A corrupt government kills Adventists as low oil prices exacerbate an economic crisis
by PETER DOERRIE
Angola’s police and military attacked and almost completely eradicated a village inhabited by around 50 members of a Christian religious sect in August, according to Deutsche Welle.
If confirmed, it would mark the second large-scale attack on the sect after a similar massacre in April 2015, in which more than 100 people died.
The killings appeared to have occurred days after an altercation between between security forces and members of the Light of the World sect, in which five people, including two police officers, died. During that clash, police confronted violent members of the sect and recovered pistols and assault rifles from the scene.
Light of the World is a reclusive Adventist group that believes in the looming end of the world. There are up to 50,000 members in Angola.
The group’s leader, Jose Kalupeteka, was sentenced to 28 years in prison earlier this year after Angolan president José Eduardo dos Santos declared the sect a “threat to peace and national security.”
The two massacres received relatively little attention in the international press, a symptom of Angola’s tightly controlled media and political space.
But there’s a deeper set of incentives encouraging Angola to crack down. The government is trying to suppress all real or perceived challenges to its authority during an economic crisis. At the same time, the regime is attempting to navigate a transfer of power from one generation of elites to the next.
It’s hard to overstate the problem. Angola is experiencing a massive crisis as a result of consistently low oil prices — combined with the country’s vast offshore reserves contributing to 90 percent of its GDP.
This reliance was a boon when oil traded above $120 a barrel. Today’s current prices of around $45 is nowhere near enough to prop up the government’s massive military spending and patronage slush funds.
Inflation topped 30 percent in June 2016, while revenue from oil dropped by more than 50 percent compared to the prior year despite increased production.
Foreign currency is in short supply, hospitals have trouble stocking their pharmacies and keeping the lights on, and the government can barely manage to pay its outstanding debt.
Normally in such cases, governments turn to the International Monetary Fund, which has the mandate and money to help countries avoid a total collapse.
But dos Santos not only stopped negotiations on a potential $4.5 billion loan facility in July, he fired the minister responsible for the deal. The IMF’s conditions, which would have required increased transparency and accountability in the oil sector, were unacceptable to dos Santos.
It’s easy to see why. Dos Santos treats the country’s oil industry as his private bank account.
His daughter, Isabel, is Africa’s richest woman, although the Angolan government has not explained where she got the capital to build her considerable media and financial investments.
Isabel’s career has come full circle during the past several years. After allegedly redirecting funds from the state-owned oil company SONANGOL into Portuguese and Angolan media and banking businesses, her father appointed her CEO of SONANGOL. This vital sector is now under family control at a time when access to state resources is more essential than ever.
The president’s son, José Filomeno de Sousa, heads Angola’s sovereign wealth fund.
This arrangement did not sit well with the IMF, but with elections coming up in 2017, dos Santos is unwilling to risk being cut off from the government’s coffers.
Dos Santos, his family and the inner circle of the ruling People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) — which has ruled Angola for the past 40 years and throughout a brutal civil war — are now in complete control of the country’s security services, political institutions, oil sector and main non-oil businesses.
In the regime’s latest move to solidify control, it plans to set up a communications regulatory body to “enforce compliance with professional journalistic ethics and standards,” as well as “applicable laws,” and can sanction anyone who undermines “social, cultural, ethical and patriotic values.”
So far, the regime can afford to ignore the IMF’s modest demands for reform, as China — Angola’s main customer for its oil exports — is keeping the government afloat with economic support.
It is an open secret in Angola’s political circles that dos Santos is grooming his daughter to succeed him, as MPLA power brokers opposed his son for the position. While dos Santos is expected to run again in 2017, he is 74 years old — not exactly the youngest head of state around.
Planning his succession would be a sensible move.
While Isabel has the economic resources and political clout, it’s unclear what relationship she has — if any — to the country’s powerful security services.
Throughout Angola’s civil war and after, Santos’ control of the country depended on the loyalty of the armed forces, made possible by access to income from oil exports. The MPLA also received foreign support from Cuba and the Soviet Union, among many other countries.
Dos Santos has decades of experience balancing his reliance on the security forces, using them to crush challengers like the Light of the World sect and Jonas Savimbi’s UNITA rebels, knowing full well the danger that a powerful military presents to any ruler.
Isabel has no military background. She currently controls the purse strings of the country, which will give her a great measure of influence over Angola’s future.
But when her father inevitably steps down, it’s unclear if she or anyone else can manage a system which obediently snuffs out whole villages … or if the system will turn on itself instead.