Angola. It’s the country that, as we saw yesterday, made Trinidadian-turned-American hip-hop superstar and fragrance mogul Nicki Minaj $2 million richer, thanks to a single late December concert performed under the exceedingly shady auspices of Angolan strongman José Eduardo dos Santos.
What are some of the important things to know about Angola?
First of all, Freedom House considers it unfree. Dos Santos, who’s been the country’s head of state since 1979, has spent his three-plus decades in power denying his subjects basic rights – and looking with indifference upon their grinding poverty – while accumulating a staggering personal fortune at their expense.
Yes, in recent years the country has undergone an impressive oil boom, which, as Michael Specter explained in the New Yorker last June, “has transformed a failed state into one of the world’s fastest-growing economies.” Most of Angola’s population, however, has yet to experience the slightest improvement in quality of life as a result of this metamorphosis. Half of the country’s people make less than two dollars a day; the life expectancy is 52; only four out of ten Angolans have reliable electricity; corruption is ubiquitous, infecting every aspect, large and small, of Angolan life; critics of the regime risk being thrown into one of dos Santos’s nightmarishly violent, unsanitary, and overcrowded prisons; and – most shameful of all – the mortality rate for children under five is the world’s highest.
All of which is why Minaj’s announcement of her Angola concert brought quick responses from human-rights organizations. They weren’t happy.
For example, Jeffrey Smith of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights group accused Minaj of “callously taking money from a dictator who’s been in power for nearly four decades and who has effectively and ruthlessly choked free expression, setting a horrible precedent not only for Angola, but for the entire region.” Smith observed that Mariah Carey had accepted a million-dollar fee from the same tyrant in December 2013 – an act that also drew such harsh criticism that Carey fell all over herself apologizing.
In the days leading up to Minaj’s Angolan concert, the human-rights activists urged her to cancel. In open letters to the star, they gave her a crash course in Angolan perfidy. In particular, they drew her attention to the arrest, last June, of Angolan hiphop star Luaty Beirão and 16 of his countrymen. Their crime? Attending a meeting at which they discussed From Dictatorship to Democracy, a book about nonviolent resistance. Beirão has yet to be set free. Did Minaj, the human-rights community wondered aloud, really want to perform for – and cash a check from – people who’d put a fellow rapper behind bars for reading a book?
The activists made a strong case. But was Minaj fazed? Not in the slightest, apparently. On Twitter, without mentioning any of her critics by name, she warned: “Every tongue that rises up against me in judgment shall be condemned.” On Instagram, dropping the Biblical tone, she posted a photo of herself in a pair of too-tight panties she’d been given by her boyfriend and fellow hip-hop artist Meek Mill, commenting that she obviously needed a bigger size.
And so our heroine jetted off to Luanda, where, as the New York Post reported, she again took to Instagram, posting several provocative “photos of her bejeweled behind” – her point, in the Post‘s not unreasonable view, apparently being “to rub it in” to the human-rights busybodies who’d tried to talk her out of increasing her fortune by yet another $2 million. The pictures went online not long before her performance in Luanda. “Oh hai [sic], Angola,” she wrote. “Ready for the show?”
There were other Instagram photos, including one of Minaj with Isabella dos Santos, the president’s daughter, which the clueless chanteuse captioned as follows: “Oh no big deal…she’s just the 8th richest woman in the world. (At least that’s what I was told by someone b4 we took this photo) Lol. Yikes!!!!! GIRL POWER!!!!! This motivates me soooooooooo much!!!! S/O [shout-out] to any woman on a paper chase. Get your own!!!! Success is yours for the taking!!!!!” In short, even after the nature of the Angolan kleptocracy had been patiently explained to Minaj by human-rights organizations desperate to keep her from implicitly endorsing the dos Santos regime (as the Buzzfeed website noted afterward, Isabella’s name appears on Transparency International’s list of 11 symbolic cases worldwide of what it calls “grand corruption”), the hip-hop queen seemed not to grasp that this isn’t about “GIRL POWER” but about a dictator whose family steals blindly from his exploited, destitute subjects.
So much, apparently, as far as Nicki Minaj is concerned, for human rights in Angola.