Angolan journalist and civil rights activist Rafael Marques has been awarded the 2013 Integrity Award by Transparency International for his efforts to fight corruption in Angola.
Generals from the ruling MPLA party in Angola enrich themselves with oil money obtained via letterbox companies in Hong Kong. Domestic staff working for Angola’s vice president, Manuel Domingos Vicente, are paid by state oil company Sonangol. The family of President Eduardo dos Santos has assets worth billions of dollars.
For Rafael Marques, all these cases reek of corruption which he totally opposes. Marques is not afraid to speak out and takes no account of the interests of the country’s rich and powerful.
He is fighting a tough battle. Angola ranks 157 out of 174 countries on Transparency International’s Corruption Index, making it one of the twenty most corrupt countries in the world.
«For many years we’ve seen corruption become entrenched in Angola,» the 42-year-old told DW. «At some point, people begin to think corruption is a normal lifestyle. They think it is normal to hold a government office in order to loot the treasury.»
Using the Internet to fight corruption
Marques’ most important tool in his fight against corruption is his website «Maka Angola.» The word «maka » comes from the local language Kimbundo and means «problem.» The website, www.makaangola.org, publishes reports on money laundering, illegal asset transfers and nepotism.
«My work is about educating society and monitoring the work of those who lead this country,» said Marques, who is backed up by a small team of freelancers and permanent staff based in Angola, Europe and North America.
He is confident that his work will one day pay off. «The institutionalization of corruption is a crime – and sooner or later Angolan justice will punish the corrupt politicians.“
But so far, Marques is the only person on trial. He faces 11 cases in Angola brought as a result of his research into corruption in the country. He has repeatedly been summoned to the capital Luanda for interrogation. All this has left its mark.
The Angolan generals even pursue Marques as far as Europe. Two years ago, he published the book «Diamantes de Sangue» («Blood Diamonds») in Portugal.
It describes the actions of the Angolan military against small scale miners who work without a license in the country’s diamond mines.
Blood diamonds from Angola
«Terror reigns, emanating from the security forces and military stationed at the mines,” Marques said. Small scale miners are often tortured and sometimes killed, he added.
«Among the diamond miners are many young people from the region who otherwise would find no work,” Marques told DW. «There have been cases of mass executions that I have documented. At one time 20 people were shot dead simultaneously. In another case, the Angolan military buried 45 smallscale miners alive.»
No sooner was his book published, than nine Angolan generals sued him before a Portuguese court. Marques was accused of slander and character assassination. Also accused was the Portuguese publishing house Tinta da China. In February this year, the case was dismissed.
«For me, this is a form of intimidation, not only against Rafael Marques for his courageous work and against Tinta da China, but against all publishers and journalists who want to publish sensitive research about the machinations of those in power, whether in Angola or in other countries” said Barbara Bulhosa, Marque’s publisher.
The case in Portugal and subsequent investigation by the Portuguese attorney general’s office into the activities of a number of Angolan generals created serious diplomatic tensions between the two countries.
From journalist to human rights activist
Rafael Marques is a trained journalist. At the age of 21 he began his career with the state newspaper Jornal de Angola. Previously he had studied anthropology, media and African Studies in the United Kingdom. Later he worked as a freelance correspondent for the news agency Reuters.
In 1999 he was arrested after writing an article that described Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos as a dictator. After experiencing at first hand conditions in the country’s overcrowded prisions, and seeing some of his fellow inmatges die from starvation and lack of medical care, he also became active in the defense of human rights.
A voice against corruption
At first he worked for a non- governmental organization, the Open Society Foundation founded by renowned Hungarian- American investor George Soros. But now he has created his own platform with his website Makaangola, where he can directly publish his investigative reports.
Marques’ voice carries international weight whenever corruption in Angola is discussed. The European Parliament has invited him to Brussels several times. Together with Chinese journalist Luo Changping, he has been awarded the 2013 Integrity Award, the highest prize from anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International which this year marks its 20th anniversary.
The award pays tribute to the courage and determination of individuals and organisations fighting corruption around the world. It has been awarded annnually since 2002.