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A panel of experts discusses corruption and the democratic process in Angola

On Monday, February 3rd, The Institute of World Politics held its first panel event in its new lecture series focusing on Africa. A panel of experts tackled questions from the audience surrounding corruption and the democratic process in Angola.

About the panelists

The panel was chaired by Professor Hashem Mekki who is an Arabic professor at The Institute of World Politics. He is also the owner of Bridge Language Solutions, which provides translation, interpretation, and teaching services in the Washington, D.C. area and the founder of Kele Global, a non-profit organization promoting social issues in Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan.

The panel consisted of three other experts: Florindo Chivucute, Malik Chaka, and Kyra Gurney.

Florindo Chivucute is the founder and executive director of Friends of Angola and Radio Angola. He is an activist, blogger, and digital media specialist with more than five years of experience in non-profit organizations and international development.

Malik Chaka is a retired United States government official who was the director of Threshold Programs for the Millennium Challenge Corporation and was also a professional staff member with the Africa Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Kyra Gurney is a reporter for the International Consortium of Investigative Journalism (ICIJ). She previously worked at the Miami Herald where she was part of a team investigating the illegal gold trade originating in Latin America. The final piece, called “Dirty Gold Clean Cash,” was a finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize. Her organization published the Luanda Leaks, which exposed the endemic corruption that allowed Isabel dos Santos, daughter of the former Angolan President and Dictator Eduardo dos Santos, to become the richest woman in Africa.

A discussion of Angola

The event began with opening statements from the panelists before moving quickly on to a discussion aided by questions from the audience.

Mr. Chivucute explained the foundation of his organization, Friends of Angola, and its purpose. Founded at George Mason University in 2014, the mission of Friends of Angola is to raise awareness of the issues that Angola faces and to help rebuild its civil society. His organization has been active in Angola and helps support youth movements there with the help of funds from the American National Endowment for Democracy.

Mr. Chivucute’s main argument throughout the event was that, in order to build a strong democratic system in Angola, an unofficial “coalition” of organizations and individuals who are willing to build such a system must be assembled. This “coalition” should include NGOs, international organizations like the World Bank, and American organizations, such as the Federal Reserve, that will help combat corruption in Angola by no longer selling dollars to the Angolan government. The role of this “coalition” will be to empower young Angolan activists in their domestic struggle for democratic governance and to bring an end to government corruption.

The problems faced by Angola are not merely domestic troubles, argued the panel. They noted that Angola’s economic problems, exacerbated by its endemic corruption, have made Angola fertile recruitment ground for Al-Shabaab, a West African terrorist organization that threatens regional security, as well as American interests in West Africa.

Furthermore, as Ms. Gurney pointed out, the ICIJ’s work has made Western organizations more aware of the problems they cause by funding corruption. She argued that the awareness raised by the Luanda Leaks was pivotal to making corruption in countries like Angola a global issue. Mr. Chivucute expanded on this by placing some blame on certain Western companies and suggested that the West now has an obligation of sorts to help Angola become a less corrupt and more democratic-leaning country.

During the panel discussion, Mr. Chaka noted that the end of the Angolan Civil War in 2002 and the more recent death of José Eduardo dos Santos in 2017 present a unique opportunity for Angola to not only begin reconciling its domestic differences but to also help build up strong democratic institutions. He used the government’s permission for the reburial of Jonas Savimbi, the opposition leader during the Angolan Civil War, as an example of how the country can move towards a more open, democratic, and tolerant society.

The panel agreed that the upcoming general election in 2022 is a huge opportunity for the youth and those who oppose the government of Angola to make their voices heard and to make sure that good governance can finally establish itself in Angola. Mr. Chaka, in particular, was keen for the world and the U.S. to recognize this moment and to help safeguard the electoral process in Angola.

A former U.S. Ambassador to Angola was in attendance as a member of the audience and added to the panelists’ arguments. She agreed with Mr. Chaka that for the democratic process to have the greatest chance of taking root, Angola and the U.S. must focus on capacity building in Angolan institutions.

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