Luis José de Almeida

«I feel great pride for the life I have led»

\\ Text Maria Cruz \
\\ Photography António Gamito

Man of struggles, conquests and a leading figure in many stories. Ambassador Luís José de Almeida has travelled the globe, and experienced new peoples, cultures and customs. He studied sociology, worked in journalism, but it would be diplomacy that would take up the lion's share of his life. With an enviable CV, this man has held many posts as ambassador of the Republic of Angola. He has been posted in countries that include: France, Germany, Ethiopia, Morocco, among others. A true conqueror, always for the same cause: the liberation of Angola. He was decorated by King Mohammed VI with the Grand Cross of Ouissam Alaouite. He is currently Angola's permanent representative to the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP). And he has a single certainty: «In ten years, Angola will be one of Africa's powers».

You were young when you began your diplomatic career, during the struggle for independence and post-independence. What is your view of this period in your life?

I feel obliged to say that I feel great pride for the life I have led. It's going to be 50 years. I belonged to a small group of Angolans that had fled from Portugal. I was studying in Portugal; I was invited by Franco Nogueira and by professor Adriano Moreira himself, to enter diplomacy at the United Nations. I turned them down. They said they would get me a study grant, in New York. I said: «New York is very far away, I would like somewhere in Europe». I wanted to study sociology in Belgium. Then, they were so insistent that I had a meeting with Agostinho Neto, and Amílcar Cabral, our group, and they told me to get ready to leave because, either I accept and it would all be fine, or I turned it down and they caught me. And that was how I made the decision to leave. I went by car, towards Paris, via Badajoz. My mission, once I got to France, was to start making an inventory of the number of angolans students. Then, it was to organise them. And that is how an organisation was created that was known as the General Union of Students of Black Africa under Portuguese Colonial Domination, formatted by angolans, guineans and mozambicans students.

«I feel great pride in having helped to make Angola the respected country it is today»

What were the main difficulties you encountered as a young diplomat representing the MPLA?

Travelling. I was using a fake passport that sooner or later would expire. The Moroccan passport was the best because it gave easier access to western nations. We would get through without visas almost, or we would cross the border at night to not be caught. 

You have been an ambassador in many countries. What difficulties have you encountered along the way?

The first difficulty was the fact of being an ambassador of a country that was going through particularly difficult moments. Immediately after independence, I was nominated ambassador, in 1976, with the mission of opening Angola to the world and bringing the world to Angola. Another problem, before independence, was the lack of money. In Paris, in Halles, I helped to unload the trucks with fruit and, in exchange, they feed me on onion soup, which was good, (laughter) and this would last us until night.

What did it mean for you to be one of the faces of the MPLA?

I was proud. We were the utopia generation. There were very few of us. Indeed, there is a speech made by Salazar at the time in which he says: «they aren't many, they multiply» (he laughs). And it's true. We were five or six, but we seemed like ten or twenty. We didn't have more. I lived from hustling (I would work for food) until I managed to get a job. We sold our merchandise: the MPLA and the struggle against colonialism.

You speak of the importance of students. Is that because the young make the difference and it is those young people who should make change happen?

I said that long ago. I don't know whether I can say the same today with so much certainty. Young people today, unfortunately, not all of them but many of them, think more about their stomachs than about idealism. In the old day we felt something in our stomachs because we only ate breakfast, we ate onion soup and we bought some bread, and we saved half of the bread to make some broth in the evening, to not go to sleep hungry. Nevertheless, we fought for our country.