The world’s media watched (sort of) as Angola votes

The three most interesting things about the recent Angolan elections were: one, that we knew the result before election (the question was by how much). Two, why did the Angolan ruling party, MPLA, spent so much on election advertising and, three, did anyone notice that the MPLA also used former Brazilian president Lula’s favorite marketing firm to run the election?

Earlier this month, the world watched (sort of) as Angolans went to the polls to vote in a new National Assembly, and indirectly elect their president. The MPLA—in power in Luanda since Angolans won independence from Portugal in 1975 — surprised no one when it claimed about three-fourths of the ballots and voted to extend José Eduardo dos Santos’s 33-year presidency five more years.

Then something odd happened: Público, one of Portugal’s leading left-of-center dailies, printed Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho’s message to dos Santos like the latter is still overseeing the colony. After patting both countries on the back for their efforts to promote peace, stability, and democracy, Passos Coelho assured dos Santos that they are “in this together” in the twenty-first century.

International media coverage has continued, as opposition parties challenge the legitimacy of the election results based on irregularities in the electoral roll and vote-counting.

We can’t stop watching.

We’ve even started a scorecard to keep track of all the ways English media outlets make China the focus of electoral coverage. Coverage breaks down according to strategic national interests:

Only Al Jazeera’s Barnaby Phillips, who was a BBC correspondent in Angola in the mid-1990s, bothered to ask a “man on the street” and actual MPLA supporter what he thought of the elections.

The Guardian found the most reactionary army general-turned-Porsche-seller to get this scoop:

“We have to remember one thing: in Africa we look at our head of state as our father and it is very difficult to change,” mused the former army lieutenant colonel. “The Angolan people look at our head of state as a father.”

Is he onto something? The Angolan anthropologist António Tomas wrote about this very dynamic in Angola in his PhD dissertation (in Anthropology at Columbia University): That is that the oppression/resistance model explains some things, but it does not explain everything, and less and less these days on the continent.

So let’s talk about the Angolan political system as part of — not just responding to — global commercial interests. For starters, as we said at the outset someone in the press might have asked why the MPLA spent so much on advertising instead of just citing the figure or the fact that they used former Brazilian president Lula’s favorite marketing firm to run the election.

* Marissa Moorman contributed to this post. Here’s The New York Times article.

2 thoughts on “The world’s media watched (sort of) as Angola votes

  1. This post zig zags all over the place and doesn’t offer much support for its claims. Aside from citing the thesis by Tomas, what evidence is there that Angolans see their leader as a father? And what exactly is meant by the claim? Certainly those leaders who have been in power a long time try to justify their positions by claiming they are “fathers” but it’s hard to determine whether people are really convinced by such rhetoric without some public opinion data.

  2. this sentiment of ‘the state is our father’ is very strong in Angola and became even stronger in war times as it was exploited by both sides. But it stems from colonial times. I am writing an article on this, soon to be published, based on doctoral research undertaken in central Angola.

    Inge Ruigrok, Ph.D.

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