Free speech boosted in Angola
Johannesburg – Angola received a boost to its free speech from the Portuguese courts, which refused to allow Angolan generals to stop the publication of a book exposing corruption and human rights abuses in the southern African country’s lucrative diamond mines.
Portuguese prosecutors this week threw out a libel suit against a book that alleges Angolan generals own a diamond company and a security firm that carried out killings and the torture of workers toiling in the southern African nation’s mines.
The dismissal of the challenge, brought against Angolan writer Rafael Marques and his publisher over his book ‘Blood Diamonds: Corruption and Torture in Angola’, represents a free-speech victory for a nation where the government has long been accused of corruption and mismanagement of oil and diamond riches.
While the challenge played out in Portugal, Angola’s former colonial ruler, Marques said the court case could have bankrupted and effectively silenced him while frightening others investigating government corruption.
“Their belief was being very rich and very powerful, especially within the Portuguese economy where they have made massive investment, they would have create the situation whereby I would not be able to afford a lawyer to defend myself,” the author told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “They thought by putting me in a situation of poverty, I would not have been able to afford the cost of justice.”
Mining company Sociedade Mineira do Cuango and security firm Teleservice-Sociedade de de Telecomunicacoes, Seguranca e Servicos filed the complaint against Marques and publisher Tinta-da-China after the book was published.
The book linked the generals to the companies, which Marques allege carried out about 100 killings and tortured hundreds of others with the aid of soldiers and weapons supplied by military armouries.
On Monday, the Lisbon Attorney General’s office issued a ruling that said it decided the book falls within the scope of legitimate use of a legal right - freedom of expression and information - which is constitutionally guaranteed.
The prosecutor said since there was no public crime committed in its view, it wouldn’t bring charges against Marques and his publisher.
Corruption and mismanagement
Officials with the two companies could not be immediately reached by The Associated Press.
President Jose Eduardo dos Santos’ government is accused of corruption and mismanagement of oil and diamond riches. His party is the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, or MPLA, which won the August election.
Angola was a Cold War battlefield for 27 years, with Cuban soldiers and Soviet money supporting dos Santos’ MPLA and South Africa and the United States backing Unita. Half a million people died in the war, more than 4 million - a third of the population - were displaced and much infrastructure was destroyed.
Since the war ended in 2002, Angola has dominated the list of the world’s fastest growing economies and is sub-Saharan Africa’s second-largest oil producer, after Nigeria. Oil-backed credit lines from China - Angola is China’s number one oil supplier and its second biggest importer is the United States - have fuelled a building boom of houses, hospitals, schools, roads and bridges.
Average life expectancy has gone up from 45 in 2002 to 51 in 2011.
But 87 percent of urban Angolans live in shanty towns, often with no access to clean water, according to Unicef, and more than a third of Angolans live below the poverty line.
Meanwhile, human rights activists accuse government and military officials of looting their country’s oil and diamond wealth.
Anti-corruption activists in Luanda have accused the Commander-General of the Angolan National Police Service of using his company to broker a contract to supply 95 000 firearms to the police.
According to anti-corruption website Maka Angola, Commissioner Ambrósio de Lemos Freire dos Santos, as the procurement authority of the Angolan police, awarded his own company, R & AB, the right to broker a deal for police firearms from Taurus in August 2009. Taurus sold 2 600 pistols (including PT917 and PT909 9 mm handguns) to the Angolan National Police for US$825 000. However, R & AB is alleged to have invoiced the police for US$1,5 million.
Maka Angola activists charge that by bidding and awarding a national tender to R & AB, a company in which he is a 50% shareholder, dos Santos violated the country’s Law of Public Probity.
Recently, the German Chancellor’s Personal Representative for Africa, Gunter Nooke, has said his country’s investments in Angola were being affected by bureaucracy and corruption.
“It is important to fight corruption because German businessmen who come to Luanda end up being frustrated by the bureaucracy involved,” Nooke said.
He said that Germany was keen to help Angola overcome the big challenges it faces in reconstruction.
Nooke was speaking to journalists in Luanda after meeting the country´s main opposition party leader, Isaias Samakuva.
Meanwhile, Angola and Portugal are set to hold a high-level bilateral summit in Luanda later this year to deepen their economic cooperation, an official has said.
Technology and skills transfer and increased reconstruction of Angola by Portuguese companies would be the main issues during the summit planned for the second half of the year. The southern African nation is boosting its investments in its former colonial power, which has been caught up in the Eurozone debt crisis.
Angola already has large investments in Portugal’s private sector.
Angola’s minister of Foreign Affairs Georges Chikoti last week said the summit, that would involve both countries’ leaders, would be an opportunity to review their co-operation.
Chikoti said Portugal was willing to train Angolan teachers.
He also pointed out that more jobs would be created if Portugal set up construction companies in Angola, which was rebuilding after a 27-year civil war.