Book Review: In the Name of the people- Angola’s forgotten massacre

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Our book review this month is, In the Name of the people by Lara Pawson

Lara Pawson worked for the BBC World Service from 1998 to 2007, reporting from Mail, Ivory Coast and Sao Tome  and Principe. From 1998 to 2000, she was the BBC correspondent in Angola, covering the civil war and has returned to the country several times since. She currently works as a freelance.

 The book is an account of Angola’s dark past and focuses on one day in particular 27 May 1977, which the author tells us has shaped political discourse in that country to this day.

After Angola gained its independence from Portugal on 11 November 1975, the Popular Movement of the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) took over the country’s leadership.  It was not long after that, that the party leadership became divided along ideological lines leading to the events 27 May 1977.

Pawson sets out to establish what happened on that fateful day and why,  as well as why talking about the events of that day remains a taboo in present day Angola through a series of interviews of individuals that were either witnesses to what happened or were impacted in some way including the odd British mercenary. The interviews take place in London, Lisbon and various towns and cities in Angola.

 We learn that the fall out amongst the MPLA leadership lead to an attempted coup or a demonstration depending on whom you choose to believe and as a consequence senior figures within the MPLA were killed and in turn the MPLA sought revenge on those it considered responsible for the deaths of its comrades. The result was the death of many innocent Angolans  and numbers of of the dead are debated to this day.

My Take

I couldn’t put this book down as I tried to piece together what happened from the facts presented by Pawson but was somewhat disappointed as the structure of the book made this near impossible, for instance most credible and frank  interview Pawson conducted is not apparent and is tucked away in one of the final chapters of the book.

The book is littered with both theories of International Relations, Sociology as well as Political theories. The author throws in unnecessary anecdotes such as her conversation with a Turkish shopkeeper in her neighbourhood in London, her upbringing in a middle class family in SW London. As a result it is impossible to determine what sort of book this is as the  end result is a sort of semi-academic book. I believe the author would have served us better by presenting only the facts of her findings.

 The book is further littered with expressions in Portuguese that the author either translates in a Glossary at the beginning of the book or within the text.  Whilst I appreciate that some expressions are hard to translate directly because the meaning might be lost, this impacted my enjoyment of the book as such the identity of book becomes confused.

 Finally I was disappointed that there was no concluding chapter that sums up neither the authors findings nor analyses  the polarised views of those she interviewed.

 That said writing such a book was never going to be easy in a country that is still under authoritarian rule and the man on the street cannot be certain that he or she is being spied and by whom. In addition telling a nations story from second hand information  can be problematic but Pawson pulls this off,  thanks to her connections as a former BBC Correspondent

Who is this book for?

If you are a student of Political Science and or International Relations this book provides general background reading on how the cold war punned out in practice  and is a good introduction to Marxist inspired theories such as Structuralism and how this applies in practice.

If you are interested in African affairs and Angola in particular, the book provides an insight into the  preparedness or otherwise of those first African leaders at independence  to lead their nations as well as run successful institutions

The book is published by I.B TAURIS &CO . Ltd

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