Rafael Marques de Morais: Blood Diamonds, Corruption and Human Rights in Angola

Rafael Marques de Morais is an Angolan journalist and human rights activist, who fights for freedom of expression and human rights in Angola, especially in the Luanda provinces. He is also the founder of Maka Angola, an initiative dedicated to fighting for democracy and against corruption in Angola.

Marques was born in Angola in 1971 and went on to receive a Bachelors degree in Anthropology from the University of London and a Masters of Science from Oxford University. His career as a journalist started in 1992, when he commenced writing for the state-owned newspaper Jornal de Angola. After writing critical contributions about Angola’s president José Eduardo dos Santos and also citing members of the opposition in his articles, Marques was fired from the newspaper. He was arrested in 1999 and held without charges in a prison for 40 days. Later, he was charged with the abuse of the press, resulting in defamation and thus to injury to the president. He was sentenced to jail, but his sentence was changed to a suspended sentence due to the international pressure building up on Angola. The Open Society Justice Initiative had presented Marques’ case to the United Nations Human Rights Council. The Council ruled that Angola violated the freedom of expression of a journalist and at the same time called for the liberalization of the Angolan regime. The suspended sentence required Marques to pay damages to the president. Internationally, the trial against Marques is seen as a landmark case in the quest for freedom of expression in Angola.

After the trial, Marques focussed more on trying to end the Angolan Civil War through journalistic means. His calls for peaceful resolutions of the conflict, the publication of articles on corruption and embezzlement within Angola and lastly his research on the trade of blood diamonds ensured Marques international acclaim. In 2008 he founded the anti-corruption website Maka Angola. In an indigenous language of Angola, Maka means a serious problem. The website is an initiative that devotes its energy to the struggle against corruption and the defense of democracy in Angola.  Being rich in natural wealth and resources has guaranteed Angola a rapid economic growth, but the population still lives in extreme poverty. Maka Angola addresses this problem and publishes critical articles and news on the government.

Due to the extreme personal risks that Rafael Marques takes in conducting his research and speaking openly and critically of injustices in Angola, he has received several international awards. Among them are the Percy Qoboza Award of the United States National Association of Black Journalists in 2000, the Civil Courage Prize in 2006 and a Human Rights Watch grant for his contribution of freedom of expression in Angola 2011.

Marques published two books about the hardship and consequences of diamond mining for the local population in Cabinda and Luanda provinces. His extensive research laid the groundwork for the publications „Cabinda: A Year of Pain“, which gives an account of human rights violations inflicted on the population by the government, and „Blood Diamonds: Corruption and Torture in Angola“, describing killings and terror of the local population by the Angolan military and private security companies in the name of protecting the diamond mining business.

Angolan Mining

According to the Kimberely Process, an initiative trying to stem the flow of blood diamonds, Angola ranks fourth in the world in the production of diamonds. In 2012, 9% of the production value (in US$) of diamonds credits Angola. 33% of the world’s imports of diamonds reached the European Union in 2012. Marques criticises this consumption of diamonds, which worsens the situation of the Angolan population and results in further corruption in Angola.

According to Marques and Maka Angola, the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA) and private security companies torment the local population in Luanda province. The systematic violation of human rights, robbery, torture and murder turn Angolan diamonds into blood diamonds. The term blood diamond, also known as conflict diamond, refers to diamonds mined in war zones: the export revenues of the diamonds goes to financing insurgency or the activity of warlords and armies. In Angola, the mining companies are often owned by army generals or members of the inner circle of the president. The local population is forced to mine, seeing as there is no other source of income or livelihood in Luanda province. Thus, the miners are at the mercy of FAA soldiers and randomly set diamond prices. They are further limited in their freedom of movement.

Angola

Angola is a former Portuguese colony, which gained independene in 1975. The diamond trade and oil production have rapidly expanded since the late 1970s. Directly after independence a civil war broke out, which was further heated on by the involvement/sponsoring of the USA and the Soviet Union, seen as a part of the Cold War. The civil war lasted until the death of the opposition/rebel leader in 2002. After the execution, the fighting stopped and the militant branch of the opposition was incorporated into the army, while the non-militant branch joined the parliament. The civil war was shortly interrupted in 1990/1991, which led to the establishment of a multi-party system and resulted in the 1992 elections. José Eduardo dos Santos was voted as president, but another round of voting would have been necessary to consolidate him in office. Seeing as the fighting continued right after the elections, though, dos Santos was pronounced president without complete legitimation. Angola turned into an authoritarian system with a presidential democracy. In 2010, Angola gave itself a new constitution, which made the system even more authoritarian than it already was. Angola’s economy has expanded rapidly within the last ten years thanks to oil production and diamond mining. Still, Angola ranks 148 or 187 on the United Nations’ Human Developement Index 2012.

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