Charitable Musicians: Hip-Hop Rapper Ikonoklasta Protests Against The Angolan Government

Background On The 2011 Angolan Demonstrations

Luaty DaSilva On His Airport Experience

In early 2011, as the turmoil from the Arab Spring protests made their way into pockets of Africa, Angolan youth began taking to the streets themselves. At the heart of their ongoing dissatisfaction remains the 32-year reign of President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who protesters cite as the cause of mismanaged oil revenues, suppressed human rights, and widespread poverty, amongst other corruptions. 1

One early advocate for the protests include hip-hop musician Luaty DaSilva, aka Ikonoklasta, who openly voiced his support for the uprising during one of his February 2011 concerts, listing government officials as “exploiters of the oppressed” while the crowd responded to push them “out!”

In June 2012, DaSilva departed Angola for Lisbon, Portugal, to play with the Kuduro band Batida. DaSilva’s supporters at the Angolan airport warned him that his luggage had been tampered with by the National Crime Investigation Department, and DaSilva decided that upon arrival in Lisbon, he would tell customs that he suspected foul play. But he never made it there, as the police were upon him as soon as he got his luggage. A kilogram of cocaine was discovered in DaSilva’s luggage, but the presiding judge of the case set him free, because, in Luaty’s words, “the framing was so gross that not even the judge bought it.” 2

For the following month-and-a-half, DaSilva stayed in Portugal, and has only just returned to Angola. As he shares in the interview below, he suspects that the government “must have something ready for me, some sort of “warm welcome home” for when I return on the 25th of July.” He is just one of a handful of musicians known to have faced persecution. 3

The 2012 parliamentary elections are to be held in Angola on August 31st — hypothetically the first time the government will respect the constitutional deadline of having four years between elections. Yet despite this fact, which ostensibly seems to be an improvement, demonstrators both young and old have seen an intense increase in violence in the past year, much of which has been captured on video and disseminated widely via the internet. As recently as July 15th, several hundred protestors, knowing very well the potential dangers which faced them, risked likely violence from security forces and protested in the Sao Paolo market. Twelve were arrested, including two journalists working for Portuguese publications, sparking a call for the postponement of the August elections until free and fair polls can be guaranteed. 4

In the following Q&A with REDEFINE, DaSilva gives his perspective on the situation in Angola, offering a point of view from the young and frustrated underclass, in both Portuguese and English.

September 2012 Headlines
Thousands stay away from Angolan elections (AP News – 2012, August 31)
Angola’s ruling party declared election winner (CNN – 2012, September 2)
Angola court rejects UNITA appeal, says vote was fair (Reuters – 2012, September 19)

 

“In 2011 President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, in power for 32 years, faced an unprecedented wave of criticism. Inspired by the pro-democracy Arab Spring movements, Angola witnessed an incipient movement of anti-government protests. In response, authorities used excessive force to crack down on the protests, most of which were organized via the internet, and curtailed media coverage of the demonstrations.” Human Rights Watch

 

Protestors Facing Violence From Angolan Security Forces

 

You encouraged protestors to speak out against the government at one of your concerts. What was your role in the protests prior to and after that? Was there a particular point when you decided that enough was enough, or have you long been dissatisfied with the government?

Num dos teus concertos, incentivaste a plateia a sair em protesto contra o governo. Qual foi o teu papel nas manifestações antes e depois desse dia? Existe algum momento particular em que tenhas decidido bater com o punho e dizer basta, ou o descontentamento com o governo já é antigo?

I will start from the second half of this question: I have always been dissatisfied with governments in general, mine in particular. I grew up under the impression that politicians were the biggest crooks walking the earth, their cynical and pompous behaviour having always raised suspicions that they were not to be trusted to manage whole population’s resources. The more I grew, the more I solidified the impression, that grew into a blind certainty, that politicians are foul, looking after the interests of the rich and powerful whilst finding ways of elluding the rest of us with neatly written and celebrated concepts of democracy and freedom that are not applied in day-to-day life.

Now, how active was I before that concert? That March 7th demonstration was the beggining of a new era where, symbolically, the youth broke the mold of fear and took it to the streets, without beating around the bush to what the purpose were: decomissioning of this never elected, senile president. Before this demonstration, I was just making music; I’m an hip hop artist and my lyrics are very often socially/politically inclined. I’ve been doing it since 1994, but it wasn’t until 2002 that I started speaking out against the government.

 

Começo pela segunda parte desta questão: desde miúdo que desconfio dos governos e da classe política em geral, dos meus em particular. Cresci com a impressão que os políticos são os maiores ladrões à face da Terra. O seu jeito cínico e pomposo nunca me convenceu, antes pelo contrário, despertava em mim agudizadas suspeitas de que não seria gente a quem se deveria confiar a gestão dos recursos pertencentes à Nação. Quanto mais cresci, mais cimentei a impressão, entretanto tornada certeza, de que os políticos são facínoras que tomam conta dos interesses dos ricos e poderosos, desenvolvendo táticas cada vez mais refinadas de ilusionismo, para fazer crer aos comuns mortais que gozam de conceitos bem enfabulados de liberdade e democracia.

Quanto a primeira parte da questão: o dia 7 de Março de 2011 foi o início de uma nova era para Angola, foi o momento em que um grupo pequeno de pessoas rompeu com a barreira opressiva do medo e saíu à rua sem dissimular o seu verdadeiro objetivo: a destituição de um presidente caduco, jamais sufragado por voto popular. Antes dessa manifestação eu limitava-me a fazer música e, sendo um artista de hip-hop, muitas das minhas músicas têm um forte cariz social e político, mas nunca tinha participado de nenhuma manifestação no meu país porque elas eram virtualmente inexistentes.

 

“What I feel is: everyone is fed up but most people are terrified of losing whatever little commodity they have conquered by publicly admitting it. I was told that even within the MPLA (the ruling party which we fight against) there are many people who silently support us. To what extent is that true I cannot say.”

“Se é verdade ou não, não posso confirmar, mas em jeito de sustentação deixe-me só acrescentar que dois generais na reserva de uma influente família do MPLA, abandonaram recentemente o partido, tendo um deles associado-se a uma nova agremiação partidária e vindo à público tomar o nosso partido.”

– Luaty DaSilva (Ikonoklasta)

 

What role would you say influential people and technology have played in the creation and subsequent growth of this particular movement?

Qual terá sido na tua ótica o papel de personalidades influentes e da tecnologia na criação e subsequente engrandecimento deste movimento em particular?

Considering the fact that Angola has an education deficit reflected by its catastrophic literacy rate (aprox. 70%) 5 and that only a mere 10% of the population has access to the internet 6, I’d say technology played a small part in mobilization from within. It did help keep both the lucky 10% inland and the rest of the immense diaspora abroad [informed], something that wouldn’t be conceivable a few years back where everyone had to rely on perfectly controlled, manipulated Angolan media. The videos we’ve captured on protest days were simply divulged on the internet, which helped spreading the sense of indignation amongst our fellow countrymen and foreigners who cared about what was taking place in Angola.

As far as the “influential people” are concerned, I don’t think any of them have played pivotal roles, since most of the people that are somewhat trusted by certain segments of the general population (amongst them one of the country’s ex-prime minister), did little more than voice their support for the youngsters in very limited public means. Few people had access to it. There’s a huge information clot in Angola promoted by the government either by state media or by coercive/dissuasive methods employed within “privately-owned” media, which is the only explanation (besides illiteracy) for the effectiveness of archaic tools used by the regime to hold on to power for so long. 7

 

Tendo em conta que somos um país onde a informação ainda é controlada e deturpada pelo partido de forma que já roça a infantilidade de tão grotesca, que Angola tem um dos seus maiores flagelos na sua elevadíssima taxa de analfabetismo (aprox. 70%) 5 e que uns escassos 10% da população angolana tem acesso à internet 6, eu diria que a tecnologia desempenhou um papel menos preponderante em Angola do que nos países irmãos da África do Norte. Os vídeos que captámos das agressões sofridas em dias de protesto, por exemplo, foram divulgados unicamente na internet, o que limita o potencial de indignação que teria perto da população que sofre diariamente as agruras de uma governação que não lhes contempla.

Quanto às personalidades influentes, dentre os quais contamos um ex-primeiro ministro, também vejo a sua intervenção como limitada e logo, não terão pesado muito, pelo menos não até agora, na agregação de massa popular ao movimento. Infelizmente, mesmo tendo tornado públicos os seus posicionamentos, estes não foram divulgados pelos mídia angolanos, todos muito dependentes do poder vigente. 7

 

After the incident at the airport, has the Angolan government tried to threaten you in other ways?

Depois do incidente no aeroporto o governo angolano voltou a tentar ameaçar-te de alguma outra forma?

Not yet. I’m still in Europe where is a bit harder to do me wrong without making too much of a fuss. They must have something ready for me, some sort of “warm welcome home” for when I return on the 25th of July [to my jungle].

 

Não. Ainda estou na Europa. Se têm alguma coisa planeada, deverão estar a espera do meu regresso para me fazer a folha. Dia 25 de Julho volto à minha selva.

 

Batida – “Cuka” feat. Ikonoklasta (English Subtitled)

Youth and war veterans have been two groups of particular note in the Angolan protests. Asides from them, what would you say public opinion is generally like?

Os jovens e os veteranos de guerra são dois grupos a destacar nos protestos que se desencadearam em Angola. Para além deles, o que dirias da opinião pública em geral?

I wish I could speak of this matter being able to sustain my theory with undeniable evidence, but the fact is I can only speak about my own experiences and from what I observe daily — from interacting with other people and hearing their private opinions, or from surfing the internet, a place where people maintain a relative anonymity and speak more freely. What I feel is: everyone is fed up but most people are terrified of losing whatever little commodity they have conquered by publicly admitting it. I was told that even within the MPLA (the ruling party which we fight against) there are many people who silently support us. To what extent is that true I cannot say.

 

 

 

Gostaria de poder sustentar a minha resposta com provas documentadas, mas o facto é que só posso referir a minha impressão pessoal, derivada das conversas que tenho com os meus concidadãos e das tendências para as intervenções nos portais angolanos na internet, onde felizmente, as pessoas se sentem menos inseguras de assumirem as suas verdadeiras opiniões. O que eu sinto é o seguinte: está toda a gente farta mas, simultaneamente, aterrorizada de meter em risco as parcas comodidades que conseguiram assegurar, assumindo publicamente as suas posições. Disseram-me que dentro do próprio MPLA há um enorme grupo de pessoas que silenciosamente se regozigam com as nossas ações. Se é verdade ou não, não posso confirmar, mas em jeito de sustentação deixe-me só acrescentar que dois generais na reserva de uma influente família do MPLA, abandonaram recentemente o partido, tendo um deles associado-se a uma nova agremiação partidária e vindo à público tomar o nosso partido.

 

The election in Angola will be held on August 31st. Violence and action taken against protestors seems to be ramping up. What do you envision happening between now and then, and what is the ideal scenario you hope for?

A eleição em Angola será realizado em 31 de Agosto. A violência e as medidas tomadas contra os manifestantes parece estar incrementando. O que você imagina acontecer entre agora e depois, e qual é o cenário ideal que você espera?

I have no hope in ideal scenarios. There are none. The ideal scenario is Dos Santos stepping down, the elections being delayed for a few months in order to make the whole process transparent (which is everything but up until now), but this would be pure wishful thinking. Violence will carry on as long as there is dissent, and taking into account the escalation of violence we’ve been witnessing lately, homicide is not to be discarded. 8, 9

 

 

Não tenho nem uma ponta de esperança em cenários ideais. Não há um cenário ideal que se perfile no horizonte. O cenário ideal seria o Jose Eduardo dos Santos desistir da ideia de ser cabeça de lista pelo MPLA e adiarem-se as eleições até estarem criadas as condições que garantam a total transparência na sua realização, o que não é DE TODO o cenário atual. Esse cenário é pura fantasia tendo em conta os desenvolvimentos dos últimos meses. Prevejo que a violência vá continuar a aumentar e não se deve descartar a possibilidade de entrarmos em práticas de homicídios, tendo em conta os sinais que nos têm sido enviados por parte do governo. 8, 9

 

What issues and government wrongdoings are people most fired up about?

Que problemas e erros do governo são as pessoas mais raiva?

People are weary of (mis)governance by the same party, 37 after gaining independence. Moreover, people finally have realized that war was a pretext to justify the incompetence of the government in managing public affairs. Generals and government officials have become pornographically enriched by the many years of civil war and are completely shameless in their shameful display that, judging by their arrogance, seems to give them the feeling of being untouchable, superior beings. People are tired of systematically seeing their most basic rights appropriated by those who must enforce them, charging them fees known as “gas” to earn them. I speak essentially of the right to health, education and employment. In every country there is corruption that is only controlled by counter-powers among them — perhaps most importantly, the pressure of public opinion. In Angola is controlled by public opinion or misinformation or psychological terror, thus creating the feeling that people are resigned to the rhythm of “work” of the government, accepting that they can not go faster, tolerating that they continue to use to war as an excuse. But that’s a lie; anyone walks in the street know that the population does not fall in this trap.

 

As pessoas estão exaustas da (des)governação do mesmo partido, 37 após a conquista da independência. Mais, as pessoas finalmente deram-se conta que a guerra era um pretexto para justificar a incompetência dos governantes na gestão da coisa pública. Generais e membros do governo enriqueceram pornograficamente ao longo dos muitos anos de guerra civil e são completamente despudorados na sua vergonhosa ostentação que, julgando pela sua arrogância, lhes parece conferir a sensação de intocáveis, seres superiores. As pessoas estão fartas de verem sistematicamente os seus direitos mais elementares apropriados por quem devia garanti-los, cobrando-lhes taxas conhecidas como “gasosas”, para deles auferirem. Falo claro essencialmente do direito à saúde, educação e ao emprego. Em todos os países existe corrupção que só é controlada por contra-poderes dentre os quais, talvez o mais importante, a pressão da opinião pública. Em Angola controla-se a opinião pública ou pela desinformação ou pelo terror psicológico, criando-se assim a sensação que as pessoas estão conformadas com o ritmo de “trabalho” do governo, aceitando que não podem ir mais rápido, tolerando que continue a usar-se a guerra como desculpa. Mas é mentira, quem anda na rua sabe que a população já não cai nesse engodo.

 

How can people within Angola, and people outside Angola, help?

Como podem as pessoas dentro e fora de Angola ajudar?

Everyone, having contact with interviews like these, is spreading the information and must act according to what your conscience dictates, and you do what you can. I will not enumerate the various ways that exist to help, because I believe that each person is aware of their ability to interfere. I am glad if there is sufficient disclosure so that the number of people aware of what is happening in Angola, in widely different countries, is more comprehensive.

 

Cada um, tendo contacto com a informação que, com entrevistas como estas, se está a disseminar, deve agir de acordo com o que a sua consciência lhe ditar e fazer o que pode. Eu não vou enumerar as várias maneiras que existem para ajudar, porque acredito que cada pessoa tem noção das suas capacidades de interferir. Fico satisfeito se houver divulgação suficiente para que o número de pessoas conscientes do que se está a passar em Angola, nos mais distintos países, seja mais abrangente.

 

Sources

1 Reuters Africa, July 2012. Angolan Police Arrest 12 At Anti-Government Rally
2 YouTube, June 2012. Luaty revela detalhes do “caso cocaína”
3 Global Voices, March 2012. Violence Against Protest for Fair Elections
4 Novo Jornal(Luanda), February 2012.
5 Angola Statistics, UNICEF. http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/angola_statistics.html
6 Angola Statistics, UNICEF. http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/angola_statistics.html; Google (data from World Bank). World Development Indicators and Global Development Finance
7 Aljazeera, March 2012. Angola’s Police Raid Newspaper Office
8 Human Rights Watch, July 2012. Protestors Detained, Disppeared: Pre-Election Environment Marred By Crackdown
9 Human Rights Watch, April 2012. Violent Crackdown on Critics: Increasing Violence and Threats Raise Concerns about 2012 Elections

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