July 29, 2011 | 1500 GMT
FRANCISCO LEONG/AFP/Getty Images
A billboard displaying Angolan President and Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola leader Jose Eduardo dos Santos
SummaryA relatively new social activist group in Angola is calling for a protest in the capital Aug. 26, a STRATFOR source said. As frustrations about government corruption and socio-economic injustice builds, the long-time ruling party can be expected to use its wealth from the country’s natural resources and its security forces to keep the opposition reined in. However, the government recognizes that the public discontent could eventually enliven an opposition movement that poses a real threat.
AnalysisThe Revolutionary Movement for Social Intervention (MRIS), a relatively new social activist group in Angola, is calling for a protest in Luanda on Aug. 26, according to a STRATFOR source. The group — not a political party but a movement to express socio-economic and political discontent — held three separate protests in March, April and May. Although the demonstrations drew fewer than 100 people in each instance, the Angolan government is not taking the movement’s actions lightly.
Angola’s ruling party, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), has always been extremely vigilant about potential threats, whether foreign or domestic. Though it is the most powerful and popular political party in the country, the MPLA, which first assumed power in 1975 when the country gained independence from Portugal, has not dropped its guard since the end of Angola’s civil war in 2002. It will allow some social dissent, at a low level and under tight surveillance, but it has no qualms about using its financial and security resources to quell anti-government sentiment. The MPLA will do its best to prevent large numbers of people from joining the next MRIS protest and will not hesitate to use monetary incentives or physical force to keep the MRIS from threatening its position.
Causes of Public Discontent
The MPLA’s elite, particularly Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos and his inner circle, benefit greatly from being in power. Not only does the MPLA control the country, but it also works to ensure it has undisputed political control over the country’s natural resources, which include vast crude oil fields, diamonds and various minerals. The MPLA government has used this tremendous wealth for personal gain. It has also used its wealth as a tool to win support from lawmakers through patronage and to maintain the loyalty of civil society members.
MPLA opponents and advocates of socio-economic justice within civil society are drawing their inspiration from the early 2011 uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East, and they are looking to similarly express their grievances. Corruption is perceived to be extensive in Angola. While revenues from crude oil (of which the country pumps upward of 2 million barrels per day) translates to a per capita gross domestic product of more than $8,000 per year, widespread economic inequity means that poverty is extensive, and the capital of Luanda, where a full one-third of Angola’s population lives, has been rated as the most expensive city in the world to live.
Much of Angola’s wealth is controlled by MPLA elite and their supporters in the armed forces, parliament and top positions within civil society, but little has trickled down to the general population. The extreme financial disparity has led to popular criticism over corruption and poor (if not the absence of) governance and infrastructure, which in turn has contributed to anti-government protests — circumstances the government fully recognizes.
Rise of Activist Groups
Since March, a grassroots-level discourse has emerged among segments of civil society (which includes representatives from the media and socio-economic justice advocates) in Luanda about the level of corruption in the Angolan government. The MPLA has not shied away from this grassroots discourse; rather, it has injected itself into the discussion as a means of controlling it. The MPLA recognizes that there are significant tensions regarding the socio-economic plight of most Angolans, but at the same time, most Angolans are not organized — perhaps due to fear or “conflict fatigue” — so these tensions have not turned into widespread unrest. Officials from the MPLA have held consultations on public accountability and have publicized events, such as the opening of government-funded road infrastructure projects, to dispel criticisms. Several officials have been arrested, but so far the anti-corruption campaign is largely political theater and a means for some government officials to attack their opponents.
The low-level anti-government sentiment has given rise to two activist groups seeking to channel the as yet immobilized discourse: the MRIS and the Resistencia Autoctona Angolana para a Mudanca (RAAM), or the Angolan Autochthon Resistance for Change. While MRIS has held and is organizing nonviolent anti-government demonstrations, RAAM is calling for political change through violent means. RAAM’s membership is believed to be small and is drawn from several Angolan tribes as well as disenfranchised members of the MPLA and other political parties. It believes the MPLA at heart will not change except when violently forced to do so. Although RAAM is still new and at this point is unable to pose a credible threat to the government, the desire to bring about a change in government by force strikes at the heart of the MPLA’s fears.
Since it assumed power, the MPLA has never taken a potential threat to its position lightly. Domestic unrest is a particular concern for the regime, since Angola’s protracted civil war ended just nine years ago. The MPLA maintains a robust internal security force — the army, paramilitary police and a large presidential guard, as well as internal and external intelligence agencies — to quash potential threats, and it is no qualms about using its wealth to hire informants to infiltrate opposition groups. The government’s concerns are also heightened because the protests come as the MPLA is gearing up for Angola’s upcoming presidential election, scheduled for some time in 2012.
The MPLA mobilized against the previous MRIS protests by organizing counter-protests and deploying security forces to break up the demonstrations. It is a safe assumption that the government has also employed security agents to infiltrate the MRIS to find out as much as possible about the movement and its plans. It is also likely investigating RAAM and working to keep it from becoming a true threat.
The MPLA can use its wealth and security forces to deflect many concerns and potential threats, but government leaders are aware of the public sentiment against government waste and corruption. The MPLA knows this discontent could eventually fuel an opposition movement that poses a credible threat.
© Copyright 2011 Stratfor. All rights reserved.
YOU ARE HERE
Overtime in Soccer City
Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images
By EVE FAIRBANKS
Published: July 22, 2011
On the second Sunday in July, exactly one year after the final game of the 2010 World Cup was played here at Johannesburg’s Soccer City stadium, the cappuccino machine inside the V.I.P. suite was firing up. A bottle of wine cooled in the fridge across the bar. In the stadium’s bathrooms, fresh liners were tucked into the wastebaskets and the soap dispensers were refilled to the brim, as if the 90,000 fans that flooded the venue in 2010 might reappear at any moment. Ephraim Nong, a stadium tour guide, showed me the pitch from the V.I.P. viewing deck. It is maintained religiously, he said: cut three times a week, the grass in shadow artificially sunned using giant lamps hung on wheeled racks.
“When was the last event here?” I asked.
“When was our last event?” Nong dropped his head. “Yeah, man, let me see. I think it was May.”
Outside the stadium, along Golden Highway, the stoplights were down, literally: some of them lay on the ground, while others dangled from their stalks like pay-phone receivers off the hook. On the road that led to the corrugated iron shacks of Soweto, a billboard declared: “1 Ball Can Change It All!”
It advertised the lottery, but it also summed up South Africa’s hopes for the World Cup. Many South Africans imagined that hosting the tournament would create big, visible benefits, turning the country decidedly, glamorously first world — normally the work of generations — nearly overnight. Dawie Roodt, a South African economist, forecast a “massive inflow” of foreign capital and a “massive increase” in tourism, but “I was completely wrong,” he said. There are some new roads, but one year later, South Africa is a similar country, still struggling with inequality and a fragile infrastructure. The day before my visit, in a neighborhood across Golden Highway, there was an electricity blackout, Nong told me. Residents protested bitterly. “There were tires in the road.”
In a recent poll, 70 percent of South Africans said they now believe the World Cup actually brought the country economic disadvantages. The 10 host stadiums are particular sources of dispute. When they were being built or refurbished, rock concerts and glammed-up local soccer games were cited as the potential return on the government’s $1.6 billion investment, but the concerts have been few, and some of the host cities don’t even have soccer teams.
So the stadiums mostly stand empty, already monuments. At Soccer City (since rechristened First National Bank Stadium), the honking of vuvuzelas has been succeeded by the twittering of birds. Several species roost in the rafters, and when there are no tours to lead, Nong gets to know them. “There are the tall ones with dark legs,” he told me. “And the ones nearly like flamingos.” He imitated their different noises: Glug-glug. Cluck-cluck.
And yet something lingers: a sense of pride, even of nationhood. I saw it in people’s clothes as I drove north from Soccer City. In Johannesburg’s Muslim quarter, a man with a long beard layered a shalwar kameez over track pants striped in green and gold, the national soccer team’s colors, which became fashionable during the tournament. Downtown, street vendors sold green-and-gold jackets; a woman shopper swaddled her baby to her back in a green-and-gold blanket.
In the same poll in which they lamented the World Cup’s economic disappointments, 78 percent of the respondents said they thought South Africa derived “social cohesion” from hosting it. “South Africa is still by default a divided country,” Roodt, the economist, said. This yields a longing for cathartic moments in which South Africans can come together and revisit the possibility of becoming a different kind of country. There hadn’t been such an event since the 1995 Rugby World Cup, dramatized in the movie “Invictus.”
My final-game anniversary ended in a poor area called Diepsloot, recently depicted in this magazine as a hotbed of resentment and violence. There is one spot there, however, that is free of such anguish, and that is the World Cup viewing park, upgraded before the games. Every Sunday, people still gather there to watch sports on the big screen or play mancala, a board game.
The World Cup spirit is more alive in that green square than it is in Soccer City, illustrating how real transfiguration often happens far from the cathedrals we build for it. Everyone I asked was adamantly happy that South Africa hosted the tournament. Some people even suggested the viewing park’s special peacefulness came from an aura of aspiration, a will to do better, that persisted from the World Cup. “We’ve got this park because of the World Cup,” said a boy named Lucky Kunene, who was sitting with his friends in a circle on the grass. “And there is no fighting in this park.”