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Rappers lead underground monitors at Angola polls

31 august 2012, 17:32
Through an unmarked door, down a passageway and behind a padlocked metal gate lies a room littered with cell phones that is the nerve centre of an underground effort by Angolan rappers to monitor Friday's vote, AFP reports.

"If they knew we were here, tonight they will be here" to shut us down, said Massilon Chindombe, a 31-year-old IT student working on the campaign.

In this room young activists are receiving phone calls, text messages and emails from frustrated voters reporting irregularities in the general elections.

Their complaints are compiled on a website, www.eleicoesangola2012.com, so the public can read them and pressure authorities into redressing them.

"Most of the complaints we've been getting are people who've registered in certain places and are being told to go and vote... in places as far away as a thousand kilometres," said Luaty Beirao, a rapper who's the driving force behind the project.

"The political parties, they all set up their own information centres," he said. "What we're doing here is creating an impartial civil society platform."

"In our opinion it makes it more credible that it's the civil society putting the word out there rather than the interested parties."

Beirao, also known by his hip-hop name Ikonoklasta, writes lyrics that take jabs at the government of President Jose Eduardo dos Santos and the glaring inequalities of Angolan society.

On March 7, 2011, he went a step further. Beirao and other members of his group organised a street protest with hundreds of young people in downtown Luanda -- an unprecedented display of defiance in this tightly controlled country.

More protests followed, always quickly dispersed by police, often with violence and intimidation that has been denounced by Human Rights Watch. Two of the activists have been missing since May, the group says.

Ten years ago Angola ended 41 years of conflict, after a liberation struggle that turned into a civil war after independence from Portugal in 1975.

Dos Santos and his People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) claim credit for bringing peace and ushering in an oil-driven economic boom.

The emergence of the young protesters clearly unsettled the government, but has also forced Angolans to take a harder look at their society.

"The MPLA was already in power when I was born. Now I'm 29 and it's still there. We live in a fake democracy," said Casimiro Carbono, another rapper in the group, whose lyrics tackle corruption, the lack of freedoms, and social inequalities.

"How can we talk about developing the country when the same group of people hold all the power?" he said.

They expect 40 people in their command centre Friday to field complaints from voters. The activists come from across Luanda. Some are pop stars, some students. Some studied abroad and brought back social media savvy that they're putting to use in their activism.

Their style and their demands echo the Arab Spring protesters, although they don't have the same reach or organisation in society.

The frequent clashes with police have driven them underground, operating at a secret location, and using cell phones to turn ordinary voters into election monitors by giving voice to their experiences.

"We started something, maybe, and now it's sprouting all over," said Beirao, whose father was once a top MPLA official who headed the president's foundation.

"People are fed up, and they were fed up for a long time, they just didn't have the guts to take a step further."

"Now they are doing it. Somehow the role we play is setting an example that, we have a right to do it, let's do it regardless of the consequences."

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