Angola and Nigeria: Mobilizations against the established order in the countries of black gold.

In October 2020, starting on the sixtieth anniversary of its independence (1 October 1960), Nigeria experienced almost two weeks of mobilization of the movement against police violence, #EndSARS, made up mostly of young people. While in Angola, after a demonstration against corruption in October, on the very day of the 45th anniversary of independence (11 November 2020), young people took to the streets, demonstrating once again their anger over their social relegation. These mobilizations can be considered as the most recent balance sheets  of the post-colonial decades by a new generation in these two states.

Popular mobilization in the top economy and oil producer in Africa

Nigeria’s 60th anniversary of independence took place amid the gloomy mood created by SARS-CoV-2. But that would change in the following days, following the latest scandal concerning the special police brigade responsible for fighting organized crime, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), who have over the years become constant practitioners of the violation of human rights and even of a certain gangsterism (from the extortion of objects from individuals who have crossed their path to summary executions, including acts of torture and ransom demands). The summary execution (filmed) two days after the said anniversary subsequently reactivated the demand for its outright dissolution, #EndSARS. With a fairly popular mobilization - mainly young people who apparently constitute the favoured target of SARS -  occupying the streets on 8 October, beyond Abuja (the federal capital) and Lagos (the economic capital). Gays and lesbians participated, despite the pervasive homophobia, with the Feminist Coalition being central in the organization of solidarity, despite the equally pervasive phallocracy.1 The authorities claimed that they had listened to the demand for dissolution, along with four others including increased wages for police officers. This did not however lead to a demobilization of the demonstrators, on the one hand because they feared being duped once again: the replacement of the SARS by SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) being considered as a simple facelift. On the other  hand, the denunciation of police violence was also linked to the denunciation of the social violence inflicted on the majority of the population, expressed by placards also demanding “#end unemployment, #end commercialization of education, #end hunger, #end lack of free medical care”.2

Nigeria is the leading African economy in terms of gross domestic product, the leading African producer of oil (mainly by the world giants in the sector: Chevron, Exxon, Shell, Total) – which accounts for 94% of export earnings – and is very extractivist and extrovert, deemed economically dynamic also for the growth of its capitalists (millionaires and billionaires in dollars). However, it is characterized at the same time by a very high rate of poverty (70% of the population of around 210 million is considered as living under the poverty threshold) and unemployment (27.1%, 53% of them young), with 13 million children, above all girls, not attending school, its child trafficking “baby factories”, its supply to the international market in female prostitution and so on. A situation that has worsened with the drop in crude oil prices since 2014 and the drop in demand caused by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the world economy. And after increasing VAT, the government (with a debt corresponding to 48% of GDP), having made agreements with the international financial institutions (the IMF, the World Bank, even the African Development Bank), in September, complied with the neoliberal injunction to end the subsidies for electricity and fuel. The negative consequences on the budgets of the popular classes - the modest increase in the minimum wage achieved last year has not been applied in nearly a third of the states of the federation  - through the repercussion of this rise in prices, for example on foodstuffs and transport, led to spontaneous movements of disapproval in the popular neighbourhoods.

This prompted the main trade union federations (Nigerian Labour Congress, Trade Union Congress) to call for an indefinite strike. But, subsequently, “Technically the strike has been ‘suspended’ for two weeks” the day before the date set (28 September 2020) by the union leadership.3  That is, a few days before the unforeseen #EndSARS mobilization. In addition, the government had previously been granted the suspension of the strike of doctors in the public sector (unionized with the National Association of Residents Doctors, 40% of doctors, demanding, among other things, the payment of salary arrears dating from of 2014-2016). Public health has been one of the main victims of budget cuts as has public education, where the Academic Staff Union of Universities has maintained  its paralyzing strike since March at public universities. Nigerian government sees this strike as promoting the massive participation of students in #EndSARS mobilizations. Yet, said an academic, “all we are asking for is a fair treatment as teachers […]. We are not asking for outrageous amounts of gratuities but something that places us above the poverty line”.4  At the end of September, the Coalition for Revolution (CORE) called for a national demonstration on 1 October 2020, denouncing, among other things, “anti-people policies”, “extra-judicial killings”, and “poorly thought-out foreign loans that would burden and enslave future generations”.5

The #EndSARS mobilization in several Nigerian states thus takes place, certainly in an international context of the fight against police violence in the United States and in France, but also and above all in a local social context of resistance actions against neoliberal aggression by the popular classes. The occupation by demonstrators for two weeks of the Lekki motorway toll booth in Lagos is not devoid of symbolism as Lekki is a business city, a free trade zone.6  Also, the main figures of Nigerian capitalism have been singled out for attempting to divide and put an end to the movement by soliciting support from certain media individuals for the passage from the SARS to SWAT, so that business can resume its usual course.7 The philanthrocapitalist foundations (MacArthur Foundation, Open Society Foundation), responsible for the gilding of the chains of capitalist domination, have also been active.8 But without success, the mobilization continued.

Thus, probably, the option taken - after having resorted in previous days to using henchmen against the demonstrators, without succeeding in breaking the mobilization - of shooting at the demonstrators, at the Lekki tollbooth (about ten deaths) and elsewhere across Nigeria. As if to remind us that the violence of the SARS was not a whole, but was only the violence “the most visible, the most daily, to say the least, the crudest of a given structure”, to speak, like Frantz Fanon, about something else.9 That of the police force, or even of a neo-colonial state whose history is quite marked by three decades of succession at its head of putchists, army hierarchs (1966-1998). Following the example of the current Nigerian head of state, Muhammadu Buhari (putschist president from 1984 to 1985, after having participated in a previous putsch) returned to power in 2015, through the ballot box, but who seems not to have been sufficiently relieved of his barracks culture.The state forces have been powerless for a decade in the face of armed Islamist groups (Boko Haram and others) which violate, kidnap young girls, kill people in the North, but prove relentless in the face of peaceful demonstrators.10 As someone recalled, “the policing system is principally designed, in its origins and its ideology, to protect the political elite at the expense of ordinary citizens. Up until a few weeks ago, the Nigerian Police was established and regulated by a 1943 colonial law. This law was itself enacted to regulate a policing system established in 1930”.11 This is a good expression of neo-colonial post-colonialism. Hence the lack of particular sympathy with the demonstrators killed in Lekki and elsewhere shown by Nigerian president Muhammadu Buharu, although he did express his sorrow concerning the destruction and looting, by demonstrators enraged by the “Lekki massacre”, of the “inviolable” residence of the Oba (traditional king) of Lagos.12 Buhari’s post-massacre speech spoke of “our broad plan to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in the next 10 years; the creation of N75 billion National Youth Investment Fund”.13

A plan that seems destined to remain a promise in view of the agreements concluded by the Nigerian state with the IMF, WB, and ADB for the pursuit of “structural} reforms”. Among the said reforms, there is the privatization of ten profitable state enterprises including the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (with ten subsidiaries), central to the Nigerian gross national product.14 In other words, new gifts that will be made to the usual beneficiaries of neo-colonial independence in Nigeria: transnational capital and indigenous capitalists often linked to regional and central governments, whose reputation as a capital-accumulating kleptomania - in addition to consumerist nonsense, (self-)awarding of public contracts, etc., all covered in the term “corruption” - is well established. 

And demonstrations in Angola, second largest oil producer, Africa's sixth and over-indebted economy

The critical commemoration of independence has been most evident in Angola: the majority of young people braved the ban on demonstrating on 11 November 2020 (the 45th anniversary of independence wrested from Portugal by the Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola/MPLA, after 13 years of a national liberation war – in the context in the Portuguese colonial metropolis, of the Carnation Revolution of 1974-1975, against, among other things, the colonial wars, followed by a 27-year Angolan civil war from 1975 to 2002 – one of the hot spots of the so-called cold war15 , which destroyed much of the infrastructure). They thus exposed themselves to repression, with police officers also firing live ammunition, but without an equivalent of the “Lekki massacre”, apparently resulting in one death. For the demonstrators, 45 years of social injustice was too much. As in Nigeria, it was not a demonstration without precedents.

Since the last decade of the democratorship of José Eduardo Dos Santos (1979-2017), with the end of the civil war in 2002, Angolan youth have developed the habit of expressing their discontent. This is despite the intimidation by the government of the association known as the Revolutionary Movement of Angola, often presented as social but apolitical, which called for revolution in March 2011, thus initiating the diversified dynamic known as the Revús (revolutionaries), considering that 32 years of a regime reproducing social injustice was too much. However, the repression a few years later (2015-2016) in the form of the trial of the so-called “15 + 2” (15 men and 2 women) Revús accused of preparing “to carry out acts aimed at undermining the order and security of the country” on the basis of a collective reading at a meeting of a book considered subversive by the regime of the then president, José Eduardo dos Santos. His replacement as head of state, João Laurenço, has not been spared by this dynamic, even with the Covid-19 health crisis and state of emergency. This one seems to be marked by, among other things, acts of police violence which, without comparison with the almost systematic acts of SARS in ordinary times already, have been murderous on several occasions: "The murders committed by the police are accumulating and continuing, they know nothing else but to pull the trigger, to kill poor people and the inhabitants of the suburbs, in the most remote corners", said a local journalist, drawing attention to the poverty, in general, of the victims.16   We also pay tribute to all the victims of this violence.

With the embezzlement of public funds and the self-attribution of contracts by the rulers, poverty and unemployment have been the main subjects mobilizing young people since 2011. The demonstrators of 11 November, 2020, mainly young people, still spoke of their unemployment, their empty bellies, the hunger which was more of a daily reality to them than Covid-19. Indeed, despite GDP growth having, before the 2014 fall in crude oil prices, reached up to 20% in this country, the second biggest African oil producer (40% of GDP) - a large part of this stems from the Angolan domination of Cabinda - and 7th in the world for diamonds, the distribution of wealth here, as in Nigeria, is particularly unequal: the number of poor (sticking to the complacent threshold of US$1.90) is very high and growing, also due to a high unemployment rate (32.7%).17 This is, obviously, the consequence of the reality of Angola’s insertion into the world capitalist economy, as an economy dominated by international capital (Chinese included) and more extractivist than Nigeria, as well as of the kleptomania of the governments, carrying out their private capitalist accumulation at the expense of the public treasury. The 38 years in power of José Eduardo Dos Santos were thus the moment of constitution and development of “La dos Santos Company” and other fortunes/enterprises of MPLA dignitaries and their nominees/associates.18 Angolan capital has invested on all continents19 , with a particular preference for the former colonizing country which has led some to speak, even after 2014, of “colonization in reverse” or the “buyout of Portugal by Angola”, tax havens included.   

As if to express a sensitivity to the growth of poverty and youth unemployment, João Lourenço had promised, as candidate and then elected president, the creation of hundreds of thousands of jobs, in an economy that was already in recession (from 2016 ). Not only has the promise not been kept (yet), but the rise in unemployment is likely to continue. Because within the framework of an agreement with the IMF, the over-indebted Angolan government (debt is estimated at more than 110% of GDP) also undertook, in 2018, to carry out neoliberal “structural reforms”, to allow economic growth driven by the private sector. Thus, for example, the privatization of 190 state-owned enterprises, especially the most profitable, including the national oil company, Sonangol, and the diamond dealer Endiama, is scheduled. This will not only benefit transnational capital, indigenous capitalists and MPLA business people (apart from the now excluded Dos Santos family), but will also be accompanied by layoffs rather than job creation. With, very likely, the loss by employees of certain rights, to attract investors. Despite an apparent sensitivity of the IMF to popular social issues and to “inclusion”, so-called social budget spending cannot escape adjustment to the austerity principle, in a country where access to public health and education remains fairly limited and often of poor quality.

As for the “fight against corruption”, also promised, the Lourenço regime has certainly scored points by attacking the Dos Santos Company and its political and/or business clientele. However, it is also criticized as being a settling of scores with the Dos Santos faction, turning a blind eye and ears to other actors. For example, the demonstrations of October 2020, repressed by the police, denounced the retention in his post of Lourenço’s chief of staff and right-hand man, a notorious businessman alleged to have awarded himself public contracts and to have diverted public funds. Lourenço's determination to carry out neoliberal “structural reforms” (with the particular support of his wife, a former Angolan minister and former administrator at the World Bank) may reduce the misappropriation of public funds following the privatization of the gooses that lay the golden eggs, though “petty corruption” will undoubtedly continue because of the pauperization of civil servants. However, this determination will not be able to solve the problems of unemployment and poverty and social injustice, which relate to the nature of the capitalist economy, chosen by the Angolan leaders.

Rejection of ruling classes              

The demonstrations in both countries represent the practical, empirical rejection of the extension of this option, common to the ruling classes of these two oil-producing countries, the dream of another Angola (“a better Angola” as João Lourenço puts it 20 ), or another Nigeria (“We are more resolved to press not just for justice but for a new and better Nigeria where all citizens are safe and can thrive”).21 Moreover, the demonstrators do not hesitate to use the language of the IFIs, advocating “good governance” as one of the objectives of their struggle – words are not lacking in importance: for the IMF and the World Bank who have propagated the expression, it is about the “good governance” of neoliberalism, neo-colonial with regard to African states in general – and claim to be without political motivation, which is quite logical.22

However, these movements are not homogeneous. Thus, in the Nigerian case, in the aftermath of the “Lekki massacre”, while groups of demonstrators condemned acts of destruction of public and private property, the Alliance on Surviving Covid and Beyond (ASCAB)23 , for example, expressed the wish for a (re) energization of social struggles: “We the under-listed organisations and representatives of the organised working people give our unequivocal support to the #EndSARS protestors and mass protest movement and call on our members to join the continuing protests. We call for a conscious intervention of the working people and their organisations, and in a manner that can open the way to a structured and robust conversation within the movement and among the oppressed and resisting peoples on the way forward […] The Government and the ruling elite are now very weak and divided. It does not know what to do. So now is the time to push forward our trade union demands. The health workers need to re-start their strikes. The teachers should organise for action around the promises made to them by Buhari. The NLC and TUC should be planning action over the fuel and electricity price increases and over full implementation of the minimum wage in all states, as well as over the brutal clamp down on the popular protests by government”.24

As for a certain heterogeneity of the Angolan movement, it was recently manifested by the responses given to the invitation to dialogue by João Lourenço. Protesting youth organizations responded favourably and participated on 26 October 2020, considering it an opportunity to find together with the government avenues for the resolution of the social evils motivating the mobilizations. While others see no hope of the MPLA changing its nature or abandoning its interests which are contrary to those of the Angolan people. However, both are active in the organization of the first municipal elections, hoping, no doubt, for a defeat of the MPLA and a possible popular pressure on elected officials. A position that can be beneficial to the main opposition party, UNITA, which supported the protesting youth while not in any way opposing – being pro-capitalist since the so-called cold war – the general orientations of collective neo-colonialism that are today neoliberalized, whose interests are increasingly shared by the MPLA in government and generate the seriousness of the social situation that is challenged by a section of Angolan youth, like that of Nigeria, following others in Africa and, one can only hope, before and at the same time as others.25 This is almost the promise of an alternation without alternatives (economic, social, political...), in Angola, which is characteristic of so-called democratic elections - when they take place - in Africa, and even elsewhere, like post-military Nigeria.  

In Angola, Nigeria, as elsewhere, these demonstrations against police violence, “corruption”, for social justice, can be the beginning of an awareness of the need for a global and emancipatory alternative to neo-colonialism. Whatever the local, determining peculiarities, the alternative will nevertheless be possible only starting from, at least, the combative self-organization of the popular classes, women and youth of these lands, permanent , diversified and federated - going beyond the instrumentalizations of ethnicity and religion denounced by the dynamics of #EndSARS, for example - working collectively, in the broadest and most democratic way possible, on society, the movement and its perspectives, without forgetting the African and global contexts. Despite the acceleration supposed to characterize our time, this work cannot be done in haste.26 The trajectory of recent popular uprisings in Africa (“recuperation” by political representatives of anti-popular emancipation interests), as elsewhere in the world27 , has shown the resilience of collective neo-colonialism, confirmed once again the strength of capitalism as a multidimensional system, with an immense capacity for bewitchment (including within the anti-neoliberal, even anti-capitalist “camp”) and proving to be just as authoritarian, more authoritarian, even in countries usually considered to have a democratic tradition.

There is not today, in Angola and Nigeria, in Africa and elsewhere, a shortcut to self-emancipation bequeathing to future generations societies based on principles of popular sovereignty, social and gender equality, respect for freedom of expression, human dignity and differences (sexual orientation, for example), and a land in good health. This is not possible under capitalism.

À luta continua !

12 December 2020

Translation by International Viewpoint.

  • 1See Adeniyi Ademoroti, African Arguments, 28 October 2020, “#EndSARS excluded queer protesters. What will it take for acceptance?” https://africa…. Feminist Angel Nduka-Nwosu (#SayHerNameNigeria, working on 'women's gendered experiences in the hands of the Nigerian police' drew attention to the facts, among others, (having occurred also outside Nigeria) that “In one of the protests to #ENDSARS in Edo State, three Benin women were raped by men believed to be men protesting against the brutality of SARS. In Lagos, there were numerous stories of women being molested, harassed and even punched in the face by male protesters who explicitly said, “We will not let a woman lead us”, Angel Nduka-Nwosu, African Feminism, 25 October 2020, “#ENDSARS : Is a Woman’s Place Really in the Revolution?” https://africa….
  • 2Femi Aborisade, “Nigeria’s movement against brutality and poverty” in Femi Aborisade and Andy Wynne, Roape, 27 October, 2020, “#EndSARS : Nigeria’s Mass Movement Protest” https://roape….
  • 3Abiodun Bagmiboye, Chinedu Bosah, Democratic Socialist Movement, 29 September 2020, “SPN (Socialist Party of Nigeria) Condemns Suspension of Strike by NLC and TUC Leadership”http://www.soc….
  • 4See Kabiru Yusuf, Premium Times, 4 November 2020, “Nigerian universities on strike for one of every five years since 1999, data shows”…. See also the interview with the president of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, Prof. Abiodun Ogunyemi, in Iyabo Lawal, {Guardian}, 29 October 2020, “Strike will continue as long as govt withholds our salaries, says ASUU” https://guardi….
  • 5Alfred Olufemi, "October 1: #RevolutionNow organisers call for nationwide protest", Premium, September 25, 2020,….
  • 6In addition, "For part of the street, the political and business elite of Lagos, noting the blockage of its businesses and companies, would indeed have a share of responsibility in this bloodbath," says Jean-Christophe Servant, "Au Nigeria, le grand dessillement," Les blogs du Diplo, 6 November 2020, https://blog.m….
  • 7Dimeji Akinloye, Business Elite Africa, 15 October 2020, “Dangote, Elumelu Under Fire for ‘Attempting to Corner’ #EndSARS Protesters” https://busine…; Alfred Olufemi, Premium Times, 15 October 2020, “#EndSARS: Kwara Governor speaks on controversial meeting with Dangote, Wizkid, others”…. There has also been talk of attempts to divide the movement by instrumentalizing ethnic and religious identities, with the head of state being from the north and Muslim, where pro-SARS have emerged, and mobilizations being more dynamic in the south where, for example, Lagos is located, and oil states where youth unemployment is as massive as elsewhere. See Seye Olumide, 1 November 2020, “Rights group urges Nigerians to reject ethnic sentiment on EndSARS protests”, Guardian https://guardi….
  • 8Baba Aye, “#EndSARS: rebellion, repression, resistance in Nigeria”, Amandla!, number 73/74, December 2020, (p. 45-48), p. 46. Available on International Viewpoint https://intern….
  • 9This is an adaptation of a statement by Fanon on racism in his intervention at the 1st Congress of Black (originally Negro) Writers and Artists (Paris, 1956): "Racism is not the whole but only the most obvious and day to day element, in sum, at certain moments the crudest element in a given structure.", F. Fanon, "Racisme et Culture", Présence Africaine, Cultural Journal of the Negro World, new bimonthly series N°' 8-9-10 June-November 1956, p. 122.
  • 10On the massacre of 43 farmers by Boko Haram in late November: Sahara Reporters, 30 November 2020 “We informed Military Before The Attack But Nothing Was Done, Zabarmari Residents Say” http://saharar….
  • 11Ayo Sogunro, {Africa Arguments}, 15 October 2020, “Why #EndSARS won’t quit” https://africa….
  • 1222 October, 2020, “Full speech: Buhari’s address on #EndSARS protests” https://health….
  • 13ibid.
  • 14The privatization of the national electricity company in 2013 has not solved the problems of Nigeria's national electricity grid; on the contrary, the situation has worsened.
  • 15The MPLA was supported by the USSR and Cuba, while its opponents the Union for the Total Independence of Angola/UNITA and the National Front for the Liberation of Angola/FNLA had the support of the US, Western Europe and apartheid South Africa.
  • 16Simão Hossi, 'Angolan police kills 23-year-old for breaking confinement rules, local media reports', Global Voices in English, 24 August 2020, (translated by Liam Anderson and Véronique Danzé), https://global…. See also, for example, the same 'Protests in Angola demand justice for Silvio Dala, a doctor who died in police custody', Global Voices in English, 25 September 2020, (translated by Liam Anderson), https://global….
  • 17According to the World Bank, “the absolute number of poor in Angola actually increased from 4.9 million to 6.7 million between 2000 and 2014, reaching over 10 million by 2018” out of a population of around 31 million. World Bank, Angola Poverty Assessment, 24 June 2020, https://openkn….
  • 18See Estelle Maussion (journalist at Jeune Afrique),, “La dos Santos Company. Mainmise sur l’Angola”, Paris, Karthala, 2019. Also “Luanda Leaks” https://www.ic… by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalism (ICIJ).
  • 19See the long list here Max de Haldevang, Quartz, 19 January 2020 “All the Companies tied to Isabel dos Santos”….
  • 20His words to a delegation of young demonstrators he received on 26 November 2020, for a dialogue.
  • 21Coalition of Protest Groups, 23 October 2020,“A Statement from The Coalition of Protest Groups Across Lagos and Nigeria” https://cpgnig….
  • 22“These protests have never been politically motivated. It is not about ethnicity or tribalism. The young people across the country are demanding justice, good governance, accountability and reforms”, Coalition of Protest Groups, idem. Hence, as everywhere else in the world, the demand, in the face of growing social inequalities, for a supposedly fair redistribution of wealth, without calling capitalism into question, in an ill-founded nostalgia for the capitalism of the “Glorious Thirty” (post-war boom), the “Welfare State”. This is what distinguishes anti-neoliberalism (anti-anticapitalist) from anti-capitalism today.
  • 23Alliance on Surviving COVID-19 and Beyond “A coalition of labour movements and over 70 civil society groups have launched a new platform to campaign for the protection of the interest of workers and the vulnerable poor against the far-reaching economic and socio-cultural impact of COVID-19 in Nigeria.” Sahara Reporters, « Covid-19 : Falana Heads New Coalition to Champion Workers’ Interest, Welfare », April 29, 2020, http://saharar….
  • 24Extract from the statement inserted in Andy Wynne, “#EndSARS Protestors in Nigeria Need Our Solidarity”, in Femi Aborisade and Andy Wynne, op. cit.
  • 25At the time of writing, the #EndSARS movement is trying to revive itself, despite the threats of repression openly expressed by the head of the Nigerian police, half-worded by the head of state, supported in some way by civil society organisations (including a student union) - civil society being also the field of divergent, even contradictory, interests - expressing their hostility to a new mobilisation, arguing that the destruction and looting that would ensue would be inevitable. In addition, the government has announced a very slight drop in the price of fuel at the pump, having undergone five increases in a few months, and does not rule out a future drop in the price of electricity.
  • 26Hartmut Rosa, “Acceleration. Une critique sociale du temps,” Paris, La Découverte, 2010 [Berlin, 2005].
  • 27For example, in an interview with the co-founder of Burkina Faso's Le balai citoyen movement, the artist Smockey says, “We saw what happened to Podemos in Spain and we learned from it, we found other ways to dive into the water without getting wet [laughter]. We'll see the result in a few years' time,” Smockey (interviewed by Séverine Kodjo-Grandvaux), “The real question is whether it is the elites who betrayed the people,” Le Monde, 5 October 2020, https://www.le….

Same author