After almost four decades in power, Angolan President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, aged 73, continues to smash dissent with the keenly energetic fists of a much younger man. Indeed, Angola’s political climate has only become more toxic and paranoid over the course of 2015.
We have witnessed the legal persecution of a journalist who exposed governmental corruption; the massacre of a religious sect that President Dos Santos (and the state-run media) claimed were “a threat to peace and national unity;” the illegal detention of fifteen people – mostly youths and two of which are on a hunger strike – for gathering to read a book on nonviolent resistance; the unleashing of police dogs on peaceful women protesters; the sentencing of an activist to six years in prison for allegedly planning a protest against "poor governance and human rights violations;” and the arrest and so-called “preventive detention" of an online reporter and human rights advocate.
The thunderous nationwide crackdown, which has ominously rolled across the country for months, prompted over 50 international human rights groups to send an open letter to President Dos Santos earlier this year. They urged his government to abide by its own constitution, as well as international laws and norms that pertain to the protection of basic rights and human dignity.
Impunity for violent abuses by security agents is normal under Dos Santos. However, the stepped-up repression this year is cause for particular concern. For too long, the United States and other world powers have turned a blind eye to the ongoing abuses and have cultivated cozy diplomatic relations. Angola is among only two countries in southern Africa to have signed a bilateral trade agreement with the U.S. government. Angola even opened a consular office in Los Angeles this year.
While State Department officials have reportedly raised human rights issues with Angolan leaders, it stands to reason that the overwhelming silence of the U.S. and other countries embolden an abusive regime. That collective silence was somewhat broken last month when the European Parliament issued a blistering statement regarding Angola’s worsening human rights record. But more must be done.
In Angola and across the world, repression often generates more dissent, as well as unacceptable and tragic losses of human life. America should use its diplomatic clout with Angola’s leaders to ensure that political prisoners, like Luaty Beirão and Albano Bingobingo who are currently enduring hunger strikes, are unconditionally released and that the rights of all Angolans are upheld and duly respected.