An Angolan activist rapper who spent nearly a year behind bars has vowed to step up his vocal campaign against President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, despite the risk of returning to jail.
"There's a lot to be done in Angola and I'm trying to do my part," Luaty Beirao told AFP two months after his release from prison where he was held on charges of plotting a rebellion against dos Santos.
Beirao, a well-known rapper, was arrested during a book club meeting in June last year where one of the titles up for discussion was about non-violent resistance to repressive regimes. He and his 16 co-accused maintained they were peaceful campaigners lobbying for dos Santos, 73, to step down.
In June this year, the Supreme Court ordered their release under restrictions.
Sitting on a black leather couch in his home in a trendy Luanda suburb, Beirao has regained the weight he lost during a 36-day hunger strike in prison last year. But he hasn't changed his stance and his message to dos Santos is this: "Leave power, you have nothing left to give your people."
Beirao's freedom is conditional: monthly appearances at a police station and a ban against leaving the country. An amnesty law passed last month for non-violent offenders sentenced to 12 years or less could see his record wiped clean.
Opposing 'a dictator'
But the dual nationality Portuguese-Angolan, who has always maintained his innocence, says he has no intention of fleeing the country.
"I flatly reject the amnesty," he told AFP. "I want to go through with this farce and show that our judicial system is a tool in service of a dictator."
Earlier this year, dos Santos, who has been in power since 1979, announced he would leave politics in 2018 after his current mandate ends at the close of 2017. But many critics are sceptical given he has made similar claims in the past.
"It's not the first time he's said that - it means nothing," said Beirao.
At the ruling MPLA's congress in August, dos Santos was re-elected unopposed as party leader, paving the way for him to once again stand for president in the general election next year.
"A mandate lasts five years," said the rapper. "What sane person would vote for someone who says he'll leave after one year? Electoral fraud is well documented. It will happen in this election, as it happened in all the others."
Shattering the illusion
Angola in 2002 emerged from a 27-year civil war, and the country has held few elections since independence from Portugal in 1975.
Beirao warned that the continent's leading oil producer can no longer hide behind its miracle post-war boom of the 2000s. The drop in oil prices has strangled Angola's currency reserves and hit the economy.
Growth, which soared to over 20 per cent in 2007, has collapsed to less than two per cent, and about 40 per cent of the population live below the poverty line.
"During those first few years after the civil war, the rise of oil created the illusion of an economic boom," said Beirao.
"But that growth was not accompanied by improved quality of life for most citizens. And all it took was for the oil price to drop to shatter that illusion."