Angola’s first muckraker

Ricardo de Mello, Angola’s first investigative journalist, was murdered at the age of 38. Born in Lisbon on 26 September 1956 to an Angolan mother and Portuguese father, Mello grew up in Luanda where he eventually read for a degree in law at the University of Agostinho Neto. His passion, however, was journalism. He cut his teeth in the 1980s and 1990s reporting on Angola’s civil war for Voice of America and the BBC. At the time, private media was illegal in the country, making the official Jornal de Angola the only source of locally produced information. This changed with the abandonment of socialism and superficial adoption of multi-party democracy in 1992. Mello embraced the openings created by the legalisation of independent press. In February 1995, in collaboration with Jaime Gonçalves, an Angolan businessman, Mello launched Imparcial Fax (Impartial Fax), an investigative news bulletin, which was published five days a week and faxed directly to subscribers.

Imparcial Fax quickly gained a reputation as one of the few (or arguably the only) source of independent investigative journalism in the country. In its founding statutes, it explicitly aligned itself with a human rights agenda, identifying censorship, corruption and ‘political totalitarianism’ as its nemeses. In order to preserve its integrity, journalists who worked with Imparcial Fax were prohibited from holding positions within the state, political parties or any other kind of employment that could compromise their reporting. This was necessary, as the ruling MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola) had inveigled its way into almost all institutions, providing it with powerful financial and political means to co-opt and silence critics.

War and corruption stood at the centre of Imparcial Fax’s reporting. By 1995, Angola’s civil war had been dragging on for 20 years, with information on the MPLA and National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA)’s activities heavily censored. Mello became the first journalist to break through state propaganda, drawing on his links to MPLA elites to gather information about what was really happening. Simultaneously, he began to focus on the extensive corruption that plagued the country. Angola was in the midst of a transition from a socialist planned economy to a freemarket orientated one, and the elites were reaping the spoils. Prior to Mello, these actions, although discussed on the street, did not face public scrutiny. Imparcial Fax interrupted the feasting by highlighting the collapse of stateowned enterprises, and the corrupt patronage that lay behind accumulation, such as the involvement of First Lady Ana Paula dos Santos in business dealings.

Investigative journalism is risky anywhere, but in Angola, those risks rapidly escalate. Despite only having 300 official subscribers, the information from Imparcial Fax reached significantly more people, and also indicated that there were people from within the state willing to leak information. This caused anger among the powerful. Mello and other journalists began to frequently receive threats directed not only at them, but their families. As just one example, Mariano Costa, a journalist working for Imparcial Fax, was detained at Luanda’s airport and held for 28 hours. In January 1995, just a few months after publishing an exposé about the uses of psychological warfare by the MPLA state, Mello was warned Investigative journalism is risky anywhere, but in Angola, those risks rapidly escalate. Despite only having 300 official subscribers, the information from Imparcial Fax reached significantly more people, and also indicated that there were people from within the state willing to leak information. This caused anger among the powerful. Mello and other journalists began to frequently receive threats directed not only at them, but their families. As just one example, Mariano Costa, a journalist working for Imparcial Fax, was detained at Luanda’s airport and held for 28 hours. In January 1995, just a few months after publishing an exposé about the uses of psychological warfare by the MPLA state, Mello was warned that his life was in danger and he began to receive a deluge of anonymous threats. He was not dissuaded however, and Imparcial Fax continued its work.that his life was in danger and he began to receive a deluge of anonymous threats. He was not dissuaded however, and Imparcial Fax continued its work.

On 18 January 1995, however, the threats to his life were acted upon. Returning home in the early hours of the morning, he was shot point-blank in his apartment block and then injected with an unknown substance. A neighbour’s child found Mello and alerted his wife. His killers have never been brought to justice, nor were they ever formally identified. However, based on information apparently leaked from DNIC (National Directorate for Criminal Investigations), it is widely believed in Angola that his assassination was orchestrated by a man nicknamed ‘Carlitos’, the nephew of then minister of interior, André Pitra ‘Petroff ’. The murderers had rented an apartment opposite his the month before, following his daily routines and actions, apparently simply withdrawing into the apartment after murdering him.

Following Mello’s murder, Imparcial Fax collapsed, the assassination having ‘paralyse(d) the entire profession’ (IRBC, 1999) of independent journalism in Angola by acting as a warning to both journalists and whistleblowers. On the same day that Mello was killed, two other journalists associated with Imparcial Fax were assaulted, and within the week, Mariano Costa was attacked and almost kidnapped by unknown assailants (IRBC, 1999). Many of those linked to the paper sought refuge in other countries. The opening, which Mello had attempted to grasp, was shut down by the Angolan regime, which, through the 1990s and into the present has continued to harass journalists, with a notable number being threatened, assaulted and interrogated. In Angola, Ricardo de Mello continues to be a symbol of how much can be achieved with little resources and overwhelming political opposition to one’s work. While embassies, international organisations and NGOs turned a blind eye to the Angolan regime’s impunity, Mello and his team stared these abuses in the face, revealing the potential of independent investigative journalism under even the most adverse conditions.

References

Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRBC). 1999. ‘Angola: The Luandabased newspaper “Jornal Imparcial Fax”, in particular whether the paper and its employees were targeted by the dos Santos government and/or police because it published stories critical of the government’, (update to AGO21980.E of 14 November 1995). Available at: www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6ad4624.html, accessed on 10 June 2018.

While the Braga is the Treasurer2

Ricardo de Mello, Imparcial Fax, 18 October 1994
Translated by Claudia Gastrow

The appetites of employees, from the highest in the hierarchy to the lowliest of police, have now turned to privatisations. The transfer of every one of the state’s small properties to individuals creates an environment for corruption which is increasingly open, blatant. However, the relevant authorities continue to fail to react due to an alleged ‘lack of proof’ despite flagrant 2 A proverb referencing a context in which there are opportunities for corruption or when money has been embezzled or misappropriated.

The story is short. In 1975, when the Portuguese colonizers hastily retreated to ‘the garden at the edge of the plateau’3 the legal status of their properties became messy. The old Pensão Lusitana (Hotel Lusitana) on 18 Adolfo Pina Road was left in this situation. In the confusion, the management of the said establishment landed up in the charge of Eugénio Teixeira Furtado, at the time, a businessman. Due to circumstances, in 1978, the former TPR [Tribunal Popular Revolucionário] condemned Furtado to two years in prison. Having completed his sentence, he found the hotel operated by the state. He appealed the situation and won. It was decided that the management of Pensão Lusitana should be returned to him, now that he was once again free. However, this never occurred, despite the relevant authorities emitting a dispatch. Eugénio Furtado had to wait for better days, until June 1993, to obtain a new dispatch in his favour, restoring his rights. But, this is where the pig twists its tail again.4

After a long process that culminated in an order, signed by both the office holders of the Ministry of Commerce, to return the management [to Furtado], everything remained impeded again. This is because the present director of Pensão Lusitana, currently the Escola de Hotelaria [Hotel School], openly refused to comply with the order of the Minister and Vice-Minister of Commerce. He declared that he would not return the establishment to the previous legitimate manager, paying no attention to the orders of the hierarchy. The Minister and respective Vice-Minister, on their part, proved themselves powerless to make him comply. The current director of the hotel, a state employee, argues that the Pensão Lusitana has to be sold to him and the ministerial order can go to hell! To that effect, he has already submitted his request under the name of a phantom trading company. Since then, not even [Commerce Minister] Celestino Dias could make him stay on the right track.

by following ministerial decisions. The most mysterious is that, even confronted with these facts (a state employee buying state properties), it continues to be repeated that ‘there is no proof’ of corruption. Worse still, even when this is provided, as in this situation, the fight against corruption costs money and ‘can’t burden the OGE [state budget],’ as was explained a few days ago by the president of the parliament, França van Dúnen … Accordingly, everything compounds itself. Will the Pensão Lusitana still be sold to the state employee placed there by the state? Or, will the fact that the fight against corruption is postponed for financial reasons be exploited while ‘the Braga is the treasurer’.

The Peace from Afar
Ricardo de Mello, Imparcial Fax, 11 October 1994

Definitely, the Lusaka negotiations appear to be experiencing a negotiators’ syndrome in which every time it seems that they will be shortly concluded, new questions emerge. The latest (presented as the only issue still pending), relates to the municipalities. The government delegation travelled to Luanda to hold discussions and returned, having resumed negotiations. The fact that UNITA has claimed the municipalities of Soyo and Lobito has ‘muddied’ the process and, in Luanda, it is said that the protocol will only be signed after the end of October. Moreover, it is claimed that ‘UNITA has to know who is in charge and, because of this, it is only after taking Huambo that it will be possible to proceed with the process’. It is the hardliners that are dictating the rules while the people die in all manners imaginable: hunger, war and a lack of medical assistance. On the part of the government, the radicals believe that: • Savimbi is ‘off-side’ and that with this lack of leadership, UNITA finds itself directionless; • The divisions among the rebels will not be overcome anytime soon and so now is the moment to apply military pressure; • Huambo is an easy victory, regardless of the obstacles presented by the Waku-Kungo/Huambo, Benguela/Huambo, and Kuito/Huambo axes; • The airpower of the government leaves little room for manoeuvre for Savimbi’s men; • Once militarily defeated, UNITA’s officials will not return to guerilla warfare.

On the part of the rebels, the official position is firm: • If there is any military action against Huambo it will be the end of Lusaka and a return to square one; • The distribution of posts (power-sharing) should avoid (making it appear) that the peace accord functions as an act of surrender. There is therefore little room for maneuver, with the two players pushing the limits to the maximum as they attempt to restrict their adversary’s wiggle room. It is a return to the logic of war (if ever it ceased to exist) and the militaries have assumed command of politics, a space that does not belong to them.