Angola’s 1977 massacre: Tragic twist for orphans of mass killings

Decades of silence and fear followed the 1977 massacre of perhaps as many as 90,000 people in Angola, but as the families of the disappeared started to speak out, demanding answers, the government took action in an attempt to promote reconciliation. Though in some cases its attempts appear to have gone cruelly wrong.

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For João Ernesto van Dunem it was like his parents had been killed for a second time.

First, hopes were raised for the man who was orphaned when he was three months’ old.

Angola’s justice minister appeared on national television last year to announce that the remains of his mother and father had been found after 45 years, along with those of other people.

“I thought maybe finally I would have my parents back,” he tells the BBC. Sita Valles and José Van Dunem were two of the leaders of an uprising in 1977.

They were young members of the MPLA government disaffected by what they saw as the venality of their colleagues. What exactly happened that May is still a source of controversy.

The exhumation of the bones of those who had been dumped in mass graves was supposed to be part of a process of official reckoning.

But Mr Van Dunem’s hopes for answers have since been crushed.

After an official investigation identified the remains, a separate independent team of forensic anthropologists said the bodies were in fact not connected to him.

“I asked myself whether the Angolan authorities were trying to retraumatise my family? Was it intentional? How could they do this to us after all these years of pain?” asks Mr Van Dunem, an economist currently based in Lisbon.

In 2018, he and other orphans of the massacre set up an association, M27, demanding the truth about what happened, the recovery of their parents’ remains and the issuing of death certificates

A year later, the Angolan government broke its silence.

President João Lourenço established a commission to investigate acts of political violence since independence in 1975, including the events of 1977 and the 27-year war with Unita rebels which ended in 2002.

On 26 May 2021, Mr Lourenço issued a public apology for the massacre and asked for forgiveness for what he described as “the great evil”.

Bulldozers started digging up bodies and a Brazilian geographer was flown in to identify them.

The orphans were horrified when footage of the unearthing of skulls and other bones was shown on television.

They refused a request from the authorities to provide their DNA to help identify the remains, insisting on an independent inquiry.

Then, the government declared the remains had been found of four key figures in the uprising, including its main leader, Nito Alves. Their families accepted the bodies, which were buried in a state funeral on June 2022 attended by senior government officials, the coffins draped in shiny Angolan flags.

Shortly afterwards came the television announcement that the bones of Mr Van Dunem’s parents, uncle and other leading figures in the events of 1977 had been found and would be returned to their relatives.

But none of the families agreed to take the government’s word that the remains were genuine.

They hired a team of investigators led by renowned forensic scientist Prof Duarte Nuno Vieira of Portugal’s Coimbra University. He has been involved in dozens of international missions, including in Colombia, Mexico and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

‘Bones talk a lot’

Given the final outcome of their investigations, it is in many ways surprising the Angolan authorities let them in.

“Independence and transparency are the keystones of our work,” says Prof Vieira.

“Families of the disappeared must be involved from the outset. Otherwise there is no trust. Unfortunately this was not the case in Angola.”

Prof Vieira says he has never heard of the Brazilian employed by the government. None of his many colleagues in Brazil have heard of him either.

When his team arrived in Angola, they were taken to a room full of bags of jumbled up bones – these were the remains that the justice minister had referred to.

“Bones talk a lot,” says the forensic scientist.

“Our job is to make bodies speak to us. The way they are lying when we find them tells us part of the story of what happened to them. If they are dug up with an excavator, like they were in Angola, a lot of information is lost.”

After the teams assembled the bones, they found that two of the bodies belonged to women.

They told Mr Van Dunem one of them could be his mother.

But when they tested the remains against the relatives’ DNA, not a single one matched.

Two of the bodies were those of children. One had an amputation performed years before the person died. None of those named by the government were amputees.

The soil on the bones did not match the earth where the excavations took place.

Others faced similar devastation to Mr Van Dunem.

“When the authorities said they had found the remains of my father, our family was ecstatic,” says Rui Tukayana, who now works as a journalist in Portugal.

“Some of my uncles posted on Facebook that finally we could bury with dignity the body of their brother. That finally our souls could be at peace.”

Mr Tukayana never knew his father, Rui Coelho, because he was born three months after he was taken away.

“When the independent team found this was not his body, it was like we lost him for a second time,” he says, echoing Mr Van Dunem’s sentiments.

It is possible the remains of the disappeared will never be found.

Struggle for the truth

“We must not forget that at the time, it was common practice to drop bodies into the sea from planes,” says Prof Vieira.

Mr Van Dunem says one of the reasons the truth is so hard to uncover is that some powerful people in Angola have a lot to hide.

“Some of the people involved in the killings are still alive, some with significant roles in Angolan politics today.”

The authorities have been told about the independent experts’ findings. So far they have said nothing. Efforts to contact them for the purposes of this article have been met with silence.

The M27 group of orphans has described the government’s actions as an “exercise in cruelty”.

They say they have been condemned to live as “children of shadows” who “know their parents only through old photographs, some so faded that it is impossible to see what they looked like”.

They are currently discussing what to do next.

One thing is clear: they will not give up.

“The government’s behaviour has made us more determined than ever,” says Mr Van Dunem.

“I don’t regret what we are doing, however painful it is. Tribute has to be paid to a whole generation of Angolans who paid the highest price for dreaming of a different country where everyone could have a place.”

Source: BBC

Ethiopia, Somalia Enjoy Positive Cooperation in Security, Economic Integration: Somalia’s Deputy Finance Minister

Ethiopia and Somalia enjoy long-time partnership and cooperation in multifaceted fields, including security and stability as well as economic integration, Somalia’s Deputy Finance Minister, Abdi Kafan said.

In an exclusive interview with ENA, Deputy Finance Minister Kafan said that Ethiopia is providing support in stabilizing Somalia.

“Ethiopia has been supporting us, Somalia, to actually stabilize our country. We are now in our own trajectory; I believe the current ongoing operation in Somalia, which is aimed at liberating the entire [country from] terrorist groups —Ethiopia is participating in that they[Ethiopian institutions] are contributing in terms of militarily and also all the efforts that we want to achieve in Somalia,” he elaborated.

The relationship between the two countries has been positive and it is positive now, he said, adding “we are enjoying great relationship. I think it has always been good and at the moment, Ethiopia and Somalia’s bilateral relationship is very positive.”

The Deputy Minister pointed out that Ethiopia’s role in liberating Somalia from Al Shabaab is of paramount importance for the peace and security of the entire region.

Speaking of regional economic integration, Kafan said that African countries need to focus mainly on economic development, the recovery of multifaceted problems and the transformation of economies.

“We believe the entire Africa needs to come together; we need to actually facilitate the free movement of trade, people and goods. We believe that we will come back to the trajectory of economic progress, if we African countries actually ensure a free movement of people and free trade,” he noted.

Furthermore, Kafan added that facilitating the actual and real transformation for our society and business community is crucial to achieve their potentiality in relation to business and economic development.

Source: Ethiopian News Agency

Premier Pledges to Address Dev’t Demands of Gurage Zone

The government will work to address the development demands raised by the residents of Gurage Zone step by step and in an integrated manner, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said.

The premier held discussion today with inhabitants of the Gurage Zone about the different development issues they raise at Welkite, the zonal town.

Participants of the discussion raised peace, development and administrative questions.

In their questions, the inhabitants stressed the need to solve access to water, roads, health and education problems.

These have created tremendous social and economic pressure on residents of the zone, they stressed.

Accordingly, the residents underlined the need to establish a Gurage regional state to permanently solve the problems related to development issues.

However, the residents mentioned about groups working to create conflict among the people who have lived harmoniously in the zone by using the demand for regional state as a cover. These bodies need to be identifies and bring to justice.

In his response, Prime Minister Abiy highlighted the great potential that exists in all parts of the country and the government is working to pull all its resources and respond to their demands.

In this regard, the government will work in an integrated manner to respond step by step to the development demands raised by the residents of Gurage Zone, he pledged.

He also called on investors to play their part in responding to the development questions raised by the people.

Stating that administrative organizations are not the answer to all questions, the premier stressed that the residents of Gurage Zone should strengthen their solidarity with neighboring zones and work together for mutual development.

He also stressed the need to solve problems and demands in a civilized manner.

Source: Ethiopian News Agency

PM Abiy Arrives in Gurage Zone to Discuss With Community Memebers

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and a delegation of higher government officials arrived in Gurage Zone, Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Regional State this morning, according to the Office of the Prime Minister.

The premier is expected to hold discussions with zonal community members.

Source: Ethiopian News Agency

Italy Ready to Assist Efforts of Ethiopian Gov’t in Restoring Conflict Affected Areas

Italy is ready to assist rehabilitation efforts of conflict-affected areas of Ethiopia, Ambassador Agostino Palese told ENA.

The ambassador noted that the Ethiopian government has a very difficult task and Italy is willing to assist the peace process.

It is to be recalled that the federal government and TPLF agreed on 2 November 2022 to permanently silence the guns and end the two years of conflict in northern Ethiopia.

Since then, the federal government has been taking various measures, including restoring basic services and delivery of humanitarian assistance to the region.

Ambassador Palese said we have to stay on track and need to see the final target, and come to an end to the problem.

In this respect, Italy is ready to assist rehabilitation efforts through “our cooperation agreement. We will try to intervene all over the country through various programs.”

According to the ambassador, Ethiopian and Italian authorities had discussions to learn about the approach of Ethiopian authorities and to work together towards improving humanitarian situations in the country.

“I think that many things are done. But we have to continue on the framework of dialogue. This is the only way to go forward. And I think the government has many challenges. The next step would be to have inclusive dialogue throughout Ethiopia and to solve the problem with political dialogue. Political inclusiveness is the only way to go forward. I don’t see other options.”

Stating the importance of assistance and collaboration in the Horn, the ambassador noted that Italy is working on the forefront in the Horn of Africa within United Nations to have additional funds for Africa.

“We always push with the international organizations to help Ethiopia in this difficult moment, especially in the humanitarian sector, and now in rehabilitation of the infrastructure,” Ambassador Palese stated.

Source: Ethiopian News Agency

Indian Business Persons Say PM Abiy’s Latest Book Will Drive Pan-Africanism, Instill Confidence in Continent

The recent book of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, “Generation Medemer,” will drive a lot of Pan-Africanism and instill confidence in not only Ethiopia but also Africa, Indian businessmen told ENA.

The English version of the book was introduced to the international community residing in Addis Ababa on Thursday.

One the Indian business persons approached by ENA during the launching, Ethiopian Steel PLC General Manager Bhavesh Chandaria said the premier’s book emphasizes a homegrown Ethiopian and African wisdom.

“I see this book driving a lot of Pan-Africanism confidence. Basically, what we need is first conviction and confidence within ourselves. Look, Africa doesn’t need to read outside books. We need to create content here since we have enough wisdom.”

According to Chandaria, who claims to have lived in many African countries and developed a Pan-Africanism spirit, the book will instill confidence not only in Ethiopia but Africa. It leads to the African mind set and will proliferate beyond that.

“So what Africa needs a bit from my experience of so many countries is a homegrown African wisdom,” he stressed.

Beyond this, the business person pointed out that the prime minister in his book attempts to bring together the Ethiopian generation through his accommodationist view.

Mohan Group of Companies CEO, Harsh Kothari said the book is deliberation on how Ethiopia is positioned globally.

“This is a deliberation on how Ethiopia is positioned in Africa, in the Middle East, and globally in general; and how the coming generation needs to work, needs to think and needs to unify in order to strengthen Ethiopian position globally. And it also emphasizes how each one of us have to do our own bit.”

Apart from his previous books, this newest book of the prime minister takes a different stage at a more advanced age which is talking about the millennial generation to put Ethiopia in a position at a global stage, he added.

At the same time, Kothari noted that the book also puts a lot of emphasis on how Ethiopia could become a powerhouse in the world, which is a paradigm shift.

“It’s setting a tone for the future, and for Ethiopia to be a superpower. And it’s a very visionary text, which the coming generations understand, read and have an opinion, have a perspective and work on.”

According to Kaushal Sheth of Indian Business Forum Ethiopia, Prime Minister Abiy has taken the initiative to write this book which aims at showing a generational description and enabling the current generation to learn a lot.

“First of all, Ethiopia is a country which boasts of history dating back to 3,000 years or probably even 5,000 years. So, Ethiopia is a country which has a lot of history and tradition. And I’m sure that the current generation as well will pick up a lot of things from the past.”

Sheth added that the book gives a road map on how the Ethiopian current generation learns from mistakes and tries to improvise on their future.

“Generation Medemer” is a wonderful initiative by the prime minister, he stated, stressing the need to spread the word the proceeds of which is also going to a very noble cause.

“So it becomes our moral responsibility to promote the book, spread the word and ensure that more and more people get involved with the reading of the book. First of all, Medemer is a wonderful thought; and also because the proceeds also go for a noble cause that becomes our double duty to promote.”

Most certainly, the Medemer thought can be applicable globally beyond Ethiopia and Africa due to its inclusiveness, Sheth underscored.

Deputy Convener of Indian Business Forum, Rajeev Kumar Sharma also believes that Medemer’s principles are universal and will not serve only Ethiopia.

The book can play a big role and it can give guidance to other regional people like the African community, he added.

“Generation Medemer,” the latest series of Prime Minister’s book, is published in Amharic, Afan Oromo, and English languages.

Source: Ethiopian News Agency

WB Reaffirms Commitment to Support Ethiopia, Keep Strong Partnership

World Bank Vice President for Eastern and Southern Africa has reaffirmed the Bank’s strong commitment to support the development endeavors of the Government of Ethiopia.

Victoria Kwakwa, the vice president who is in Ethiopia for an official working visit, told the media today that the World Bank has played a vital role in assisting the Ethiopian government in various sectors, including health, education, and infrastructure development.

Noting the strong partnership for decades between Ethiopia and World Bank, she stated that WB has been supporting the agenda of recovery and inclusive economic growth with sustainable peace dividends.

“I want to keep reiterating our strong commitment to our partnership with Ethiopia,” Kwakwa reiterated.

Given the conflict and insecurity situation in the northern part of the country, a lot of the resources that we have couldn’t be implemented, the vice president noted, adding that with “peace returning now, we can start implementation; and that in itself is going to contribute to the rebuilding and the recovery.”

Moreover, she pointed out that there are new operations which the World Bank will be discussing with the government and implement.

“I think the plan is really to use what exists and to implement it effectively to support, and then to bring new operations including infrastructure to help rebuild so that basic services can be provided to continue to stimulate growth,” Kwakwa elaborated.

She finally stated that the World Bank will continue supporting the economic reform program to succeed.

Source: Ethiopian News Agency