Angola became the centre of worldwide media interest last month, following the publication of the so-called "Luanda Leaks". Based on a trove of leaked emails and other documents obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the investigation revealed how Isabel dos Santos, daughter of the former president, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, had exploited government resources and connections to build a multibillion-dollar empire.

The dos Santos family's fortunes were already starting to shift in the southern African country after its patriarch resigned the presidency in 2017, after 38 years in power.

His anointed successor, Joao Lourenco, belongs to the same party, the MPLA, that has ruled Angola since 1975 - the year its cadres secured independence from Portugal. But President Lourenco was soon straying from his predecessor's script, stripping the dos Santos clan of its control of a number of state-owned companies.

Some of the most visible changes to take place under Lourenco have occurred in Angola's media sector, which has long been subject to heavy state control. Soon after taking office, Lourenco invited journalists who had been jailed under dos Santos to a press conference at which he paid tribute to their work and declared his commitment to press freedom. Since then, the signs have been encouraging. While restrictive media laws passed by dos Santos have not, at least so far, been reversed, local journalists and international press freedom groups note a growing tolerance for dissenting opinions in the Angolan public sphere.

In this climate, one particular form of dissent is flourishing: satire. The use of humour as a mode of social and political critique has deep roots in Angola: In the colonial era, for instance, song lyrics commonly poked fun at the Portuguese.

The Listening Post spoke to two of the country's most accomplished satirists - cartoonist Sergio Picarra and comedian Tiago Costa - about the role of humour as a form of political commentary and the changing state of press freedom in Angola.

"Satirising the rich, satirising the politicians, satirising the powerful - these are forms of social resistance to the aggressions we experience on a daily basis," says Picarra.

Picarra experienced the repression of the dos Santos regime first-hand: In 1997, he was fired by the state-owned newspaper Jornal de Angola over a cartoon that was deemed too critical of the government.

"Almost the entire media was controlled by the state - television, radio, newspapers," Picarra reflects. "It was a very difficult period. You had to find symbols, metaphors and characters to portray people and situations."

Tiago Costa, a comedian with a sharp eye on Angola's political landscape, began his career towards the end of the dos Santos era. For him, the change of presidents has had a dramatic effect.

"In the past, if you made fun of President Jose Eduardo, everyone would be against you," Costa recalls.

"Today, if you make fun of President Joao Lourenco, people are aware that's all it is - a joke.

Whereas under dos Santos, Costa's comedy was confined to YouTube and the radio, he now has two television shows, Sopa Saber and Goza'Aqui com Vida. The programmes air on Vida TV, a station partly owned by Tchize dos Santos, one of the former president's daughters. But, in a sign of how far things have shifted, that has not stopped Costa from mocking her on air.

Picarra agrees that improvements in press freedom are undeniable. But there is, he emphasises, still a long way to go. "It is not a complete opening," he says. "The information that the public gets is still highly controlled."

For Costa, satire has a role to play in pressuring the political class towards greater accountability, and away from corruption: "Satire should force our politicians to recognise their mistakes and learn from them. It might help us avoid producing another Isabel dos Santos. And if we manage that, it will be great."

Produced by: Daniel Turi

This report on Portugal was pitched to The Listening Post by Beatriz Ramalho da Silva, who also provided research and fact-checking.


Tiago Costa - Comedian and host, Sopa Saber

Sergio Picarra - Cartoonist and creator, Mankiko

Source: Al Jazeera News