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Listen up, Nicki: Angolan lives matter

Sunday, December 27, 2015

It’s a great time for conscious music. There’s the Christmas tradition for me, as an Anglican atheist, that starts with Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College Cambridge on BBC streaming radio.

Then there’s Lady Saw. She has found God. Again. Right after the funeral for Jordan “J Capri” Phillips, who died in a car smash. 

Gone are the days of I’ve Got Your Man—He Likes It Tight And Said Your Shit Is Just A Little Slack. It’s wind-down time for Dutty Wine, no Christmas leaves on the Sycamore Tree, and climax long gone for Strip Tease. Now 43, Lady Saw has been ministering to prostitutes on Portmore’s notorious Back Lane.

“It’s just beautiful,” she says: “It’s more comforting than being with a man or smoking.”

Indeed, she plans to start her own church. “God a go work it out,” she told the Jamaica Gleaner: "It nah lock til early morning . . . People a go drop when mi a perform.”

It sounds more exciting than King’s College.

And Nicki? That’s Nicki Minaj, née Maraj; now 33, born in St James and grown to maturity in South Jamaica (South Jamaica, New York, not Lady Saw’s Kingston.)

Just six days before Christmas, she was paid around US$2 million to perform in Angola at an event sponsored by the largest local phone company, Unitel. 

So, a bit like TSTT and Beyoncé? Not quite. Angola’s President, José Eduardo dos Santos, has held power, by fair means and foul, since 1979. The respected Human Rights Foundation accuses him of “rigging elections” and “crushing independent journalism and civil society.” He and his daughter, Isabel, own half of Unitel’s shares.

Isabel is listed as the eighth-richest woman in the world. Transparency International this month highlighted her as one of 15 global symbols of grand corruption, alongside Fifa, the China Communications Construction Company and the US state of Delaware—and also alongside President Teodoro Obiang of Equatorial Guinea, who was invited to Trinidad as special guest for Caricom’s 40th birthday in 2013. (If you’re interested, an open vote for the overall winner closes on February 9—check

Like Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, dos Santos started as a freedom fighter. He led a hard struggle until 1975 against Portuguese colonialism, then until 2002 against insurgents who were initially financed and equipped by South Africa’s apartheid regime.

But like Mugabe, dos Santos has tarnished his heroic record.

Angolan rappers don’t get Nicki-style star treatment. Luaty Beirão, just one year older than Nicki but born in an unluckier country, met with a dozen friends last June to discuss a book on non-violent political protest. They were arrested for supposedly plotting a coup, and held long-term.

In April, the government moved to arrest the leader of the “Light of the World” sect, a Seventh Day Adventist offshoot. The government says that when he resisted, 13 of his followers were killed; opposition supporters claim 1,080.

Unlike Mugabe, dos Santos has oil. According to the IMF, at least US$32 billion of oil revenue went unaccounted between 2007 and 2010. The government blamed poor record keeping for a discrepancy of US$27 billion, leaving just US$4.2 billion unexplained. 

While Nicki was earning her US$2 million, 43 per cent of all Angolans were living on less than TT$8 per day, and 60 per cent had no regular access to electricity. One Angolan in six dies before the age of five—that’s the world’s highest child mortality rate.

After the Unitel show, an unrepentant Nicki posted a photo of herself with Isabel dos Santos on Instagram. She chirruped: “This motivates me soooooooooo much!!!! S/O to any woman on a paper chase. Get your own!!!!”

Protests can get results. Last week, human rights violations in Angola were covered by media in more than 20 major countries worldwide. On Monday, the authorities were shamed into releasing Luaty Beirão and 14 others. But it’s a limited victory—each of the 15 remains under house arrest, guarded by ten police officers, and limited to two five-minute phone calls each week. They may not talk to the media, or to local activists. They are on trial from January 11. I’ll wish them a Happy Christmas—and a bright New Year.


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