Insight: ‘Gasosa’ – The impact of corruption

Paulo Barbosa

Whilst travelling across around 800 km of Angolan roads, I noticed that one of the most effective “services” in Angola is the police roadside stop-checks. In a country waking up from decades of war and where gross inefficiency and incompetence are generalized, it is puzzling to see  overzealous policemen controlling the traffic. During the journeys between the capital Luanda and a small interior city we were stopped several times by heavily armed policemen.
Displaying machine guns and threatening facial expressions, they verified all the passengers’ documents and took a close look at the SUV we were in. On roads that are often badly rutted and bumpy, they made sure all the passengers had reflective jackets and things like that. They were clearly trying to find something to pick on and were even willing to make up infractions if needed.
Teixeira, the Angolan journalist who was driving, explained the proceedings:  If the cops find something to pick on they will threaten you with a heavy fine. The driver should then propose an “extrajudicial” agreement, meaning that he must bribe the police, or pay him what is known in Angola as ‘gasosa’ (soft drink).
If the driver is uncooperative the car will be towed and heavy fines will be applied. Most of the drivers prefer to pay the ‘gasosa,’ viewed as a fact of life. ‘Gasosa’ is therefore a national institution noticeable in all facets of Angolan society.
“Underlying the ‘sharing of the cake’ there is the phenomena of paying commissions and consequently the galloping corruption (…) Institutional solidarity doesn’t work and many millions are burnt out through the years, often in projects that are soon forgotten,” wrote journalist Victor Aleixo in the newsmagazine “Figuras&Negócios.”
Even with a censored press, the talk about corruption is all over the Angolan media. This reflects the scale of the issue, ranging from the petty corruption done in road inspections to the institutional corruption. ‘Gasosa’ is everywhere and nothing works properly because of it.
Corruption explains why sick people without the means or influence to be sent abroad can be left to die of curable diseases. It also explains why the supermarkets in downtown Luanda seem to be rationed (I supposed that not many multinationals are willing to enter such a market, except for Portuguese companies and Chinese deveelopers that seem to be seduced by Angolan oil money) and basic goods are unbelievably priced. For example, a bottle of milk costs 300 kwanzas, the equivalent to MOP25.
In a culture where corruption is rampant, people have the tendency to benefit their group to the detriment of others. In Angola, still a highly tribal society, many take for granted that the principle saying we are all equal before the law doesn’t apply.
Societies like these (and I invite readers to reflect on whether Macau could be included in this category) are divisive and lack solidarity.
Not even the Communist slogans adopted by the regime can disguise the blatant inequality between the haves and the have-nots in Luanda, where the notion of common good is almost inexistent. There are the privileged ones (meaning, the members of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola – MPLA) and the others.
As nothing works properly, in order to get something done and cut through red tape, bribes (“commissions”) are needed. It’s the only way to proceed and Angolans have gotten used to it (for sure it beats civil war).
The Financial Times’ description of Angola allows us to draw some parallels with Macau, namely the overdependence on one industry and the lack of political progress: “The economic boom has not been matched by political progress. It is here that Angola displays many of the traits that show the flip side of the ‘Africa rising’ narrative. It is highly dependent on one commodity – oil accounts for about 80 percent of government revenue – and is ruled by a dominant political party, the MPLA. José Eduardo dos Santos, the 71 year-old president, has been in office for 35 years (…) Critics accuse president dos Santos of running an autocratic regime that is intolerant of criticism. As in other post-conflict countries ruled by former liberation movements, the MPLA – once a Marxist group backed by the Soviet Union and Cuba – dominates over a weak and fractured opposition and governs in a stiflingly bureaucratic and often opaque manner.”

Categories Opinion