A wave of demonstrations across Angola has been triggered by a government decision to cut subsidies for petrol.
The move to cut the subsidies was aimed at curbing government spending — but resulted in sharp fuel price hikes.
Thousands of young people — including many motorcycle taxi drivers — demonstrated on Saturday against the increase in fuel prices in the Angolan capital, Luanda, and other cities in the southern African country.
Heavy-handed police tactics
In Luanda, a heavy police presence patrolled the streets from Saturday morning, before firing tear gas to disperse a crowd that had gathered in the east of the capital. Several people were injured and the police made multiple arrests.
“In Luanda, we arrested 32 demonstrators, and in Benguela, 55. The demonstrators were violent and attempted to set up roadblocks with burning fuel canisters and rubber tires,” police spokesman Mateus Rodrigues told a press conference.
Activist Dito Dali, one of the organizers of the Luanda protest, contradicted the police account.
“We were peaceful. The police used violence without any reason. We have hundreds of photos and videos of the injured, some of which we have also posted on social media. It is only thanks to our composure that there were no deaths — as happened recently in Huambo,” Dali told DW, referring to a protest in the central city during which police opened fire on a demonstration that authorities said had turned violent. Five people died in the Huambo protest.
Fuel price hike was the last straw
The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had long been calling for Angola to reduce fuel subsidies, and their removal resulted in the gasoline price increasing from 165 kwanza (€0.25) to 300 kwanza (€0.48) per liter on May 3, 2023.
Angola is one of Africa’s largest oil producers;however, it does not have sufficient refineries to meet its domestic demand for diesel and gasoline and therefore has to import a large portion of fuel at high costs.
Consumer fuel prices were heavily subsidized, which meant that fuel prices for end consumers were kept very low. But in 2022, fuel subsidies burdened the Angolan state budget with approximately €3.2 billion.
Street vendors at risk
Even higher costs are expected this year. Angola’s street vendors have also been bearing the brunt of the price hikes.
“It is unbearable that the government continues to make our lives more difficult,” street vendor Custodia dos Santos told DW reporter Borralho Ndomba in Luanda.
“That’s why we joined the taxi drivers in their protests against the increase in fuel prices. Our survival and the survival of our children are at risk.”
Custodia also mentioned the daily harassment street vendors face as Luanda’s provincial government tightens measures against informal street traders.
“We are regularly detained by security personnel or the police,” she said. “We have to keep giving them money just to be able to continue working.”
NGOs also under pressure
The protests have been further fueled by hundreds of NGO workers who are also very dissatisfied with their government which supports a new bill that aims to further regulate NGOs and associations.
Several Angolan NGOs launched a nationwide campaign against the proposed law earlier this week and warned that the government’s goal was mainly to “control organizations.”
“If this law is enforced, we will find it difficult to continue our work,” said Guilherme Neves, chairman of the human rights organization Associacao Maos Livres (“Free Hands Association”) which has long been involved in helping persecuted activists and journalists.
The new law proposed by the ruling party MPLA is a kind of “license to erase non-governmental organizations that are not government-compliant,” Neves added.
The OMUNGA Association — which has been promoting rural development and implementing rural projects for years — also sees itself threatened by the new law.
“Our government is becoming increasingly authoritarian. They want to control and regulate everything; they want to influence all activities of civil society. This is totalitarian,” the association said in a statement.
“The protests of last weekend were only the beginning of our nationwide resistance movement,” said activist Dito Dali.
“They will have to get used to the fact that we will no longer remain silent. The increase in fuel prices was just the straw that broke the camel’s back.”