Monthly Archives: March 2007

she just collapsed

‘I tried to go to England but eventually I gave up. The visa process was humiliating. They wanted so much information – what I earn, what my daughter was earning… They even asked me if my daughter was earning enough to support me. Imagine! Maybe in England that is how things work, but an Angolan man would never expect his daughter to pay for him. So in the end we didn’t go. The process was entirely insulting. And the idea that I’d want to go and live in that place which has no sun, and where people don’t have enough time to sit down and talk at lunch… Why would I want to stay there? But that’s what they thought. That’s what the embassy staff were thinking: that I wanted to go and live in their country. Honestly. My passport is full of visa stamps. I’ve been all over the world. But I have no intention of living anywhere apart from Angola…’

‘She just collapsed. She’d been waiting for her passport to be sorted out. I’d seen her the day before when she was queueing like the rest of us; when it came to her name being called out, they said she should come back tomorrow because her passport would be ready then. So she was there again today. I saw her in the queue again. We were all waiting together. We’d been there since six this morning. You have to put your name on the list and wait to be called out. And when they call out your name they either give you your passport or they tell you that your process isn’t ready yet. And eventually it came to her turn. The man with the list called out her name. She put her hand up and walked over to him. I saw him shaking his head – ‘your passport isn’t ready yet madam, come back tomorrow’ – and she fell to the floor. She was about 42 years old. People rushed to help her. They picked her up and took her to a bench to lie her down. It was the stress. She couldn’t take it any more. All the bureaucracy. All the waiting. The uncertainty.’
‘So did they fast-track her passport, to help her, to make her better?’
‘No! Of course not. She’ll have to go back tomorrow. But you see, the point is that you mustn’t get angry. You must stay calm. Your whole family is depending on you – your mother, your father, your children, your wife. If you get really angry, look what happens. Your heart can’t cope and you collapse. That doesn’t help anyone.’

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corrugating

A huge signpost bowed down into the middle of the road – a hand in front, a hand behind – as I drove home in a grey car. Its waist had melted. Large metal structures, overnight, let loose on Luanda. Now they are kneeling into pot-holes and leaning precariously on one leg, or an exhausted arm. The nose of a smart yacht is still struggling for a last gasp of air at the Boating Club. Leaves and branches and whole trees were beaten so hard, they fell to the floor in bits and pieces, broken and in some cases crippled for life. A large man was sitting on a roof, banging at corrugated strips, realigning, readjusting and repairing.

‘How much overlap should there be with those corrugated roofs? The man who did mine just pushed them together so the rain comes in all the time. I have to be at home when it rains to place the buckets in the right place.’

She was terribly worried. She wasn’t at home. The rain would be flooding the floor already. The thunder was so strong, whole buildings were trembling. She needed to get her three children to bed, in the rain and the floods and the water.

Driving to the beach. Should I even be going? This is a story. Floods. People will have lost their homes. ‘Five cars were destroyed in the rain!’ a boy told me. ‘Five cars!’ The remains of the day were in the sea – plastic, wood, bottles, Coke cans, plants – tossing about by the bay.

‘There’ll only be white people on the beach today. You’ll see. Only white people go to the beach when it’s cloudy. Angolans never go to the beach if there isn’t any sun.’

Not quite true but a fair generalisation. The beach was covered in white and pinky wales, hairy ones with breasts, wandering up and down the sands, gazing frustrated at the unusually polluted seas, trying to figure out how to get beyond the rubbish into cleaner waters. A skinny man gave a large woman a piggy-back out into the deeper waters and then tossed her clumsily from his shoulders. She flapped her arms and splashed out to sea. I didn’t notice if she came back, but there was a distinct lack of hysteria.

A very wobbly man, undressed in rags, talked to himself and rolled in the sand in front of three plump girls lying in a row, their round bottoms shaped and defined by bikini bottoms designed for flossing teeth. They let him stare and fiddle for over an hour, and then he was moved on by two men dressed in berets, dark glasses and guns. They stood and stared as he struggled to lift his broken body, half a hairy face covered in handfuls of sand, and stayed to watch him limping– up down, up down – away from the teenage trio, and weaving precariously between tanning foreigners who are here to do business.
Yesterday, a team of election inspectors from Southern Africa – who’d expressed some alarm about the number of men in suits who’d followed them about their business – asked me with a wink and a nod and a chuckle if I’d ever read Nineteen Eighty-Four.

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angolan oil

All those bodies that fell into the sea from vast vessels designed to transport slaves – they are the reason Angola has so much oil. That’s what I have been told. Over the centuries the preserved remains of these women, men and children have come to form oil. The wars that followed slavery contributed to the petroleum supplies: people shovelled bodies into the splash at the end of each day’s fighting. And then independence came and more bodies were thrown into the sea. And the oil kept coming. That’s why Angola has so much petroleum. That’s what I was told.

So if it runs out, it will be a good thing. It will show that life has improved, that people are no longer killed and dropped in the ocean.

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more on reporting zimbabwe

It’s odd this should happen just after my rant about the way we (don’t) report Zimbabwe and Angola. London called this morning. Could I do an interview about the 3000 troops that Angola is going to send to Zimbabwe to help Harare put down local trouble-makers? No, I said, I couldn’t. I’d heard nothing about that here. But I promised to look into it. I’ve just spend the last 4 hours chasing the spokesman for the ministry of interior in Luanda. About 20 minutes ago, he called me back, finally.
‘It’s all lies,’ he said.
‘So you aren’t sending 3000 troops to Zimbabwe?’
‘No.’
‘Are you sending a single policeman?’
‘No one. It’s complete lies.’
So who is telling the truth? Basildon Peta in UK newspaper, The Independent, or my friend, Carmo Neto?

Two days earlier, I reported this:

The British just love Zimbabwe, and British journalists are even more passionate. But why does this mean that they fail to maintain basic journalistic standards when they are writing about their favourite African country? The Times has, today, a story detailing the arrival of thousands of Angolan Ninjasat any minute now in Zim. But the paper fails to point out that the Angolan government has denied this story as ‘a gross lie’. If the US government made such a denial would The Times omit it? Or is the problem that The Times doesn’t have any contacts in Angola? Couldn’t they have called the embassy in Dorset Street, London? They could have called me (if they were really struggling…). But no, it’s only an African problem, so they probably thought it didn’t matter. No one knows any better so they can ignore it. The Angolan authorities might not be telling the truth – they are not well known for transparency – but then nor is the US, nor the UK for that matter. Remember Iraq and that dossier? But that is not the point: at least do them the favour of representing their version of events. If it turns out they have lied, you can still have a field day reporting that.

 

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substantially strange

Well there’s a funny thing. I wrote a blog four days ago, criticising the BBC (and indirectly British foreign policy) for its contradictory approach to Africa, in particular its interest in Zimbabwe compared to Angola. And this afternoon, some time between 3pm in Luanda and 6pm, it disappeared. Yes! It vanished from my site. Is this Blogger falling pray to the heavy hand of British censorship, or just a clumsy oversight on my part? I’d encourage you to respond with your own thoughts: I really haven’t a clue. All I can say is that it is a strange feeling to be living in Angola – which is not known for its press freedom – and to feel like you are being censored from afar, possibly from home. Can a techno please enlighten me on what might have happened to my posting, ‘substantially worse’.

For those of you still interested, I’m pleased to say that I saved a copy, so here it is again:

It’s been a frustrating couple of weeks. I’ve made a number of enemies including the Archbishop of Canterbury, possibly God (scroll down), a potential landlord, a potential employer and – by the time I’ve finished this – a current employer. I may not be good at lots of things, but I’m an expert at making enemies. With that out in the open I might as well continue.

Did anyone notice the news about Zimbabwe this week? Morgan Tsvangirai, the main opposition leader, beaten black and blue. Allegedly – that’s what the BBC story says – allegedly. It’s clear from the pictures that someone beat him up. He looks very bad. Presumably he didn’t beat himself up – although one never knows just how far politicians around the globe will go. But honestly, I’m being serious, it’s not a good story to hear at all. But let me just ask you to stand back a bit, and ponder another opposition leader at the same end of the African continent: Isaías Samakuva, president of the main Angolan opposition party, UNITA. Two weeks ago – actually two weeks to the day – someone tried to shoot him. Allegedly. That’s what he said, and that’s what the party said. The local authorities denied it. The proof isn’t quite as good as Tsvangirai’s – Samakuva didn’t get hit – but the building in which he and his UNITA delegation were staying did show several clear bullet marks. Something definitely went on while he was staying in Camabatela. And, I would argue, even if UNITA have made the whole story up (not out of the question) the very fact that the former Angolan rebel group would make such a huge accusation is, in itself, a story. But the BBC – for whom I string – didn’t seem to agree. Or, to be more diplomatic, parts of the BBC didn’t seem to think that the story was nearly as important as the very similar one in that country they love to hate: Zimbabwe.

Why not?

Well, they would probably say that Britain has a connection with Zim which it doesn’t have with Angola. They would probably also say that Zimbabwe is on a fast slide downhill whereas Angola is only just starting to climb. I wrote to several editors at the corporation to complain about the fact that my reports received so little publicity from within the corporation. One wrote back:

“We are interested in Angola but the problem I suspect is that people feel that since [2002 when 40 years of war ended largely thanks to the death of the UNITA rebel leader] Savimbi,things don’t seem to have changed a great deal. If they are substantially worse, then we need to start highlighting this more.”

If Samakuva had been shot dead, perhaps Angola would have got a better airing. And what about the so-called ‘spy’, Sarah Wykes, the British woman accused of espionage in Angola, briefly imprisoned and now out on bail. She’s just been told she can leave the country but must return for her trial when (and if) it takes place. Few BBC programmes have been interested in her story – some feel that it is morally wrong to highlight the plight of a (white) British woman in Africa when so many Africans have a worse time of it, others seemed to think she was “just an NGO worker” and therefore couldn’t see the point. In fact, the private (independent) Angolan press believe – in general – that her case highlights several structural problems within Angola. Think greedy foreign oil companies, think corruption, think human rights, think strange peace deal in Cabinda. I’m not telling you what I think – remember, I’m an independent reporter… – but there is one thing I know for sure. If the same thing had happened to Wykes in Zimbabwe, the entire British media would have been having coronaries over her story.

BBC hypocrisy is sometimes too much to bear. Ditto for UK foreign policy on the two countries, but don’t even get me started on that…

Before I end, let me just add a small self-explanation. I am not trying to promote bad news about Angola – far from it. FYI, since I’ve been here I’ve sent very positive reports from Luanda about Angola’s expansion into the global art market, an interview with an American-Angolan singer who has just returned to Angola from the States and wants to stay here. I’ve sent material on the Angolan government’s decision to turn down the IMF’s offer of ‘help’ (hurrah) and a piece on Angola entering OPEC’s quota system. None of these stories are remotely negative in terms of the progress this country is clearly making. But let’s not forget that it’s not – as I said to an editor this morning – ‘all oil & gas': there are people who live here too. And some of them are struggling to make ends meet.

Does the BBC want another war in Angola before it warrants serious coverage? And let’s hope this posting lasts a bit longer than the last one.

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go Bono, go

Bonehead: Every time I clap my hands another child dies in Africa.
Audience: So stop clapping your fucking hands then.
If you want to find out more about Bonehead, please, do have a look at this and this.

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substantially worse

It’s been a frustrating couple of weeks. I’ve made a number of enemies including the Archbishop of Canterbury, possibly God (scroll down), a potential landlord, a potential employer and – by the time I’ve finished this – a current employer. I may not be good at lots of things, but I’m an expert at making enemies. With that out in the open I might as well continue.

Did anyone notice the news about Zimbabwe this week? Morgan Tsvangirai, the main opposition leader, beaten black and blue. Allegedly – that’s what the BBC story says – allegedly. It’s clear from the pictures that someone beat him up. He looks very bad. Presumably he didn’t beat himself up – although one never knows just how far politicians around the globe will go. But honestly, I’m being serious, it’s not a good story to hear at all. But let me just ask you to stand back a bit, and ponder another opposition leader at the same end of the African continent: Isaías Samakuva, president of the main Angolan opposition party, UNITA. Two weeks ago – actually two weeks to the day – someone tried to shoot him. Allegedly. That’s what he said, and that’s what the party said. The local authorities denied it. The proof isn’t quite as good as Tsvangirai’s – Samakuva didn’t get hit – but the building in which he and his UNITA delegation were staying did show several clear bullet marks. Something definitely went on while he was staying in Camabatela. And, I would argue, even if UNITA have made the whole story up (not out of the question) the very fact that the former Angolan rebel group would make such a huge accusation is, in itself, a story. But the BBC – for whom I string – didn’t seem to agree. Or, to be more diplomatic, parts of the BBC didn’t seem to think that the story was nearly as important as the very similar one in that country they love to hate: Zimbabwe.

Why not?

Well, they would probably say that Britain has a connection with Zim which it doesn’t have with Angola. They would probably also say that Zimbabwe is on a fast slide downhill whereas Angola is only just starting to climb. I wrote to several editors at the corporation to complain about the fact that my reports received so little publicity from within the corporation. One wrote back:

“We are interested in Angola but the problem I suspect is that people feel that since [2002 when 40 years of war ended largely thanks to the death of the UNITA rebel leader] Savimbi,things don’t seem to have changed a great deal. If they are substantially worse, then we need to start highlighting this more.”

If Samakuva had been shot dead, perhaps Angola would have got a better airing. And what about the so-called ‘spy’, Sarah Wykes, the British woman accused of espionage in Angola, briefly imprisoned and now out on bail. She’s just been told she can leave the country but must return for her trial when (and if) it takes place. Few BBC programmes have been interested in her story – some feel that it is morally wrong to highlight the plight of a (white) British woman in Africa when so many Africans have a worse time of it, others seemed to think she was “just an NGO worker” and therefore couldn’t see the point. In fact, the private (independent) Angolan press believe – in general – that her case highlights several structural problems within Angola. Think greedy foreign oil companies, think corruption, think human rights, think strange peace deal in Cabinda. I’m not telling you what I think – remember, I’m an independent reporter… – but there is one thing I know for sure. If the same thing had happened to Wykes in Zimbabwe, the entire British media would have been having coronaries over her story.

BBC hypocrisy is sometimes too much to bear. Ditto for UK foreign policy on the two countries, but don’t even get me started on that…

Before I end, let me just add a small self-explanation. I am not trying to promote bad news about Angola – far from it. FYI, since I’ve been here I’ve sent very positive reports from Luanda about Angola’s expansion into the global art market, an interview with an American-Angolan singer who has just returned to Angola from the States and wants to stay here. I’ve sent material on the Angolan government’s decision to turn down the IMF’s offer of ‘help’ (hurrah) and a piece on Angola entering OPEC’s quota system. None of these stories are remotely negative in terms of the progress this country is clearly making. But let’s not forget that it’s not – as I said to an editor this morning – ‘all oil & gas': there are people who live here too. And some of them are struggling to make ends meet.

Does the BBC want another war in Angola before it warrants serious coverage?

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