Tag Archives: President dos Santos

Angola says charges against Vice-President amount to an attack by Portugal


Angola says Portugal decision to charge vice president a ‘serious attack’

LUANDA Angola said on Friday that Portugal’s decision to charge its Vice President Manuel Vicente with corruption and money laundering was a “serious attack” that threatened relations between the two states.

A foreign affairs ministry statement said Angola “considers unfriendly and nonsensical the way the Portuguese authorities conveyed this news which constitutes a serious attack on the Republic of Angola and is likely to disrupt the good relations existing between the two states.”

The prosecutor general’s office in Lisbon last week said it was charging Vicente, who is accused of bribing a magistrate when he was chief executive of state oil company Sonangol.

Vicente is a powerful figure in Angola, Africa’s second-biggest crude producer, but he is no longer seen as a successor to President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who said earlier this month he would not run in this year’s presidential election, calling an end to 38 years as head of state.

The ruling People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) approved Defence Minister Joao Lourenco, 62, as its presidential candidate instead of Vicente, at one time seen as the next in line.

Angola is a former Portuguese colony and has branded previous attempts by Portugal to investigate Vicente as “revenge by the former colonial master” and “neo-colonialism”.

Rights groups and financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund have frequently raised concerns about graft and the squandering of oil revenues in Angola, where most of the population lives in abject poverty.

(Reporting by Herculano Coroado; Writing by Ed Stoddard; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

Angola – Portugal laying corruption charges against V-P Vicente


Angola Vice President Manuel Vicente -AFP

Manuel Vicente was tipped by some to be Angola’s next president

Portuguese state prosecutors are bringing corruption charges against Angola’s vice-president Manuel Vicente.

The attorney-general’s office says that Mr Vicente paid $810,000 (£650,000) in bribes to shut down corruption investigations that he was facing.

The alleged bribes were made to Portugal’s former public prosecutor Orlando Figueira, who also faces charges as part of “Operation Fizz”.

Mr Vicente’s lawyer has denied the allegations, Portuguese media report.

More on this and other African stories

Elite hoard Angola’s new-found wealth

Mr Vicente served as head of Angola’s state oil company Sonangol from 1999 until 2012, a hugely influential position now occupied by the president’s daughter Isabel Dos Santos.

Until news of the corruption scandal emerged last year, he had been strongly tipped as a potential successor to President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who has ruled Angola since 1979.

The original corruption investigation, halted in 2012, focused on the origin of money Mr Vicente used to buy a luxury apartment in Lisbon, local media reported.
Isabel dos Santos now occupies the post long held by Mr Vicente

The vice-president’s lawyer, Rui Patricio, said his client had not been notified of any charges being brought against him, describing the move as a “procedural violation” which “invalidated the legal process”, local media report.

Portuguese prosecutors say they intend to notify the vice-president of the charges via the Angolan authorities.

Angola has branded previous attempts by Portugal to investigate Mr Vicente as “revenge by the former colonial master” and “neo-colonialism”.

Angola’s political and financial elite have in recent years invested hundreds of millions of dollars in Portugal, Angola’s former colonial ruler.

The investments have largely gone into buying up property and Portuguese companies.

Angola and Nigeria are Africa’s biggest oil producers.

Despite its oil wealth most people in Angola survive on less than $2 a day and child mortality rates are among the highest in the world

Critics accuse President Jose Eduardo dos Santos of being increasingly authoritarian.

Angola – the fictional budget

Maka Angola


A much-lauded cartoon by Angola’s premier pictorial satirist Sérgio Piçarra recently depicted the state of the country’s economy, thanks to José Eduardo dos Santos, the country’s President for the past 37 years. In his depiction, Angola has a ‘Real Economy’, and a ‘Virtual Economy’, but there is an even third one, the ‘Fictitious Economy’.

It’s a reflection of a truth: every year the Angolan state budget (Orçamento Geral de Estado) is a mixture of the actual (real), anticipated (virtual) and the ‘only on paper’ (fictitious) spending for the year ahead.

Now insiders say the 2017 Budget strays even further from reality than usual.

One example: Angola expects to spend more than 1.7 billion kwanzas (US $6.5 million) on maintenance of the memorial to Agostinho Neto, the country’s first post-independence president.

The Soviet Union undertook the initial construction of the memorial. However, with the collapse of the USSR, the construction remained incomplete for nearly 30 years. The structure, whose architecture is reminiscent of a rocket, was finally completed in 2012, comprising a mausoleum that contains the remains of President Neto, as well as a small museum displaying some of his effects.

How can the annual maintenance bill for a mausoleum, completed only four years ago, be so high?

Compare the allocation for what locals dub the ‘Rocket’ (“Foguetão” in Portuguese) with the 2017 Budget’s allocation of 826.75 million kwanzas (less than US $5 million) to build four badly-needed and long overdue municipal hospitals for the provinces of Moxico, Cunene, Bie and Kuando Kubango.

How are Angolans meant to interpret the budget priorities? Is one dead Angolan (who happened to be the first post-colonial President and, ironically, was a medical doctor) more important that the health of hundreds of thousands of living Angolans?

When it comes to budgetary matters, Angola is perhaps the only country in the world that has a body called the Commission for the Real Economy. Yes. This actually exists. And answers directly to the President. Wits say this is to remind the president from time to time that there is something other than the virtual and fictional worlds in which he operates.

You see, it is important for the executive branch to be seen to be planning the building of more hospitals, but many of these plans do not get off the drawing board or turnout to be just shoddy health posts. Some may be ‘real’ and construction may indeed get started. Some are ‘virtual’ – the money is allocated but the projects are not yet ready. Others are ‘fictitious’ from the get-go and the money is really intended for other things. A similar situation applies to Education.

The José Eduardo dos Santos University (serving Region V, for 12,000 students from the central highlands and eastern provinces of Huambo, Bié and Moxico) gets an allocation of nearly two billion kwanzas (US $11.9 million), while the universities serving other regions (particularly those of the North and East) are under-funded. Kimpa Vita (Region VII, for 9,000 students from Uige and Kwanza Norte) is only worth some 900 million kwanzas (US $5.4 million) and Lueji A’Nkonde (Region IV, for 10,000 students from Lunda Norte, Lunda Sul and Malanje) gets even less: about 700 million kwanzas (US $4 million.

From which we can conclude the following: it is worth more to preserve the memory of a former President than to educate Angolan youth – unless they happen to be youth studying at a university named after the current President.

Public sector post-secondary education in Angola can also be classified under the ‘Real’, ‘Fictitious’ and ‘Virtual’ headings. On the one hand you have the ‘real’ education given to the children of the MPLA élite who almost all are funded to study abroad.

Their qualifications are deemed superior to any awarded in Angola (the ‘fictitious’ kind, given the poor standard of teaching and low marks required to gain a degree). That was certainly the official justification given for the nepotistic appointment of the President’s daughter Isabel dos Santos to run the state oil company, Sonangol: that her engineering degree from the University of London somehow made her more qualified.

Then there is the ‘virtual’ kind, whereby some dunce who could only scrape a diploma transforms it into a job that requires degree-level education on the basis of having a ‘sponsor’ within the ruling party machine.

Delivering an authentically high-quality post-secondary education is inimical to the fortunes of the ruling elite, who resent the questioning of their motives (or the origins of their fabulous fortunes) by enquiring minds. Some say the regime can barely scrape together enough brain cells to keep up appearances (the fiction) that they are working on behalf of the Angolan people (virtual reality) rather than to line their own pockets (the real picture).

There is a further possible interpretation: that no-one could be bothered to do the sums to come up with a rational state budget and the whole thing was cobbled together randomly – “à toa” as they say in Angola.

In general, the Angolan Budget has always been a mixture of fact and fiction, a reflection of the contempt shown by the Dos Santos Administration for the Angolan people when it comes to rendering financial accounts.

Even if the figures it contained were properly calculated, even if the capital projects were accurately estimated and certain to be put into effect, the Budget is nothing more than a virtual document, intended to convey high-minded plans while covering up embezzlement on a grand scale by the political elite.

It’s not just a scandal, it’s an insult to the intelligence of the Angolan people – but then that’s just one more virtual insult in 37 years of a government that in reality acts as a kleptocracy while maintaining the fiction of being a functioning democracy.

Angola – currency falls and economy in crisis as oil price plummets

Daily Nation

Angola economy in crisis as oil price sinks currency

The drop in the price of crude oil has plunged the economy of Africa’s second largest crude producer into a crisis.

This file photo taken on January 26, 2010 shows a woman carrying a bucket of fruits on her head in downtown Luanda. PHOTO | FILE | AFP

This file photo taken on January 26, 2010 shows a woman carrying a bucket of fruits on her head in downtown Luanda. PHOTO | FILE | AFP  


Sitting under an umbrella in the heat of Angola’s capital Luanda, a vendor holds a makeshift currency exchange board on which is scribbled “335 kwanzas: $1” — more than double the official rate of 155 kwanzas.

The drop in the price of crude oil to its lowest level in more than a decade has not only pushed Angola’s currency to record lows, it has plunged the economy of Africa’s second largest crude producer into a crisis.

Despite the country’s oil and diamond resources, Angola suffers endemic poverty, with more than a third of the population of around 24 million living below the poverty line, according to the United Nations.

Fallout from the oil price crunch is inflicting even more pain on the already struggling poor, and risks threatening the stability of the country.

The kwanza currency lost 35 per cent of its value against the dollar last year and Angolans are rushing to turn their local savings into more stable units, yet banks are low on foreign exchange.

The black market is their only hope for now.

“There is a strong demand for the dollar,” said a young black marketeer on condition of anonymity.

The rate “can’t continue to go up like this, otherwise it becomes dangerous, people are fed up”, he said.

In December, central bank governor Jose Pedro de Morais tried to calm nerves, saying there was “no dollar crisis in the country”.

“There is a balance of payment deficit and there are fewer foreign resources, but the 2016 national budget will try to address this temporary difficulty,” he said.

Shortly after his remarks, the bank devalued the currency by 15 per cent against the dollar.

The devaluation did not come as a surprise “given the price of oil, the pressure on the foreign exchange reserves and government revenue below government’s budget,” said an internal note from a regional bank.

“A weaker currency is needed to slow imports demand and help exports.”


Tino Mario Salomao is a businessman who imports mobile phone handsets and other telecommunication products for retail sale in his shop in Luanda.

“We have reached a stage where we cannot travel anymore. At the rate it is going, we will soon run out of stock,” said the 41-year old, who imports from China, India and Dubai.

On January 19, Altantico bank and South African Standard Bank imposed limits on foreign purchases by Angolans.

“Prices of some goods have multiplied four or fivefold,” said Salomao.

“A year ago you could still find a phone for $50 or 5,000 kwanza.

“Now the same phone costs between 15,000 and 17,000 kwanza — a price too high for the majority.

“Many large companies have pulled down their shutters. How can one even pay salaries for 10 or 20 workers?” said Salomao.

“For us who have three workers, we will survive… just for now.”

At Africampos food market, hawker Isabel Paiva, 36, says she is struggling to sell her wares and to scrape together enough to feed her family of four children.

Despite its mineral wealth, Angola has one of the world’s highest infant mortality rates at 167 deaths per 1,000 births, according to the latest UN report.

In 60 per cent of these cases, the deaths are caused by malnutrition, an alarming statistic that may worsen in coming months given the stress on Angola’s economy.

Angola – Rafael Marques de Morais writes a courageous letter to Dos Santos

Maka Angola

The Real Danger: Letter to President José Eduardo dos Santos

Mr President José Eduardo dos Santos:

Since we are unlikely to meet, I have decided to attempt a conversation with you by this medium. I hope you respond to me. It is time to talk.

Although I am sharply critical of how you govern, and of the suffering this causes the majority of the Angolan people, I admire you for staying in power so stoically; and, I understand very well your anxiety when faced with the prospect of losing power.

Father António Vieira wrote: “Pulvis es, tu in pulverem reverteris”. Dust you are, and to dust you shall return. You are dust. That is the present. To dust you shall return. That is the future. That is the future that you are trying to avoid at any cost, and which results in the anxiety that I mentioned.

For a while during my childhood, you cultivated a fear of yourself. In those days I knew when you, Mr President, had scheduled an outing from your official residence at the beach resort of Futungo de Belas. On these occasions, around midnight or later, I would feel the house trembling and my mother, in alarm, would come to take me from my bedroom into the yard. The presidential guard moved a Soviet tank [it could have been a T-54/55], on a tank transporter, to Rua da Liberdade (Freedom Street) where my mother lives to this day. This monstrosity would then manoeuver to position itself in the short, narrow lane alongside the wall of two of the rooms of the house. The structure was extremely fragile and the bricks corroded by salt, as the house is by the Samba beach. If the tank’s manoeuver had been just a few centimetres off target, it would have been goodbye forever to my family. The president’s outing from the palace forced us to sleep in the yard until the tank was taken away. My childhood was marked by this steel pachyderm, which with a slight gesture, could have destroyed our house and family, even if it had not intended to.

I didn’t like you, because of the way our lives were put at risk every time you left your palace. I would pray that you would not have to go out. I was a churchgoer, Sir.

In 1992 I had the privilege to go, for the first time, to your birthday party at Futungo de Belas. I had high expectations. I would rub shoulders with the leaders of my country. When you left the party, I saw a minister giving instructions for an arrangement of lobsters to be taken to his car, a general purloining an expensive bottle of whisky, the country’s rulers and their hangers-on looting the leftovers of the banquet. At the time, I saw this as an act of generosity on your part. But I left Futungo de Belas with a very bad impression of the people who surrounded you and who continue to surround you in government. If they could not even resist taking food and drinks from the palace, how then could public assets be entrusted to their care? From that point on, I had no more illusions about you or about your henchmen.

I have described these two episodes, not to blame you, but as a cry from the heart of someone who, along with millions of Angolan citizens, has had more negative than positive experiences of the way in which you exercise power.

I have often been puzzled by the way in which you feel offended or threatened by citizens’ everyday expressions of discontent, and have wondered what offence or discontent I should feel in response to what I have suffered at the hands of your regime. I wonder what goes through the heads of millions of my fellow citizens, who share my experiences or worse. Only the right to free expression will save us from the danger of bottled up grievances turning into feelings of hatred, frustration and vengeance.

The respect that you deserve is proportionate to the respect that you have for those whom you rule and for the common interests that you share with them. As a trained engineer, Mr President, you will be familiar with Newton’s Third Law: “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

In 1999, when you ordered that I be put in jail because you had taken offence at what I had written calling you a dictator and corrupt, I began to understand you better: you are a powerful, but insecure man. I appreciated the gesture of your secretary who visited me to enquire about my state of health and wellbeing while I was in prison. Despite the horrors that I endured there, that visit left me with at least one more positive memory of my time in detention.  The then director of the Viana Penitentiary, Francisco Ningosso, sent a greeting card to my cell, inviting me to a meeting under a tree on the premises, and there we had long conversations. These discussions were interesting. At the same time, I had the privilege of being able to document and report on human rights violations inside the prison.

This time, Mr President, do not send your secretary to enquire about the health of the young activists who are currently in prison. The attorney general of the Republic, General João Maria de Sousa, took it upon himself as guardian of law and order to announce publicly that the activists were preparing a coup d’état against you. As a matter of fact, 13 of the protesters were arrested “red-handed” while reading and discussing a book on non-violent resistance. In arresting them, General João Maria de Sousa destroyed what little credibility his office still had. General João Maria de Sousa is a very bad man. He is not fit to serve you. Discrediting the judicial system does not serve your security.

Mr President, take good note. The judicial system is what will be able to protect you against barbarity if there is ever a regime change. The judicial system is the fine line that separates civilization from savagery. Do not compromise the judicial system. Do not compromise civilization and law.

You must have heard the mutterings among your loyal operatives in the intelligence service. They believe that it is counterproductive to use the information that they have gathered on protesters to make such a serious accusation for your own political and judicial purposes.

I ask you, Mr President, to consider my request to order the unconditional release of the following citizens: Afonso Matias “Mbanza Hamza”, Albano Bingobingo, Arante Kivuvu, Benedito Jeremias, Domingos da Cruz,Fernando Tomás “Nicola Radical”, Hitler Jessia Chiconda “Samusuku”, Inocêncio Brito “Drux”, José Hata “Cheik Hata”, Luaty Beirão, Nelson Dibango, Nito Alves, Nuno Álvaro Dala, Osvaldo Caholo, Sedrick de Carvalho and Captain Zenóbio Zumba.

To free these citizens would be an act of political courage and constitutional morality. As the highest judge in the land, you must retain the moral high ground to correct mistakes made by institutions that could damage the rule of law and harm the relationship between state and society.

Sovereignty resides in decisions of exception, not in bureaucratic conformity.

Sovereignty is the affirmation of the people’s will through the bodies of state.

Mr President, surprise the nation. Surprise us positively, and be recognised for this.

In return for your statesmanlike gesture in defence of the constitution, I will offer you my modest thanks and will also have the honour to invite you to a vegetarian lunch. I guarantee that I am a good cook and a good raconteur to keep you entertained over lunch.

Mr President, protect yourself by affirming the ethics of the Constitution. Take heed of your critics, who are those who bear you the least ill will.

Angolans resent growing reliance on China


A woman walks past a Chinese construction site in Lubango, Angola,

When a halving of oil prices left a gaping hole in Angola’s finances this year, it became clear sub-Saharan Africa’s third largest economy needed help fast – and President Jose Eduardo dos Santos knew exactly where to turn.

But the multi-billion dollar loans he signed with China last month have angered Angolans who say they have been left behind as politicians and China share the spoils and Africa’s second-largest oil producer becomes ever more reliant on Beijing.

China has lent Angola around $20 billion since a 27-year civil war ended in 2002, according to Reuters estimates.

Repayments are often paid with oil or funds go directly to Chinese construction firms that have built roads, hospitals, houses and railways across the southern African country.

This means, however, dollars don’t end up entering the real economy, increasing costs for ordinary Angolans.

“I think the president humiliates Angolans,” 35-year-old cook Marisa told Reuters as she bartered with a street trader over peanuts and bananas in the capital. “The agreements with China are a benefit for them and the president and not for us.”

Police visibility has increased in the streets of Luanda in response to public suspicion and dissent over how much the government would concede to Chinese interests in its bid to revive an economy hit by low crude prices.

More than a dozen people were arrested on June 20 for allegedly planning protests threatening “order and public security” in response to dos Santos’ China trip.

FLEC, a militant group that wants independence of the northern oil-rich exclave of Cabinda, demanded China repatriate all its citizens from the region within two months or risk being “severely punished”.

Angola has the best-funded military in sub-Saharan Africa and dissent is usually quelled quickly and ruthlessly, making any significant public backlash against the government unlikely, security experts say.


Apparently aware of unease at home, dos Santos, a Soviet-educated petroleum engineer who has been in charge for 36 years, kept the details of the latest deals secret and stressed the “cooperation” and “mutual benefits” from his Beijing visit.

Chinese Premier Xi Jinping hinted at a much more lopsided relationship, saying he had agreed to “assist” Angola, China’s largest supplier of crude after Saudi Arabia.

It is almost impossible to miss Beijing’s influence in Angola, from construction site signs in Chinese script to expensive Chinese restaurants and seedy “Asian-only” massage parlours in the capital’s alleyways.

Despite reservations from jobless Angolans, economists see China’s dominant role in Angola as necessary.

Angola, which relies on oil sales for 95 percent of foreign exchange revenues, slashed a third off its budget and said it would need to borrow $25 billion this year – $15 billion domestically and the rest abroad.

“Lower oil prices have put Angola in a bit of a pickle and the most obvious place to turn is China,” said Cobus de Hart, an analyst at NKC African Economics. “If China can help Angola get out of the fiscal hole then it could be a positive step.”

Despite this, many Angolans are distrustful of the relationship, pointing to the millions who still live on less than $2 a day and World Bank studies that rank the country 169 out of 175 countries in terms of income equality.

Beijing’s role in Africa has often been criticised by Western governments and some African leaders who call it neo-colonial – taking resources in return for infrastructure that supports China’s construction industry.


There are around 50 Chinese state companies and 400 private companies operating in Angola. They are supposed to use 30 percent Angolan labour but industry sources say this is rarely observed and Angolans tend to get the lowliest positions.

“Always the Chinese will be the master and the Angolan the helper,” said Paulo Nascimento, a 29-year-old Luanda taxi driver. “This is our country. We should be in charge.”

Chinese firms strongly deny accusations of exploitation, arguing that they have done more to rebuild Angola since the war than Western critics sitting on the sidelines.

“I think Angola does not have too much money so China is a very good choice for them,” Pascal Wang, 36, marketing manager at Chinese telcom company ZTE, told Reuters. “We don´t come here just to do business. We want to help Angolans.”

With the exception of investment from former colonial power Portugal and offshore oil drilling by U.S. and European oil majors, Western governments, donors and investors have focused their attention elsewhere in Africa.

There are signs this may be changing.

France‘s AccorHotels, the world’s fourth-largest hotelier, sealed a deal last week with Angolan insurance and investment company AAA Activos to open 50 hotels by 2017. The deal coincided with a visit to Luanda by French President Francois Hollande.

The World Bank, meanwhile, agreed to $650 million in financial support this month, the first funding from the Washington-based lender since 2010.

Until the benefits of investment reach the masses rather than the elite, resentment against foreign investors and the government is likely to fester.

“We have always been slaves,” Nascimento said. “We are lost in the world. We are the leftovers.”

Angola – the importance of truth from the left about the MPLA

The Guardian

Angola’s brutal history, and the MPLA’s role in it, is a truth that we must tell  by Lara Pawson

To ignore what happened to Angolans in the 1970s, in the name of leftwing discipline and unity, is a dangerous betrayal
CD2 Angola Conflict/Popperfoto 2

Soldiers of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola in December 1975. ‘I was convinced that the MPLA was a radical socialist movement that epitomised the heroism of African liberation’. Photograph: Popperfoto/UPH

Over the centuries Europeans of various strains have tried to fulfil their fantasies in Africa. I should know because I’m one of them. Not that I have ever nursed urges to convert and conquer, trade and enslave, or paternalise, dominate and discriminate. But when I set off to Angola at the end of the summer of 1998 I was just one of many who had hoped to contribute to a socialist project on the continent.

I was convinced that, at its core, the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) was a radical socialist movement that epitomised the heroism of African liberation. I had been inspired by the writings of Basil Davidson and other British Marxists who left me in no doubt about the integrity of the MPLA under Agostinho Neto, the first president of independent Angola. Unlike its CIA-backed rivals – the National Front for the Liberation of Angola, and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita), the latter having allied with South Africa’s white minority regime for the best part of two decades – I believed that the MPLA had fought for the freedom of all Angolan people regardless of their ethnic origin, place of birth or skin colour.

That said, I also knew that after the fall of the Berlin Wall the MPLA had made a political U-turn. Abandoning Marxism and Leninism, it had adopted a market-driven economics that morphed rapidly into crony capitalism. The power of the one-party state, which had endured since 1975 until flawed elections in 1992, was now concentrated in President José Eduardo dos Santos. Nevertheless, like many on the left my loathing was focused so intensely on Unita that it was easy to view the MPLA as little more than a cold war victim of US foreign policy.

When I arrived in Luanda, the MPLA had long been – and still is – a member of the Socialist International, an organisation that claims to pursue “progressive politics for a fairer world”. I remember my pleasure on hearing politicians and other members of the urban elite calling each other camarada (comrade). Even the party rhetoric sounded remarkably similar to that of the revolutionary years of the 1970s. But a few months into my new job, when the country’s “fourth war” finally erupted, I could no longer hide from the blindingly obvious: if revolutionary politicians were what I was after, I was at least 20 years too late.

In fact, this was also wrong. I began to discover that the idea of a 1970s MPLA heyday was just as misguided. An Angolan colleague told me about 27 May 1977, the day an MPLA faction rose up against the leadership, and the honeymoon of revolution crashed to a halt. Some called it an attempted coup, but my colleague insisted it was a demonstration that was met with a brutal overreaction.

Whichever story you believe, six senior members of the MPLA were killed that day by supporters of the uprising. In response, President Neto, the politburo and the state media made many highly inflammatory statements that incited extraordinary revenge. In the weeks and months that followed, thousands of people – possibly tens of thousands – were killed. Some of the executions were overseen by Cuban troops sent to Angola by Fidel Castro to repel a South African invasion.

I found this knowledge profoundly challenging. It turned everything I thought I knew on its head, especially when I began to understand that the 1977 purge cemented a culture of fear that has shaped a generation. How, I asked myself, had this appalling event remained so little known outside Angola?

The question began to obsess me. Back in London several years later, I started searching through my book collection for references to what Angolans refer to as the vinte e sete (the 27th). I found the odd sentence here and there; in one book, a few paragraphs. But what rattled me was that Angola-watchers on the left – intellectuals whom I admired – all seemed to have turned a blind eye to the thousands of killings. It was as if their commitment to the party was so deep that, in the end, they heard only the voices of its leaders and fell deaf to the calls from below.

Often I felt torn between my socialist beliefs and the search for truth. At one stage I became so disillusioned with the politics of revolution that I came close to giving up – on everything. But the words of an old friend, a man who was imprisoned and tortured by the MPLA in the 1970s, kept me going. “We cannot be afraid,” he said. “We must write what we see and what we feel. Don’t worry about what people will say … just get it down.”

The dilemma of whether to tell the truth or keep stumm is hardly new. The European left has a history of toeing the party line – it is called discipline and unity – in the pursuit of freedom, equality and justice. The Spanish civil war is an obvious reference here, exemplified by George Orwell’s account of his personal experiences with the Spanish communists in Homage to Catalonia. Let’s not forget that Victor Gollancz, Orwell’s publisher, refused to print it, “believing, as did many people on the left, that everything should be sacrificed in order to preserve a common front against the rise of fascism“. Over the course of the past century the “sacrificed” range from the millions of victims of Stalin’s brutality, via Cuban writers tiring of dictatorship, to female comrades in the Socialist Workers party seeking justice for alleged sexual abuse.

I know there will be some people who will insist, as the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze has, that “arguments from one’s own privileged experience are bad and reactionary arguments”. But in considering the case of Angola and the MPLA’s record of brutality, it seems to me that privileging ideological theory over people’s lived experiences, which are almost always contradictory, complicated and fuzzy, is far more dangerous. What many of us on the left have failed to see in Angola is that, for the majority, politics has always been about far more than merely a battle with the right. Guardian