Wake-up call from Vidigal


Writers and other artists of the literary world met in Morro do Vidigal, one of the favelas that encircle the city of Rio de Janeiro. And it was there that the indomitable voices of José Eduardo Agualusa and Luaty Beirão, in a duet of perfect critical consonance, discoursed on the upcoming general elections in Angola. There is a whole symbolism in the choice of a favela for this meeting of literati, without which literature would not be the realm of metaphor. And, had I been in their position, this was certainly an opportunity that I wouldn’t have missed. I would remember, as I do now, the emotion of John Paul II when, on July 2, 1980, he climbed Morro do Vidigal, blessed the children and gave them his episcopal ring. Visiting the poor is one of the works of mercy and stripping in their favor a sign of love imperative for the survival of the human race. The ring of bishop of Rome would be the Pope’s only possession of real economic value, reason why his gift was exemplary. The disappearance from the finger of that ring of such representative significance, would commit him to the cause of the weakest and most vulnerable, not only of Vidigal, but also, of the rest of the world, that this neighborhood, a champion of misery, is just an fitting allegory. John Paul II no longer carried it on his finger when he visited Angola, in 1992, on the eve of its first elections, and there, exactly where today stands the Angolan parliament, he celebrated the outdoor mass, prayed and blessed us. I was there, in the crowd, and I remember how I felt that he saw me in that mass of people and singled me out... a white characteristic of a people determined not to discriminate on the basis of descent, sex, race, ethnicity or color, as our Constitution rightly proclaims. John Paul II came to Angola on the eve of the country’s first multiparty and democratic elections. He met all the political leaders, both those who complained about the advent of democracy, and those, who not ashamed of the old one-party testament, decided to bet on a different future at the polls. Never, as in 1992, were the results so unpredictable. This time, the Pope no longer had, as in Vidigal, anything else to offer than an exhortation to peace, before, during and especially after the elections. However, even today, there are still many Angolans who will never believe in the veracity of the results of these first elections, which they blame for the rekindling of the hatred that swept the country like an uncontrollable, cruel and fratricidal fire. Therefore, and for this reason only, the mistrust still persists when we are a few days away from holding the fourth elections, after 1992, 2008 and 2012. That I recognize, albeit that more could have been done to reduce these rates of disbelief in our electoral system, the political leaders of the opposition wear themselves out in appeals for audits and scrutiny of the election process, on the lookout for a plot that will most likely not unravel, often forgetting what’s most important. In a country with a history such as Angola, it is crucial not to confuse the fight against the symptoms of inequality with the causes of the disease that has become endemic. Elections will not be our remedy for all ills, but we would be worse off without them. Luaty Beirão’s call for abstention, in addition to being anachronistic, only reveals his disbelief in Angolan parties and political leaders, both those in power and in the opposition. And since he’s not voting, the greater the abstention, the greater the feeling of an illusory victory. He has badly chosen the elections for this call and the results will surely surprise him. The same goes for the emphasis on recommending a close watch of the election process - the voting and ballot counting - by party and coalition delegates, which, beyond the incongruity of the process vitiated from the outset

, does not draw attention to what is, in fact, the key activity and responsibility of these political party agents: to collect the certified results of the ballot count at each polling station, in order to confront and potentially challenge the results announced by the Election Committee. Only the presentation of the documented results of each polling station, each polling place, each district, each municipality and each province will lend credibility to and facilitate a recount should the results not match those announced. Simple arithmetic is the only weapon that can overturn an election. It is useless to denounce as false results those whose counterevidence is legally within the reach of the election contestants. Last year in Cape Verde, at a conference of Portuguese-speaking writers, the writer Abranches Soveral is claimed to have said, “the great poets do not pose pedagogical questions... they solve them!” Likewise, the Angolan politicians of now should be more on the side of the solution to the problem for which they will have their share of responsibility. We cannot daydream about it... or wait for a Mandela to come and solve the problem, because Angola cannot afford the luxury of waiting for someone to leave a prison thirty years from now! In fact, Angola did not need a Mandela to stomp his foot and establish a principle of equality that was even generous to those who, like me, like Agualusa and like Beirão, were born in Angola of parents of Portuguese origin and became Angolans in their own right, same as any other whose origins are lost in this African continent. In this important aspect, we are a unique country in Africa and a sign for a future with equality for all. The same spirit that united the poets in Vidigal, to end poverty and the extreme social vulnerability of the favelados in Brazil, should encourage us to battle for the inclusiveness of the most needy as a tribute to the gesture of John Paul II, who did not need election results to come to Angola, to bless us and show us the path of truth, justice and humility, which, by the way, does not depend on election results, but on men (and women) of goodwill!

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