elections, the MPLA way

I’ve always said that you don’t need to exaggerate when it comes to reporting Angola. Less than three weeks before the country holds its second legislative elections ever, that old MPLA stalwart, Paulo Jorge, has gone and said what I’ve been raving and ranting about for months: that party political campaigning for the ruling party started at least 18 months ago. In fact, according to Jorge – the darling of what’s left of the myopic European Left (and that doesn’t mean all of us, so calm down; just those fools who still believe in the MPLA as a party that seeks liberation, justice and equality for the povo) – it began way, way before!

He told the Angola Peace Monitor (produced by ACTSA, once better known for its anti-apartheid work) that: the MPLA has been preparing for these elections since 2005, and its leadership has developed “a massive mobilisation effort of its militants, sympathisers and friends”.

He also describes the MPLA as “a national party, independent, progressive and modern, ideologically based on democratic socialism which congregates in its ranks Angolan citizens without distinction of social group, sex, skin colour, ethnic origin, religious beliefs, or place of birth”.

He forgot to tell us about the mobilisation of its enemies and victims and all those people who fear the party. And what about those who’ve been killed in, er, mysterious circumstances? Well I’ve done something on that here, for those who are interested in the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

You will note, in that story, the poster on the right. I took that photo in April 2007. It’s a photograph of President José Eduardo dos Santos (who next year will celebrate 30 years in power, hurrah) and, I was pretty sure, Rainha Nzinga (sometimes spelt Nzingha or Ginga). The words read, Honour and glory to our heroes. In fact, I am told by an Angolan on Mars (see below) that it is not the Rainha at all (Queen of Mbundu in Angola in the 17th century) but the late first president of Angola, Agostinho Neto, who died in 1979. Which makes the picture even more loaded, in my humble opinion: that the only glorious heroes of Angola are the two men who have led the country since 1975. Make of that, querido leitor, what you will.

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11 thoughts on “elections, the MPLA way

  1. please, pretty please, don’t be so “pretty sure” of things you should be more humble about because they’re actually hard to decipher, querida — that’s not Rainha Nzinga, Queen of the Mbundu (Kimbundu is their language), it’s your vosso querido Neto!

  2. Querido Angolan on Mars, thank you so much for your readership and your correction. When can I come join you on your planet up there?

  3. Hey, Lara, I appreciate the link to your recent article. It needs to be said, and said, and said again, and perhaps there are enough ears willing to hear you that it will matter. From what I hear, things have gotten much worse, and disappearances continue in Cabinda…

    As for the Rainha Nzinga, she was queen of Ndongo and Matamba. Kimbundu-speaking people never had one centralized polity, and the notion of Mbundu ethnicity (as congruent with those who spoke Kimbundu) is certainly anachronistic for the seventeenth century.

  4. Now the “experts” join in!
    Jesse, do you know the geographical location of Ndongo and Matamba? Probably. But what you don’t seem to know is that it was precisely Nzinga, and that’s what made her so remarkable for her time, who centralized the Mbundo (also known as Ambundu – not to be confused with the radical Bundu that you find in some Bantu languages of Angola, such as Umbundu) polity!
    And that’s not anachronistic for any century in Angola. In fact anachronistic would be to talk of a centralized polity based on ethnicity in contemporary Angola… certaily not around Neto or Dos Santos!
    Keep well down there!

  5. Angolan on Mars:

    I do, in fact, know where Ndongo and Matamba are/were. I also know that in the seventeenth century (and later, too), there were plenty (perhaps even a plurality) of Kimbundu speakers who were not part of either polity and remained decentralized — for example, folks in Kisama. The notion that a “people” (“the Mbundu”) is comprised of speakers of a language with one coherent identity is, as I’m sure you know, an essentially colonial one. This doesn’t detract from the legacy of Nzinga in any way, of course, it just requires a bit more of a finely-tuned view of Angolan political history.

    Also, I’m curious why you favor the Portuguese orthography?

  6. Jess:

    Let me help you fine-tune your “view” of Angolan political history, if you don’t terribly mind.
    You started by saying, to counter my previous comment, that Nzinga was Queen of Ndongo and Matamba, therefore you implied right there that people of Ndongo and Matamba were of different ethnicities or languages… There was no implication in my comments that the notion, in fact the reality, of a Mbundu people was exclusively based on their language – the only point I was trying to make there was that your dear friend was wrong in saying that Nzinga was the Queen of the Kimbundu! Now, Kimbundu is not, never has been a definition of any people, but just of a language, so what I said was that the people over which Nzinga reigned spoke Kimbundu and where Mbundu. It just happens that the most meaningful part of the Mbundu that didn’t fell under Nzinga’s Kingdom were those who became known as the Ovimbundu, whose language is the Umbundu.
    I’m sure you also know that under any polity, no matter how centralised it is, especially under conditions of a multi-front war, as were those of Nzinga at her time, there are always “islands” here and there, which doesn’t mean that the “folks in Kissama” were not Mbundu or didn’t speak Kimbundu! Also, the existence of such “islands” doesn’t mean that the polity around them is not centralised…
    I could say much more about the entire issue of ethnic-based polities in Angola along the centuries but, as they say in Portuguese: “Para quem eh bacalhau basta!”

    P.S.: Just tell me exactly where/how did I favour the Portuguese orthography? And, by the way, before you even go on in that vein, don’t even try to play the “self-righteous anti-colonist more-Angolan/African than thou” on me… pretty please?!

  7. You misunderstand me. I’m not looking for a fight, certainly not with you. And I certainly am not disagreeing with your correction of Lara’s statement. My own personal beef is with how durable the colonial mentality of “the X people speak Y language” is. I think it is limiting and serves to blur historical political creativity. And in contemporary sources, I am not familiar with any people, either in Angola or Angolans in the Americas, who identified themselves as “Mbundu” at that time. If Kisama history is taken on its own terms, rather than from the perspective of Ndongo or Matamba, it doesn’t appear as an island, but rather as something worth considering in its own right.

    My question on orthography, which comes from your saying “Mbundo” rather than “Mbundu” comes from a genuine interest in language, history, and politics. You’ve chosen to interpret my question differently.

    I’ll just end my response by reiterating that I am not looking for a fight, but I certainly don’t appreciate being patronized.

  8. Well, whether you believe you are up there or down there, I’m delighted there is a debate. I would admit, first, to having learned a lesson from rushing out this post in the first place in which I did make errors and did acknowledge them. Secondly, I would say to Angolan on Mars, that before you patronise people about what they say and think you should ponder how proud you can really be when you write anonymously. At least both Jess and I are prepared to write under our names, not hide on a planet. The only other thing I would say is this: I think you misunderstood my original post (though I may be wrong). You wonder how I could compare Rainha Nzinga and ‘Rei’ Dos Santos. The whole point is that I was wondering exactly the same thing from the poster itself. And that comparison came out of a conversation I had with an Angolan couple in Luanda when we first spotted the poster on the end of the ilha. (Incidentally, it was they who said it was Rainha Nzinga – not I). We laughed at the idea that Dos Santos could ever be as great as Rainha Nzinga. Do you see? But since you have told me that Rainha Nzinga’s portrait is in fact one of Neto, it is hard to make that comparison anyway.

    Enough of this foolish bicker.

    I ask you, up there, on high, to come down to this earth and state who you are. Then you can speak with true pride. If not, I beg you, don’t be so alienated with us. After all, I can be dictator on my blog and delete you and your planet at any moment.

    Oh, how I long to be a dictator…

  9. EXACTLY!
    The arrogant-ignorant-patroniser’s LAST RESORT:
    CENSORSHIP-DICTATORSHIP!
    Isn’t that so different from the “colonial” behaviour?!
    And dear, you are, once again, SO WRONG in presuming that I’d derive any pleasure from teaching you one more lesson or two about Angolan political history and REALLY INTRODUCING YOU TO ANGOLA… SO WRONG INDEED!
    In fact people who have enough audacity to claim to have “the truth and nothing but truth” about something they hardly know NEVER LEARN ANYTHING FROM ANYONE!

    P.S.: Don’t you worry, querida, you’ll get to know my “real identity” when you graduate to join me up here!

  10. Ok, Angolan on Mars, I’m not sure if this last bit of vitriol is directed at myself or at Lara. I will speak only for myself, obviously:

    I’m not asking you to teach me a lesson about Angola. I don’t need you to take on some sort of essentialized role as the dispenser of experience, and I don’t consider myself ignorant. I show anyone respect, but the fact that you have come at me with some obviously false assumptions (about who I am, what I know, and from where I come) makes it quite difficult to listen to you. I will just conclude by saying that you do not have a monopoly on knowledge (about Angola or anything else) nor on pain and suffering at the hands of an imperialist/neo-imperialist regime.

    Or, put differently, check yourself before you wreck yourself.

    Again, speaking for myself, no desire to join you on Mars. I’d rather continue the real battles here.

  11. A friend writes: “The trick is that they enhanced Dos Santos’ good looks against a drawing of Neto, which makes him look like a guy struggling with a hangover.”

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