Photo: Rafael Marques de Morais (center) with AFJN Staff and Interns at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center.
On Wednesday June 7th 2017 at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) at its annual Democracy Award, honored five courageous anti-corruption activists from Afghanistan, Angola, Guatemala, Malaysia, and Ukraine. These individuals have fought, and continue to fight to expose corruption at the highest levels, in turn risking their careers, their freedom, and their very lives. Present at the event were US Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Congresswoman Karen Bass, NED President Carl Gershman and NED Board of Directors Chair Judy Shelton. One of the honorees was Mr. Rafael Marques de Morais, a journalist and human rights defender with a special interest in political economy and human rights in Angola. The Africa Faith & Justice Network (AFJN) was delighted to be part of the ceremony. Like Mr. Marques de Morais, AFJN sees corruption as a pervasive, corrosive problem that undermines public confidence in government institutions, threatens human rights protections, and destabilizes individual countries, regions and the international order, and echoing African Bishops (SECAM) 2013 Joint Pastoral Letter on governance, AFJN affirms that corruption is a cancer that stands in the way of Africa’s development.
Born in Luanda, Mr. Marques de Morais holds a B.A. (Hons) in Anthropology and Media from Goldsmiths, University of London, and M.Sc. in African Studies from Oxford University. He was a visiting scholar at the African Studies Department of SAIS/ Johns Hopkins University (2012), a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy (2011), and a Draper Hills Summer Fellow at the Stanford Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law (2016). He currently runs a leading investigative journalism website, “makaangola.org”, dedicated to exposing corruption and human rights abuses in his country.
He has published various reports exposing impunity, corruption and human rights abuses in Angola, including Blood Diamonds: Corruption and Torture in Angola (2011). And he is currently working on a report investigating extra-judicial executions in the capital city of Luanda, Angola.
In an authoritarian country like Angola, speaking out against the establishment will not get you a pat in the back but rather land you in serious trouble. Mr. Marques de Morais has experienced several run-ins with the Angolan authorities, arrests, legal and physical harassment, economic and social sanctions, and remains under permanent surveillance. He was imprisoned for his work in 1999, for calling President Dos Santos a dictator in an article titled The Lipstick of Dictatorship, and released after international advocacy efforts on his behalf. His case was taken up by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which delivered a precedent-setting ruling in 2005 which affirmed that Angola had violated the journalist’s fundamental rights. Recently, he was portrayed by the head of the Angolan secret service as a dissident working with and for the CIA. And currently, Marques de Morais is being charged for insulting the Attorney General of Angola, due to his publically exposing how the Attorney General’s private business dealings conflict with his public duties.
Rafael Marques de Morais has received various awards in recognition of his work to promote human rights and combat corruption; including the Percy Qoboza Award for outstanding courage from the National Association of Black Journalists (2000), the Civil Courage Prize, from the Northcote Parkinson Fund (2006) and the Train Foundation (USA) for his human rights activities (2006). In 2011, Human Rights Watch awarded him a Hellman/Hammett grant for his contribution to freedom of expression in Angola. In 2013, he was co-recipient of the Integrity Award given by Transparency International for his work in exposing the scourge of corruption in Angola. In 2014, the UCLA Anderson School of Management honored him and his co-author with the Gerald Loeb Award for International Reporting, for a groundbreaking investigation on how the Angolan President made his daughter a billionaire through official decrees and state lootings. Most recently, in 2015, for his work as an investigative journalist and human rights defender, he received the Journalism Award from Index on Censorship, while the University of British Columbia bestowed him with the Allard Prize for Integrity.
The Africa Faith & Justice Network is proud to profile this inspiring and utterly courageous man who despite multiple imprisonments and constant harassment continues his work to expose corruption and human rights abuses in Angola. In his own words: “One of my main motivations to continue this work is the fact that I want to live in a country that is naturally beautiful, has a very happy people but does not have the ability to bring together the human resources to make the country better for everyone. So it’s my contribution to make it different. There is always a way to look at the brighter side of things. And so, what appears to be the greatest challenge, turns out to be the greatest opportunity to turn things around.”
Written By Kpakpo Serge Adotevi (Intern) and edited by Jacques Bahati