Angola: Promises And Lies, by Karl Maier
There are few subjects that encourage the cynicism of the Western reader more than reading about a messed up African country, and this book delivers plenty of food for cynicism. How so? Well, it is the memoir of sorts of a WaPo/Independent journalist and his experiences over the years in dealing with Angola while cataloging the brave determination of its people and the abject failures of its leaders to provide peace and well-being for those people. It is sometimes said that people get the government that they deserve but the author clearly believes that Angolans deserve a better government than the leaders that they have and there appears to be little reason to argue with him. A one-time head of state in Africa once said that independence offered the people of Africa one person, one vote, one time and that is a cynical judgment that has frequently been borne out in the fate of the continent. The author, for all of his desire to use this particular story to put blame on South African apartheid forces and American bumbling abroad, cannot help but note that Angola’s problems amount to a fundamental inability on the part of the nation’s leaders to provide for the well-being of the people.
This book is a relatively short one at about 200 pages and it is divided into sixteen chapters. We find the author dealing with the time of civil war between the socialist MPLA and the UNITA, whose anti-foreign rhetoric hardly seems much of an improvement (1). The author does some legwork in trying to visit a city under siege (2) while looking at the destructiveness that can be seen on the road to Huambo (3) as he struggles with the views of different people as to what the right future is (4). He talks about having to beg for one’s life in an area filled with violence (5), and discusses as well the final countdown to an election that was supposed to settle matters (6), but which does not as a lack of trust leads to another breakdown (7). The author then discusses the meaning of people power in Angola (8), the shout to the heavens about the death and corruption all around (9), as well as the struggle for people to enjoy the good life (10). The author discusses meeting a man named Jesus (11), his own struggles to avoid angry military figures who dislike his articles (12), what the New Angola means for its people (13), and the madness present in Kuito (14). Finally the book ends with a discussion of the promises and lies that Angola has faced (15) as well as a postscript (16), bibliography, and index.
The failure of Angola’s leaders appears to be total in the eyes of the author. Whether he is looking at the people in charge of rebel groups or those who represent the socialist MPLA, the author comments on their attempts to silent journalists writing about their efforts at causing bloodshed to Angolans, including their own supporters. The book is peppered with Portuguese expressions that demonstrate the leftist penchant for political correctness, whether it is referring to a stressful and uncertain time as a situação or political murder as limpieza. The author shows how it is that Angola gets a lot of oil wealth from an exclave that somehow is the most undeveloped part of a rather undeveloped country, points out that oil wealth has done little but make Angola an expensive place to visit without providing any of the infrastrucutre that mineral wealth could provide were it received by people who were not entirely corrupt, and still tries to blame whitey for it. If the author’s aim is not very true, at least he does have righteous indignation on behalf of the Angolan people, who have suffered for decades because of the inability of their political elites to behave properly and work towards building a strong society.