Online politics in Angola

In Angola, the ‘pseudo-event’ is all the rage: small in meaning but enlarged by Facebook and cell phones.

Women and girls with fish traps. Cuito Cuanavale, Angola. 2005. Image credit Cedric Nunn

It’s been a busy week for Angolan politics. Elections are precisely six months away. On Wednesday, the long-time second-generation UNITA politician, Abel Chivukuvuku, officially split with his party to declare his candidacy for the presidency and his formation of CASA, the acrononym means “home” in Portuguese. The full name of the party, is:  Ample Convergence of Angolan Salvation.

That same day, investigative journalist Rafael Marques testified before Angola’s Supreme Court in his case against seven Angolan generals for human rights crimes in the diamond mines in Angola’s eastern region. On Monday, DNIC, the National Department for Criminal Investigation took computers from the offices of the independent paper Folha 8, whose editor has been in hot water for a mock-up photo of the president and two generals that circulated on the internet.

Over the weekend, protests in Luanda and Benguela against the nomination of Suzana Inglês to head the National Electoral Commission (an issue which caused walk outs in Parliament earlier this year) were met with intimidation, violence and arrests. The Angolan police have decided to open an investigation into the violence against the protestors. The judgement of the Benguela protestors that was scheduled for Wednesday this week has been delayed until today, March 16th, and more protests are scheduled for Saturday. The levers of democracy are being pulled, sometimes that’s a painful process. You won’t read about this in The New York Times or the Washington Post but you can check out this article at Al Jazeera English for more details. It’s clear from that piece that international human rights organizations have their ears pricked. Angolans are paying attention too.

The protesters call their movement 7311, the date of their first scheduled protest last year: 7 March 2011, when they used Facebook and sms messaging to spread the word. Only a small number of protesters showed up that day — seventeen arrests were made, a number of those were journalists. All were told they were being arrested for their own protection. But even if people are too intimidated to show up, care to manifest their politics in other ways, or support the ruling party, they know what is going on and they talk about it. There is debate and commentary on Facebook and among Angolan journalists. Two Angolan journalists were having an open debate on Facebook about the significance of the protest in which ‘friends’ commented/participated. One termed it a ‘pseudo-event’, small in meaning but enlarged by Facebook and cell phones. The other replied that it was small but significant in a place where fear keeps people from showing up and fear got the state to mobilize police and unarmed thugs. Media are just as likely to produce ‘pseudo-events,’ he argued, as are ‘citizen-journalists.’ And Facebook has its own silences. Things said and unsaid because one never knows who might be reading. One might “like” a Paulo Flores song but not a post about Folha 8 or 7311, even if one follows it.

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