In recent days Angola has been making headlines around the world for allegedly banning Islam. Reports that the traditionally Catholic country had moved to crack down on Muslims and destroy mosques were quickly revealed to be false, with the government officially denying the charges on Tuesday. As the international uproar dissipates, it is worth remembering that though this may have been a false alarm, there is still a real political scandal currently unfolding in Angola.
On Wednesday, demonstrators turned out in the hundreds to attend the funeral of a 28-year-old activist known as Ganga who was allegedly murdered by security forces on Saturday in Luanda. While Angola’s decades-old ruling regime has never displayed any real commitment to freedom of expression, its stiff crackdown on opposition activists in the past week is still notable. It comes, after all, in the wake of the major revelation reported last week by an independent news site that two Angolan soldiers abducted in May of 2012 were tortured and killed in police custody. (It was for the crime of distributing leaflets about these killings that Ganga was targeted by authorities in the first place).
Ganga’s murder has fueled a growing protest movement against the rule of 71-year-old President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, who is one of the world’s longest-serving leaders. And the harsh response by authorities, who deployed helicopters and water cannons to prevent demonstrators from attending Wednesday’s funeral, is only inflaming public anger towards Dos Santos’ MPLA government. With opposition parties like UNITA only vowing to fight on and step up street protests, this movement could materialize into the single greatest threat to Dos Santos’ leadership since the end of Angola’s civil war in 2002.
Though over a decade of stability has opened up Angola to investment, it has not translated into elevating the living standards of its citizens — and certainly has not resulted in any improvement in the country’s rights situation. The prospect of a major boost in the state’s oil production in the next 15 years will just raise the stakes for the MPLA, potentially opening up an unfortunate scenario other resource-rich African states are well-acquainted with. This turbulence won’t get the same kind of coverage as the fake Islam ban, even though it contains the bleak prospect of major instability in Africa’s second-largest oil producer. But it still needs to be flagged as a sociopolitical and economic warning sign.