Angola (Vol 18, 2021)

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Jon Schubert
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Parliamentary politics were to a large extent dominated by party manoeuvrings ahead of the 2022 elections that included the retroactive invalidation of the major opposition party’s last congress by the constitutional court. The killing of peaceful protesters in Cafunfo, Lunda-Norte, by the police in January set the tone for increased repression of protests, though citizen contestation was nonetheless on the rise. Foreign affairs were slow-going and the economy remained sluggish, both as an effect of the pandemic, with citizens suffering from further aggravation of costs of living.

See also Angola 2004 | 2005 | 2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016 | 2017 | 2018 | 2019 | 2020 | 2022.

Contents Volume 18, 2021.

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Parliamentary politics were to a large extent dominated by party manoeuvrings ahead of the 2022 elections that included the retroactive invalidation of the major opposition party’s last congress by the constitutional court. The killing of peaceful protesters in Cafunfo, Lunda-Norte, by the police in January set the tone for increased repression of protests, though citizen contestation was nonetheless on the rise. Foreign affairs were slow-going and the economy remained sluggish, both as an effect of the pandemic, with citizens suffering from further aggravation of costs of living.

Domestic Politics

Parliamentary politics were to a large extent dominated by preparation for the 2022 general elections. The ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola, mpla) sought to put in place measures to guarantee yet another electoral victory, with opposition parties trying to organise a common front to dent the mpla’s dominance.

In January, Ernesto Mulato, a parliamentary deputy of the largest opposition party, the National Union for the Total Liberation of Angola (União Nacional para a Libertação Total de Angola, unita), announced his party’s readiness to form an electoral coalition to win the elections, expressing hopes that other opposition parties would join in. This hope concretised in October, when the leaders of unita, the Democratic Bloc (Bloco Democrático, bd), and the project pra-ja Servir Angola (Partido do Renascimento Angolano – Juntos por Angola), the until now unrecognised political formation of Abel Chivukuvuku, announced the formation of a United Patriotic Front (Frente Patriótica Unida, fpu), an ad hoc movement formed in view of the coming elections. This was, however, not a formal coalition, as leaders stressed, to avoid ‘possible constraints’ thrown up by the constitutional court.

Although the second-largest opposition party, the Broad Convergence for the Salvation of Angola – Electoral Coalition (‘Convergência Ampla de Salvação de Angola – Coligação Eleitoral’, casa-ce) declined to join the Front, this gave further visibility and credibility to a strengthened opposition. This new strength was largely thanks to unita president Adalberto Costa Júnior, widely referred to as ‘acj’, who cut a presidential figure, attentive to popular concerns, specific in policy plans, and combative and articulate in public debates. Much as his figure galvanised popular support, he also encountered fierce resistance from the regime. Accordingly, in August, a hitherto unknown unita member lodged a complaint with the constitutional court, claiming that at the time that he had been elected party president, at unita’s congress in November 2019, acj still held dual (Portuguese) nationality, which according to the constitution is illegal for political candidates. unita immediately dismissed the accusation, saying that acj had formally renounced his Portuguese citizenship in time, ahead of the congress, and denounced the complaint as yet another attempt at subversion by the ruling party, part of ‘an insistent and vile campaign’ against its leader.

Indeed, in October, the constitutional court ruled in favour of the plaintiff, saying that acj’s election as party president in 2019 had been unconstitutional and effectively annulling the party congress. As a result, former unita leader Isaías Samakuva stepped in as interim party leader, announcing the holding of a new extraordinary congress to elect the party leadership. On 4 December, acj was then re-elected party leader with more than 96% of member votes. In parallel, the constitutional court dismissed a complaint by mpla member António Venâncio, whose candidacy as party president was rejected, a strong indication of the politicisation of the judiciary.

In fact, the constitutional court itself saw a reshuffle earlier in the year, when the presiding judge Manuel Aragão resigned in August, distancing himself from the court’s ruling on a proposed partial constitutional revision. The proposed revision, Aragão argued, would introduce a hierarchy between the supreme and the constitutional courts, leading, in his words, to the ‘suicide’ of democracy and the rule of law. A few days later, President João Lourenço appointed Laurinda Cardoso as new presiding judge of the constitutional court. Cardoso had been elected to the mpla politburo in 2019, though she laid down her partisan role upon taking up the judgeship. More importantly, since 2020 she had served as secretary of state in the Ministry of Territorial Administration, the ministry in charge of organising elections. As such, her appointment to the constitutional court did not necessarily bode well for possible opposition challenges to election results in the future. Further pre-electoral controversies included a complaint lodged by unita with the provincial government of Luanda (the capital city), demanding the immediate removal of mpla electoral campaign material from the streets, as campaigning was only allowed by law during a specified period of time before the elections.

In September, former president José Eduardo dos Santos returned to Luanda after two years of absence. Commenters noted the lack of a formal state reception when he landed, but saw his return as indicative of a likely reconciliation among opposing factions within the ruling party ahead of the coming mpla congress, with the objective of producing unity and quelling internal dissent ahead of the 2022 elections.

Corruption was still a major concern: in January, activists complained that a year after the #LuandaLeaks broke, only very few of the offshore assets revealed therein had been seized by Angolan and foreign authorities, though in July the attorney-general, Hélder Pitta-Grós, claimed that more than $100 m had been frozen abroad upon request of the Angolan authorities. In May, the Attorney-General’s Office also announced the seizure of $10 m, €700,000, and aoa 800 m, as well as 45 luxury apartments in Luanda, five flats in Lisbon, one in Namibia, and 15 top-range cars; the head of the president’s marching band, Major Pedro Lussaty, was detained. Opposition parties said it was unlikely that a simple major was the mastermind behind this corruption scheme, and said that the speedy arrest only demonstrated again that the government was highly selective in its fight against corruption. As part of the clean-up of the president’s security bureau (of which Lussaty was a part), Lourenço appointed General Francisco Furtado as its new head in June. In December, the security bureau also reverted to the name Casa Militar after a few years under the name of Casa de Segurança. Gen. Furtado announced the extinguishing of ‘phantom’ units of the bureau, which had existed primarily as source of enrichment for high-ranking officers. As part of the reorganisation, the presidential guard (Unidade de Guarda Presidencial, ugp) was also renamed, to the Presidential Defence Unit (Unidade de Defesa Presidencial, udp). There were also repeated allegations that the government had bribed civic activists and opposition party members into cancelling planned anti-government protests, or into defecting to the ruling party. Nonetheless, because of ongoing investigations into the assets of the former president’s daughter, Isabel dos Santos, Angola improved its ranking on the Corruption Perceptions Index, to 136th of 180 countries (which says more about this kind of index than about the persistence of corruption in Angola).

The human rights situation remained concerning. On 30 January, the police opened fire on a group of three to four hundred demonstrators in the municipality of Cafunfo, Lunda-Norte, killing 15 and injuring 19. The police claimed that demonstrators had been armed with automatic rifles, clubs, and machetes, and had been engaged in an ‘act of rebellion’ in view of occupying the local police station and hoisting the flag of the pro-autonomy Lunda-Tchokwe Protectorate Movement (Movimento Protectorado Lunda-Tchokwe, mplt); the organisers of the demonstration claimed that they were looking to dialogue with the government. unita, perhaps somewhat hyperbolically, called what had happened a ‘genocide’, while the Catholic Church condemned this ‘massacre of citizens’; local sources spoke of a ‘climate of terror’ and at least 25 civilians killed.

The national police commander in Luanda, General-Commissioner Paulo de Almeida, affirmed that anyone who tried to invade a police station or attempted an action against the police would be met with a prompt response by security forces, and asked whether the rebels had expected to be welcomed at the police station with kisses. On 3 February, the minister of the interior said that the police had acted in defence of the interests of the country and announced that the leader of the mplt, José Mateus Zecamutchima, would be arrested. He also accused unita deputies who had decided to go to Cafunfo on a fact-finding mission of travelling there illegally and ‘creating confusion’, and said the government would never enter into dialogue with the ‘bandits’ of the autonomy movement. The unita deputies who made it to Cafunfo were then promptly detained by the police, while the president of the national assembly (parliament), mpla deputy Fernando da Piedade Dias dos Santos, denied any responsibility for these mps, given that they had not travelled as part of an authorised multi-party commission. The minister of justice admitted that there might have been human rights violations, though he stressed that demonstrators had infringed the human rights of the police first, before the police had acted, and vowed to open an inquiry. This did not happen; however, a report published in December by the local ngo Observatory for Social Cohesion and Justice spoke of a ‘state crime’ in Cafunfo and said it had indications that over a hundred citizens had been killed in the events.

Zecamutchima himself was arrested and jailed in Luanda; by July, his lawyer complained that his client had been detained without trial for 130 days, well beyond the permitted time for preventative detention. In August, then, the attorney-general published the accusations against Zecamutchima and 40 other members of the Protectorate Movement, with counts of insult to national symbols and criminal association. In August, in the restive northern province of Cabinda, the command of the Cabindan Armed Forces (fac), the armed wing of the banned Cabinda Liberation Front (Frente de Libertação do Enclave de Cabinda, flec), denied earlier reports that the movement had allegedly claimed responsibility for an attack against government troops that killed seven soldiers. fac spokesperson António do Rosário Luciano said that the movement was unilaterally respecting a ceasefire because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and that the earlier claim had been disinformation aimed at tarnishing the image of its brave soldiers. A planned visit by the president to the province was cancelled without further explanation.

One positive note was that at the end of May, President Lourenço recognised that the state’s response to the 27 May 1977 protests/coup attempt had been ‘disproportionate’ and had caused innocent victims. Lourenço spoke of his ‘sincere regrets’ and asked the families of victims for forgiveness in the name of the state. Yet he also seized the opportunity to encourage other actors who participated in political conflicts to do the same, citing a number of unita killings and attacks during the civil war. This was rejected angrily by unita luminary Eugénio Manuvakola, who said the president was not competent to speak about unita’s past, and that while the declaration about the 27 May had been ‘sovereign and sublime’, many other victims of (mpla) political violence needed to be included in official memory and reconciliation processes.

Generally, freedom of association and the right to protest were under threat. An anti-government march in Luanda in February was repressed by the police with tear gas. In July, striking teachers in Uíge pressed charges against the police after their protest march against salary arrears had also been tear-gassed. Also in July, taxi drivers in Cafunfo went on a week-long strike to protest the lack of a viable road between Cafunfo and the municipal seat, Cuango. In August, a small group of protesters was impeded from reaching parliament, where they wanted to demonstrate for transparency in the electoral process. In September, activists in Uíge protesting against unemployment and high costs of living were detained by the police. And in December, the police arrested over 100 peaceful protesters in Cabinda. Support rallies for acj across the country were equally met with force. Nonetheless, throughout the year, small-scale protests against the government and high costs of living took place across the country.

Press freedom was also under pressure. In February, the general director of the weekly newspaper ‘O Crime’, Mariano Brás, was questioned by the police’s Criminal Investigation Service for ‘offences against authority’, for having run a title story naming President Lourenço as the worst figure of 2020. Brás had already been tried for and absolved of ‘outrage to the president’ in 2018; this time, Brás reported, the police asked invasive, personal questions to intimidate him, saying the country was moving backwards towards dictatorship in how the regime sought to silence independent journalism. In April, the Ministry of Social Communication suspended three private tv channels for ‘irregularities’ and ‘legal inconformity’. In September, the director of the independent online portal ‘Portal a Denúncia’, Carlos Alberto, was sentenced to two years in prison and a fine of $160,000 for having a published a report that accused the vice-attorney-general, Mota Liz, of land-grabbing and influence-peddling. Conversely, state-controlled media closed ranks with the regime: when unita organised a demonstration in Luanda to protest the constitutional court’s decision on the constitutionality of its past party congress (see above), the public television (Televisão Pública de Angola, tpa) and the private, regime-affiliated tv Zimbo claimed that their journalists had been subjected to aggression by party members and said that they would stop giving coverage to the party unless unita apologised for the aggression. Both unita and the Angolan Journalists’ Union denied that any aggression had taken place, but it took mediation by the Ministry of Social Communication for the two broadcasters to suspend their boycott. Accordingly, the country was ranked 103rd of 180 countries by Reporters Without Borders – that is, with ‘fragile’ press freedom.

In February, the King of Bailundo, Ekuikui v, was sentenced by the Huambo provincial court to six years’ imprisonment for ‘involuntary homicide’, because in 2017 he had directed a traditional judgment ritual that led to the death of a citizen. The following day, 70 sobas (chiefs) of Ekuikui’s court took to the streets of the town of Bailundo to protest their king’s sentencing. The king was grateful for the show of popular support received. He appealed his sentence with the supreme court and announced a march from Bailundo to Luanda (about 560 km) with members of his court to demand explanations for this violation of his sovereignty. He then cancelled the march, however, and wrote to the president to request an audience instead. Yet at the end of March, the sobas of Bailundo decided to divest Ekuikui v for having failed in his functions, and in May, elected Isaac Francisco Lucas, the first grandson of the late Ekuikui iv, as the new king; he took the regal name of Tchongolola Tchongonga. Commenters did not fail to notice that the new king and his late grandfather were rather closer to the ruling party than the dethroned Ekuikui v.

In April, Tiago Malanda, the secretary-general of the Coordinating Council of Traditional Authorities (Conselho Angolano de Coordenação das Associações das Autoridades Tradicionais, cacaat), bitterly complained that the government only cared about traditional authorities in times of elections, but neglected their important work in communities the rest of the time. And in November, the population of Ucuma, in Huambo province, revolted against their sobas because of a lack of rain, as the king of Chiaca had earlier said that if the government did not accord him a car, there would be no rain. The provincial governor, Loti Nolika, intervened in the municipality, and informed citizens that rain was a ‘natural phenomenon’ and that neighbouring provinces were equally affected.

Foreign Affairs

In January, Angola secured three years of debt relief from its largest creditor, China; the government also announced mutual investment protection agreements with China, Japan, and Mozambique. In June, President Lourenço announced the acquisition of fighter jets and other military equipment from China at a value of $8 5m. Though the number of Chinese living in Angola had fallen from 300,000 to 20,000 owing to the pandemic and the economic crisis, Angola remained China’s third-largest economic partner in Africa, with a trade volume of $21 bn, and a string of agreements were signed to diversify economic exchanges.

In July, Angola took over the rotating presidency of the cplp , promising to prioritise economic and entrepreneurial cooperation during its mandate. At the cplp summit in Luanda, member countries signed an agreement on free movement to facilitate travel and exchanges among its citizens. Angolan citizens were especially enthused to see the Portuguese president, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, out in the streets of the city centre. ‘Tio [Uncle] Celito’, as he was colloquially called, interacted with street vendors and shoeshine boys, prompting Angolans to comment that this was how a president should behave. Portugal remained a key political and economic partner, and the second-largest supplier of imports to Angola, which rose by 9.1% over the previous year. Angolan exports to Portugal, however, dropped by almost 80%, from €389 m to €80.6 m. Rebelo de Sousa was back in Luanda for an economic summit in October, and in November, the two heads of state met again in Praia, Cape Verde, where they both attended the investiture of President José Maria Neves.

Relations with Brazil were still somehow strained over a rift in the Angolan Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, an originally Brazilian church whose Brazilian bishops had in the previous year been accused of siphoning off money to Brazil. At the margins of the cplp summit, Lourenço declined to receive a delegation of parliamentarians from the evangelical faction of the Brazilian parliament, who had travelled to Angola to discuss the situation of the church. He did, however, receive Vice-President Hamilton Mourão, who was representing the covid-stricken Jair Bolsonaro at the summit. A Brazilian travel ban for travellers originating from Africa after the discovery of the omicron variant did not improve matters, as it was perceived as unfounded and selective.

In September, President Lourenço visited the us, where he met with the National Security Advisor in view of relaunching a possible security partnership for the Gulf of Guinea, and was received by President Biden; Angola was also invited to participate in a December online ‘Summit for Democracy’, together with 109 other countries. In July, the State Department sounded the alarm about a rise in trafficking in various Angolan provinces and in December, it announced sanctions against Isabel dos Santos, almost two years after a trove of leaks revealed the extent of her ill-gotten business empire. Two other former high-ranking regime figures, General ‘Dino’ Leopoldino Fragoso do Nascimento and General Manuel Hélder Vieira Dias ‘Kopelipa’ were also targeted by sanctions. This was after a Dutch court ruled in June that Isabel dos Santos’s stake in Portuguese energy company Galp had been acquired illegally and had to be handed back to the Angolan state.

Relations with the uk were temporarily strained when the UK included Angola on its red list because of the omicron variant in November, only to lift restrictions again in December. Relations with France were strong, with Lourenço visiting President Macron in Paris in May to discuss bilateral relations. Spain also sought to boost exchanges with Angola through a visit by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez in April.

In March, President Lourenço travelled to Dubai on a private visit, which was seen by Angolan commentators as indicating a possible reconciliation with former president José Eduardo dos Santos and his daughter Isabel, and potentially reaching an informal agreement on the restitution of some of the dos Santos family’s assets to the Angolan state.

In January, Luanda also hosted a mini-summit of the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region, in which member states discussed the security situation in Central African Republic. Relations with sadc and its member countries were overall good, despite temporary border closures to prevent the spread of the Omicron variant. Angola’s contribution to the sadc military mission in Cabo Delgado, northern Mozambique, however, was limited to 20 soldiers. At the unga in New York in September, Lourenço said that vaccine inequality between Africa and the Global North was shocking and called for patent waivers; he also called for more international intervention against coups in Africa.

Socioeconomic Developments

In January, the imf agreed to disburse a further $480 m as part of its $3.7 bn Extended Fund Facility, lauding Angola’s ‘robust’ response to the double challenge of the pandemic and low oil prices, and the government’s commitment to the agreed austerity programme. Ratings agencies also slightly improved their risk ratings of the Angolan economy. Foreign exchange reserves stood at around $14 bn, covering 11 months of imports. Still, inflation hit 27.03% at year’s end, with consumer prices rising at an average of 2.25% per month. The kwanza was weak, trading at around 650 to $1 for most of the year and only slightly appreciating towards the end of the year. Unemployment was also on the rise, aggravated by the pandemic, and the minister of economy and planning admitted in July that one third of the working-age population was unemployed. Accordingly, when the imf publicly lauded the government’s prudent economic policies and fiscal discipline, this showed a total disconnect from the lived realities of most Angolan citizens, who suffered under the continued crisis.

Angola exported 394.22 million barrels of crude oil at an average price of $70 per barrel, with gross revenues of about $27 bn. As such, oil revenues still made up as much as 80% of government revenue, but with prices low, the national economy remained in crisis. In April, Italian producer Eni announced the discovery of a new oil deposit off the Angolan coast, and said it would invest $7 bn in Angola to diversify the economy, create jobs, and cut carbon emissions. In July, Eni also signed a production-sharing agreement with state oil company Sonangol for another block, further to the south. That same month, Sonangol opened the tender for the relaunch of the construction of the planned Lobito fuel refinery, and in September, José Patrício, a diplomat and former president of bp Angola, took over the post of ceo from Sebastião Gaspar Martins.

Regional imbalances persisted, and natural resource exploration aggravated these instead of contributing to local development. In September, residents of Zaire province complained that 80% of oil revenues were generated in the province, but that there was ‘zero return’ of benefits to its inhabitants, citing lack of jobs, housing projects, hospitals, and higher education facilities. Similarly, in February, the unita mp for the Uíge circuit, Félix Simão Lucas, complained that copper production at the Mavoyo mines did not benefit the population of the Maquela do Zombo municipality, who lacked basic social services, including tarred roads and potable water. In August, the Institute of Geology said that Angola had the potential to open five new diamond mines in the Lunda provinces. The police repeatedly seized caches of diamonds from individuals trying to smuggle them out of the country. In November, an international diamond conference was held in Saurimo to attract further investment in the sector.

To further stimulate and diversify the economy, the government discussed introducing tax cuts for new transforming industries. Overall, however, the economic situation was dire. Still, the three largest private insurance companies reported a 61% increase in profits over the previous year.

In June, the government tasked the Lebanese construction firm and consultancy Dar Al-Handasah to elaborate and implement its 2018–38 ‘National Masterplan for Transport and Road Infrastructures’. The plan foresaw, among others, the creation of an urban transport authority for Luanda, the acquisition of new buses for local transport, the relaunching of maritime transports, and better integration of provincial airports into sub-regional transport routes. The railway sector would see 17 new projects implemented at a planned cost of $16.8 bn to connect the three existing coast-to-interior rail lines through a new coastal railway line, and to rail networks in neighbouring countries. This, however, according to local commentators, was done without a cost – benefit analysis of the three existing rail operations being undertaken. In January, the government handed out the concession for the Luanda port multi-use terminal to Dubai World Ports. The tendering process for the concession to run the port of Lobito was opened in May, and the concessioning process for the Lobito railway corridor in December, although neither process was concluded by year’s end. In July, the unita bench also criticised the government’s long-standing project of building a surface metro in Luanda, saying that the announced start of construction was pure electioneering. unita parliamentary leader Liberty Chiaka said that the project was not a priority among the issues the country was facing, and that the planned $3 bn budget would once again only facilitate the embezzlement of funds from the transport sector. Angolans, especially on social media, unfavourably compared this budget announced by the Ministry of Transports with the €250 m that Portugal was spending on a comparable length of a new metro line there. And also in July, the minister of transport expressed confidence that construction works for the New Luanda International Airport – under construction since 2012 – would ‘imminently’ be concluded, i.e. in the last quarter of 2022, eliciting much ridicule among online commenters. As a result of economic pressure, the national air carrier taag reduced the frequency of local flights, which prompted protests, especially in the exclave province of Cabinda. taag promised to look into it and increase the frequency of its flights from Cabinda again, but passengers complained of high costs, which included Covid-19 tests in private clinics due to the lack of testing facilities at the airport. The unita deputy for Cabinda, Raúl Tati, also noted that the maritime passenger connection, slated to start in 2014, was still non-existent, while the catamarans the government had acquired for this purpose were rotting in Luanda.

In March, a group of activists in Luanda launched the ‘selfie-lixo’ campaign, calling on citizens to take selfies in front of the heaps of uncollected rubbish in the capital city and spreading these on social media. One of the activists said that many were still afraid to participate in actions like these, and clarified that this was an ‘act of citizenship’ and not a political act. Six years after a first social media campaign, rubbish collection was again such a problem that it made a new campaign necessary, to show political leaders the extent of the issue. Yet, predictably, the only political reaction was the dismissal of the governor of Luanda, Joana Lina; she was replaced by Paula de Carvalho.

Owing to the dire economic situation, strikes were a regular occurrence during the year: from civil servants in Benguela in May, to railway workers in Benguela in July, to justice clerks in Luanda in July, to electricity workers in Luanda in August, to medical doctors nationwide in December, all protested against low pay, salary arrears, and poor working conditions. And in July, demonstrators in Luanda accused the government of neglecting the health system by focusing only on anti-Covid-19 measures while deaths from malaria and diarrhoeic illnesses were on the rise.

Generally, the health and education sectors continued to be strained, and not only because of the pandemic. The sanitary cordon around Luanda was lifted at the end of August; however, in September, deaths from Covid-19 overtook deaths from malaria. The omicron variant caused the government to close schools again in December, even though restrictions on restaurants and music concerts were eased. The health minister said in December that 30% of the population had been vaccinated against Covid-19 and that she was confident the entire population would soon be vaccinated. But malaria remained a major issue, especially in the province of Malanje. The who also warned that tuberculosis was on the rise. Already in June, health professionals appealed to the president for urgent intervention, saying that there was a lack of materials, drugs, and personnel across the whole country, with hospitals overcrowded and close to collapsing. In October, the president announced a ‘colossal investment’ in the health sector and the imminent construction of six new hospitals. In December, however, unions and professional associations said that hiring more people was not sufficient, when workers in the sector were facing low salaries and inadequate working conditions.

In April, the teachers’ union announced a strike to demand an adjustment of career progression and salary grids, to which the Ministry of Education responded, in June, by opening new competitions to fill vacant positions. The school year ended a month early, in May, owing to the pandemic, raising concerns among students about their progress, and in August, parents and guardians in Ndalatando, Cuanza-Norte, took to the streets to complain about a lack of study places in primary and secondary schools. Yet when the president visited Ndalatando in September to assess the progress of public policies in the province, Angolans were quick to identify the shoes he was wearing in the press photos as Italian luxury shoes, a pair of which cost $8,200. This, to many citizens, was emblematic of the government’s skewed spending priorities. In October, faced with a wave of protests by university students and lecturers over rising fees, the president said that the budget for higher education would still be raised during this year. Yet student protests in Benguela province that same month were frustrated by the police.

From September onwards, the government announced measures to curb rising prices of basic foodstuffs, including the temporary suspension of import duties on products of the cesta básica, the basic basket of food that indexes consumer prices. Yet in December, citizens complained that prices remained high, and that the impact of measures to reduce prices had not yet been felt, with prices rising by more than one-third in the previous two years. Owing to this situation of generalised suffering, the number of assaults on lorries carrying bagged foodstuffs from ports to warehouses increased drastically, with gangs jumping onto the flatbeds at bends in the road or at red lights, slashing the straps on rice bags, or slashing the bags themselves and collecting the grain from the ground. This also included opportunistic attacks: in September, a flatbed lorry keeled over in a potholed turn-off in Lobito, Benguela province. A video went viral among Angolan internet users that showed how passing cars stopped, with people rushing out to carry off bags of rice. The crowd included teachers, doctors, soldiers in uniform, and other professionals; one well-dressed individual carrying off not one but two 25 kg bags of rice caught the imagination of the Angolan Facebook-sphere, who dubbed him ‘Arroz Man’ (Rice Man), the new superhero of the nation.

In April, reports came in from the remote Cuando Cubango province that following droughts and floods, the population was facing a locust plague, further aggravating the problem of hunger that local communities were facing. Hunger remained a persistent problem, and when state-controlled tv Zimbo reported euphorically on the 30 tonnes of foodstuffs sent to neighbouring Cunene province ‘by initiative of President João Lourenço’, journalist Graça Campos reminded readers of ‘Correio Angolense’ that the mpla had already promised in 2008 that hunger would be eliminated within four years. In July, President Lourenço announced the construction of two dams in Cunene province to help with the problem of drought; meanwhile, Amnesty International reported that thousands of Angolans were fleeing the drought-stricken south into Namibia to escape hunger. Hunger was also held to be the main driver of rising criminality in the city of Lubango, the provincial capital of Huíla, with child mortality on the rise because of malnutrition across the south. Accordingly, when Lourenço told party supporters, in a televised interview in December, that the opposition had always complained about hunger when hunger was, in fact, ‘relative’, he attracted angry reactions. Father Pio Wacussanga, the coordinator of the southern ngo Plataforma Sul, expressed shock, saying that there was absolute hunger in the south of Angola, while the wfp estimated that the worst drought in 40 years would expose more than 1.3 m people to severe hunger.

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