Rafael Marques de Morais is an Angolan journalist and human rights activist. He is currently facing nine charges of defamation after publishing on human rights abuses committed during diamond mining operations in Angola. Since 2008 he has run an anti-corruption watchdog news site called Maka Angola – “maka” means a serious, nuanced problem.
Marques has dedicated his career to investigating his country’s maka: ingrained corruption in Angolan government and industry, and the repeated violation of Angolans’ human rights. This culminated in his 1999 article The Lipstick of Dictatorship, which said Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos was propagating the country’s civil war to distract attention from his regime’s “incompetence, embezzlement and corruption”.
In retaliation, Marques was arrested and detained for 40 days without charge, during which time he was denied food and water for days at a time. His six-month sentence for defamation of dos Santos was then suspended on condition that he wrote nothing critical of the government for five years. Within three years he was writing a series of reports documenting government-sponsored human rights abuses in Angolan province Cabinda.
Journalists in Angola are routinely threatened for speaking against the state – seven have been murdered since 1992, including a pro-opposition radio presenter who was shot in 2010. Rights activists are also targeted. In November 2014, a female student was beaten for two hours by a group of police officers for taking part in an anti-government demonstration.
In terms of its natural resources Angola is one of the world’s richest countries, with extensive deposits of oil and diamonds under its surface. The end of the country’s civil war in 2002 paved the way for enormous economic growth: in the subsequent decade the government budget grew from $6 billion to $69 billion, as oil and diamond sales rocketed.
But this financial influx hasn’t trickled down to the Angolan populace, 70 per cent of whom still live on less than $2 a day. Angola is ranked 161st out of 175 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. It’s easy to see why – between 2007 and 2010 $32 billion in oil revenue went unaccounted for in government ledgers.
Recently Marques has focused on following money trails between government figures and business leaders, especially in diamond and oil industries. A highlight of this work is his 2013 collaboration with Forbes magazine investigating the president’s daughter Isabel dos Santos, and the provenance of her $3.9 billion wealth. dos Santos, styled ‘Princess’ of Angola, is the richest woman in Africa – but Marques’ thorough investigations reveal the extent to which her father used his power to cut her into business deals.
Marques’ leading investigative work into corruption and human rights abuses at Angola’s diamond companies was distilled into his 2011 book Blood Diamonds: Torture and Corruption in Angola. He recounted 500 cases of torture and 100 murders of villagers living near diamond mines, carried out by private security companies and military officials.
Marques declared the bosses of these groups morally responsible for the atrocities committed under them, and filed charges of crimes against humanity against seven Angolan generals. After his case was dropped by the prosecution, the generals launched a series of retaliation lawsuits in Angola and Portugal, charging Marques with criminal libel. They are demanding a total of $1.6 million from Marques. The case will begin in March 2015.
In spite of the impending trial, last month Marques began publishing a series of pieces on land-grabbing generals who have displaced agrarian workers around Angola.