Angola: Birth of a Movement

Can young activists inspired by Angola’s underground rap scene take on a political elite that has ruled for decades?

Filmmakers: David Lale and Ana de Sousa

Angola’s post-war economy is booming and its capital, Luanda, is the most expensive city in the world after Tokyo.

Although the country is Africa’s second-biggest oil producer, most Angolans live on less than $2 a day.

Meanwhile, the country’s president and his ruling party have clung on to power for over three decades, gaining tight control of both the public and private sectors, and stifling dissent and protest.

But in 2011 – inspired by the Arab uprisings – a group of young Angolan activists took to the streets, demanding an end to decades of mismanagement and corruption.

Arrested, harassed, beaten – the activists refuse to step down. This is the story of the birth of their movement.

Update: On March 28, 2016, rapper and activist Luaty Beirao and Mbanza Hamza, two of the central characters in this film, along with 15 other dissidents were sentenced to jail by a Luanda court. Beirao received a five and a half year prison sentence and Hamza, four years and six months. Thirteen of the activists were arrested in June 2015.They were sentenced for plotting to overthrow president Jose Eduardo dos Santos, whose regime has become increasingly repressive. Dos Santos, who has ruled Angola since 1979 and is the second longest-serving leader in Africa, said on March 11 that he would step down in 2018. 


By Ana de Sousa

Angola is a country that has long fascinated me, and having lived there between 2007 and 2008, it always amazed me how little is known about it beyond the Portuguese-speaking world.

I had wanted to make a piece about Angola for a long time, and when a number of underground musicians emerged as key players in a spate of anti-government protests in 2011, my interest was immediately sparked.

When I had last visited the country in 2008, public protests were virtually unheard of, and people rarely spoke ill of the government or the country’s president in public.

Though hard for others less familiar with Angola’s history to understand, the very fact of 17 people attempting to hold a protest felt like a huge change. And as the year progressed and the protests grew, it just got more interesting.
Angola: Birth of a Movement follows three of the brave young activists taking on an enormously powerful and deeply entrenched political and economic elite.

They all come from widely different backgrounds; Luaty is a famous rapper and a member of the wealthy minority; Mbanza is a student from the city’s sprawling and impoverished shantytowns; and Carbono is a rapper and designer from the inner city’s lower middle class.

But since 2011, they have found themselves thrown together in the struggle for a different future to that being offered by the country’s rulers.

READ MORE: Angola launches crackdown amid plunging oil

Eighty per cent of Angola’s population has known only one leader, President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who has now been in power for 33 years – making him one of the world’s longest-serving rulers. 

A small and increasingly wealthy political elite has ruled the country since its independence in 1975, relying on complex patronage networks to maintain political power and control of the country’s booming oil economy.

History, too, plays an important role; widespread fear of a return to war, and the distant memory of a political massacre several decades ago, had successfully stifled the spirit of public protest among those old enough to remember those events.

But more than half of the country’s population is under the age of 20 and the burgeoning youth have neither the fear of their parents, nor their allegiance to the party that brought independence to Angola.

Music has played an important role in empowering dissenting voices.

For many, the underground rap scene has helped articulate the frustrations of Angola’s disenchanted youth, while being used as a medium to spread alternative ideas.  

None of the activists featured in the documentary (all proponents or admirers of Luanda’s underground rap scene), had anticipated how big a role it would play in their struggle. But their humility is part of the charm of Luaty, Carbono and Mbanza.

They always go to great lengths to stress that they are only three of many activists in a broader movement, and that they were not behind many of the protests that took place throughout 2011.

They have a great and very funny relationship, and are always joking. Even when talking about violent attacks on their homes or time spent in prison, their accounts are full of humour and positivity, and it is impossible not to admire that youthful spirit.
As news of the Arab Spring reached Angola in early 2011, nervous leaders from the ruling People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) sought to proclaim: “Angola is not Egypt! Angola is not Tunisia! Angola is not Libya!”

And it is not; but the frustrated, marginalised and rebellious youth of Luanda looked north and saw in the Arab Spring a source of inspiration and courage.

Over a year since the first protests, the activists’ movement is still in its early days, still evolving, still defining itself. But their determination to see change in Angola remains undeterred.