzaville, the minister explained that the move was based merely on the intention to participate in the solution of two conflicts which were endangering regional stability through the support given from such governments to UNITA. This had paved the way to implementing the peace process in Angola, he said.
5. SITUATION AT PRISONS DIFFICULT AND COMPLEX - GOVERNMENT
Pressured by the Angolan parliament to give an explanation on bad conditions reported at Luanda prisons visited earlier by some MPs, the Angolan government recently recognized that conditions at almost all Angolan prisons were worrying.
According to the vice-minister for home affairs, Mr Fernado da Piedade "Nando", the prisons in use in the country were all constructed during the colonial period and that government has done no rehabilitation work in the post-independence period.
"The situation (..) is very difficult and complex," he said adding that in most of the country's 18 provinces prisons were totally destroyed by war and that because of this those operating have an excessive number of inmates. A commission from parliament last month visited the main prisons in Luanda and prepared a report in which it claimed to have come across prisoners held in what it described as "terrible, inhuman conditions". The report said there were many cases of excessive probational periods, huge shortages of food and of medicine as well as a large number of seriously ill prisoners held without any medical care.
In response, Mr Nando said that some efforts were being made but, he added, the results from such efforts were not as quick and evident as everyone desired.
6. MILITARY TENSION ON THE RISE
Military tension in Angola has escalated in the last few weeks, especially in the central, southern and northern regions of the country where armed UNITA men are said to have captured a number of small villages.
Government authorities in the provinces of Benguela, Huambo (centre), Huila (south) and Uige (north) have accused UNITA of launching a military offensive to drive away the newly installed state administrative officials. Ambushes on vehicles of civilians, police and United Nations observers, deliberate raids on many locations and kidnapping of villagers as well as stealing of cattle and the massive deployment of troops in new areas are some of the actions most reported in these provinces.
As a result of such actions, scores of people including civilians and a government municipal administrator have reportedly been killed. Government officials say it is difficult to determine the overall death-toll. However, according to unofficial sources in Benguela province, in only the municipality of Ganda over 1,000 persons are believed to have been killed and an estimated 36,000 displaced from their homes in 15 days.
In most cases,the attacks were confirmed by the United Nations Mission (MONUA), but they have said that MONUA has not yet identified those responsible. For their part, UNITA has always shrugged off reports of any military action saying that all its force had been "totally disarmed".
7. FUNDS FOR EXPO'98 NOT ENOUGH, SAYS CULTURE MINISTER
A few days ahead of the official opening of the world's EXPO'98 fair in Lisbon, the Angolan culture minister, Mrs Ana Maria de Oliveira announced that the US$2.3 million fund her government put aside for expenses for the exhibition were not sufficient.
Mrs Ana de Oliveira told a Luanda news conference that they were now asking sponsors for complementary funds to ensure that the programme initially planned would not be compromised.
8. STATE BUDGET TO BE REVISED AFTER OIL PRICE FALL
With a state budget deeply reliant on revenues from oil sales, Angola is now busy seeking ways to revise its budget plan for 1998 following the recent fall in oil prices on the international market.
The initial document was based on incomes expected from the sale of 700,000 barrels of oil per day at the price of US$18 each barrel which has now come down to about US$12. Officials with the finance ministry in Luanda say that as a result of this, there is a hard currency deficit of US$500 million, almost half the amount predicted for foreign debt refunding.
With the possible revision of the state budget, domestic expenditure is also to be "drastically reduced" to make it compatible with incomes volume and in line with the priorities previously defined by the government. This has prompted fears, especially amongst the political opposition. They have already summoned government to explain to the parliament about the criteria to be taken into account and to make sure that the social programmes, as contrasted to the military ones, are not those to be most affected by such reductions.
From: AfricaNN@inform-bbs.dk (Africa_news Network), AfricaNN@inform-Date: Tue, Subject: ANGOLA NEWS ONLINE#15 Message-ID: <email@example.com>
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