Want to feel your blood pressure go up? Keep reading. This past weekend, singer Nicky Minaj’s (bad) decision-making gurus decided that doing a gig at a Christmas party for one of the world’s longest-enduring dictators would not only be perfectly okay with them, but it would also make great Instagram fodder. Minaj, who was reportedly paid $2 million for her performance in Angola, began her Instagram campaign the very moment her private jet hit the ground, emerging from the aircraft in a pair of tattered jeans and some sort of fur coat arrangement that made her look as if she were carrying an armload of dead foxes down the runway. But don’t worry. If that seems a bit understated for Minaj’s usual sartorial choices, you can rest easy; she later changed into a sheer, skintight thong jumpsuit with crystals bedazzling her derriere. Because nothing screams “appropriate for a trip to a dictatorial southwestern African nation” like a sheer, bedazzled thong jumpsuit. The UK publication The Daily Mail first broke this story, reporting that Minaj had been flown to Angola expressly to perform for the Christmas party of an organization called Unitel. Unitel is a company that is partly-owned by Angola’s president, José Eduardo dos Santos. While at the party, Minaj was seen and photographed wrapped in the Angolan flag, and posing with dos Santos’ daughter, Isabel dos Santos, who just so happens to be the richest woman in Africa. What’s all the fuss about, you ask? Well, a few things really. But in order to fully understand why this might be construed as a big deal, it is important to understand the just how much of an iron grip dos Santos actually has on his country. Dos Santos first rose to power in 1979 after the (allegedly natural) death of his predecessor. He has been ruling Angola with an iron fist ever since, but doing it quietly. This has proved to be an excellent strategy for dos Santos, as he has sat on his autocratic throne for over 30 years now, and with no end in sight. Upon taking power, dos Santos ensured that he sat at the helm of every single government organization he could lay his hands on; he is the head of the police, the military, and personally chairs all of the Angolan government’s cabinet meetings to ensure that he retains control of the country’s power.
Of the many atrocities that have happened under the dos Santos government (and believe us, there have been many), perhaps the most defining and predictable is that dos Santos loves to re-direct resources (by which we mean money) in the direction of his own family. While this is certainly not a new practice for any of the many autocratic governments that the African continent has seen over the past several decades, it is without a doubt the longest-standing. On this matter, a source for the UK publication The Guardian had this to say.
He is a withdrawn dictator, but the way he uses businesses to benefit his family puts (former dictator) Mobutu to shame. He passes laws to do it. He has always relied more on corruption than any other dictator.
However longstanding and deep the dos Santos government’s corruption goes, it seems that it may even be the lesser of the problems that this government has caused over the years. Since dos Santos has taken power, Angola has fought on and off in a civil war that has lasted just shy of 30 years. During the unrest, dos Santos’ government has participated in the mass murder of civilians, the repression and torture of ethnic minorities, and in creating a censoring, vice-like grip on the country’s media.
It is indeed plausible that Minaj cold have known nothing about the long-standing human rights violations and corruption of the Angolan government at the hands of dos Santos. Let’s be real here – she doesn’t exactly strike us as a Rhodes Scholar. However, in this case claiming ignorance, while true, is definitely not enough. It turns out that Minaj had plenty of warning about the Angolan regime from multiple sources, received multiple calls to cancel her performance, and despite this, decided to go ahead with the event. Here is a section of a letter that was penned to her by a man called Thor Halvorssen, who is the president of the organization The Human Rights Foundation.
I am writing to urgently inform you of the human rights crisis in Angola; to explain the role that dictator dos Santos has played in violating the rights of millions of Angolans; and to request that, in view of your status as a global personality, you cancel your performance. Ms. Minaj, the payment you are receiving from your Angolan sponsors is the result of government corruption and human rights violations
This is why it is a big deal. And sadly, Minaj is not the first entertainer to be lured by Angola’s (dirty) money. Mariah Carey was reportedly paid (a comparatively “paltry”) $1 million for a performance she did for the dos Santos family.
In an age where global terrorism is so easily bred by perceptions of foreign policy and western hypocrisy (either real and fictionalized), Minaj’s active disregard for the pleas of human rights organisations is not a simple matter of just not having been smart enough to realise what her actions meant, it is also a matter of being arrogant (not to mention greedy) enough to think that her participation in the event and her position as a public figure is somehow not an endorsement for the autocratic Angolan regime.