Freedom in the World
A new constitution approved by the parliament in January 2010 abolished direct presidential elections and the role of prime minister, stipulating that the leader of the largest party in the legislature will automatically become president. Also in January, an attack on the Togolese soccer team in Cabinda prompted the arrest of four prominent Cabindan human rights activists. A journalist was killed in September, marking the first such murder in Angola since 2001.
Angola was racked by civil war for nearly three decades following independence from Portugal in 1975. Peace accords in 1991 and 1994 failed to end fighting between the rebel National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) and the government, controlled by the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), but the death of UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi in 2002 helped to spur a successful ceasefire deal later that year. UNITA subsequently transformed itself into Angola’s largest opposition party.
The conflict claimed an estimated one million lives, displaced more than four million people, and forced over half a million to flee to neighboring countries. Many resettled people have remained without land, basic resources, or even identification documents. The resettlement process was slowed by the presence of an estimated 500,000 landmines and a war-ruined infrastructure. The United Nations concluded its voluntary refugee repatriation program in 2007, but Angola and the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) each subsequently engaged in forced expulsions of the other’s citizens, affecting tens of thousands of people.
Legislative elections, delayed repeatedly since 1997, were finally held in September 2008. The ruling MPLA took 191 of 220 seats, and UNITA won 16 seats, placing second among 14 parties. While both domestic and international observers found that the results reflected the people’s will, the campaign was marred by political violence, pro-MPLA bias in the state media, and other problems, and many polling places in the capital failed to open on election day. UNITA accepted the outcome after an initial challenge of the Luanda results was rejected by the electoral commission.
In January 2010, the MPLA-dominated parliament approved a new constitution that abolished direct presidential elections, stipulating instead that the leader of the largest party in the parliament would become the president. The last presidential election had been held in 1992, and a vote due in 1997 had been repeatedly postponed. The new constitution also eliminated the post of prime minister, allowing the president to select a vice president as his deputy, and permitted a maximum of two five-year presidential terms, starting with the next parliamentary elections in 2012.
Also in January, a faction of the separatist Front for the Liberation of Cabinda (FLEC) attacked the Togolese soccer team during the Africa Cup of Nations tournament, resulting in three deaths. Angolan security forces subsequently arrested a number of prominent Cabindan activists, charging four with crimes against state security. In August, the four men—human rights lawyer Francisco Luemba, Roman Catholic priest Raul Tati, professor and activist Belchior Lanso Tati, and former policeman Jose Benjamin Fuca—were convicted by a Cabinda court and sentenced to between three and six years in jail. Luemba and Raul Tati were prominent members of the banned Cabindan rights organization Mpalabanda. In December, all four were released from prison after the Cabindan attorney general declared that their convictions had been based on outdated legislation. The trials of two other men accused of complicity in the FLEC attack were concluded in December: Joao Antonio Puati was sentenced to 24 years in prison for “armed rebellion,” while another, Daniel Simbai, was acquitted of the same charge.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties:
Angola is not an electoral democracy. Long-delayed legislative elections held in September 2008, while largely reflective of the people’s will, were not free and fair; presidential elections have not been held since 1992. The 220-seat National Assembly, whose members serve four-year terms, has little power, and 90 percent of legislation originates in the executive branch. Under the new constitution adopted in January 2010, the largest party in the National Assembly selects the head of state. The president is to serve a maximum of two five-year terms beginning in 2012, and directly appoints the vice president, cabinet, and provincial governors.
The 2008 legislative elections were contested by 14 parties, but aside from UNITA, the main opposition party, just three smaller parties won seats. The National Electoral Commission (CNE), which was dominated by the ruling MPLA, denied opposition access to the voter registry and obstructed the accreditation of domestic monitors who were not aligned with the government. In addition, the government delayed releasing state funding for opposition parties, and the MPLA abused state resources. Voting in Luanda—home to between one-quarter and one-third of registered voters—was marred by serious irregularities, including late delivery of ballot papers, 320 polling stations that failed to open, and a breakdown in the use of voter rolls to check identities. While political violence rose in the run-up to the elections, it has decreased significantly since 2002, and the government provided security for opposition rallies around the country.
Corruption and patronage are endemic in the government, and bribery often underpins business activity. In 2009, President José Eduardo dos Santos called for a crackdown on corruption, declaring that MPLA members had squandered large portions of the country’s oil revenues; the president himself is alleged to be one the country’s richest men. In April 2010, Human Rights Watch reported that while the government had improved standards for the publication of oil revenues, the industry was still extremely opaque and corrupt. Angola was ranked 168 out of 178 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Despite constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression, journalists are driven to self-censorship by the threat of dismissal, detention, and prosecution. Defamation and libel are punishable by imprisonment or fines. The state owns the only daily newspaper and national radio station, as well as the main television stations. The country’s first private television station, TV Zimbo, launched in 2008, and in May 2010 a new Brazilian Portuguese-language station was cleared to begin broadcasting. State outlets favored the ruling party ahead of the 2008 elections, and private media are often denied access to official information and events. Several independent weeklies and radio stations in Luanda criticize the government, but they have reported funding problems. Authorities have prevented the outspoken Roman Catholic radio station Radio Ecclesia from broadcasting outside the capital. In May 2010, police threatened the station with legal action after it reported on the case of a senior police officer arrested for rape. Internet access is limited to a small elite, as most citizens lack computers or even electricity.
Journalists suffered a number of violent attacks in 2010. In January, a Togolese journalist was killed during the terrorist attack on the Togolese soccer team in Cabinda. In September, Alberto Graves Chakussanga—the presenter of a call-in program on the UNITA-affiliated Radio Despertar—was shot in Luanda. Colleagues alleged that the killing was tied to his and the station’s critical reporting on the government. The following month, Radio Despertar presenter and satirist António Manuel Manuel da Silva, or Jójó, was stabbed after receiving death threats for his critical commentary.
Religious freedom is widely respected, despite colonial-era statutes that ban non-Christian religious groups. The educational system barely functions, suffering from underpaid and often corrupt teachers and severely damaged infrastructure.
The constitution guarantees freedom of assembly and association. Increasingly, authorities are allowing opposition groups to hold demonstrations in Luanda, though crackdowns are common in the interior. The right to strike and form unions is provided by the constitution, but the MPLA dominates the labor movement and only a few independent unions exist. Some 85 percent of the population engages in subsistence agriculture. Hundreds of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operate in Angola, many of them demanding political reform, government accountability, and human rights protections. Churches in particular have grown more outspoken. However, the government has occasionally threatened organizations with closure. In 2008, the authorities ordered the local representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to cease activities and leave the country. Ahead of that year’s elections, the government threatened to shutter the local Association for Justice, Peace, and Democracy (AJPD). The Constitutional Court heard the case in late 2009, and a decision was pending at year’s end.
The judiciary is subject to extensive executive influence, though courts occasionally rule against the government. The president appoints Supreme Court judges to life terms without legislative input. The courts in general are hampered by a lack of training and infrastructure, a large backlog of cases, and corruption. While the government has sought to train more municipal magistrates, municipal courts are rarely operational, leading to the use of traditional or informal courts. Human rights groups reported that the arrests of four men in connection with the January 2010 attack on the Togolese soccer team in Cabinda were politically motivated, and that their trial was deeply flawed.
Lengthy pretrial detention is common, and prisoners are subject to torture, severe overcrowding, sexual abuse, extortion, and a lack of basic services, including food and water. In October 2010, Amnesty International reported on the death of political prisoner Muatxihina Chamumbala in Conduege Prison; he had allegedly received inadequate medical treatment. Despite increased resources and human rights training, security forces continue to commit abuses with impunity. However, in March 2010 seven police officers were each sentenced to 24 years in prison for killing eight suspects in Luanda’s Sambizanga township, marking the first time a police officer had been convicted of an extrajudicial killing. An estimated four million weapons in civilian hands threaten to contribute to lawlessness, and both government and private security personnel have committed murders and other abuses in connection with the diamond-mining industry.
In 2006, the government signed a peace agreement with secessionists in the oil-rich northern exclave of Cabinda, hoping to end a conflict that had continued intermittently since 1975. While between 80 and 90 percent of the rebel fighters have reportedly joined the army or demobilized, some violence has continued. The military continues to arrest Cabindans for alleged state security crimes. Most of these detainees are allegedly denied basic due process rights and subjected to inhumane treatment.
China has invested heavily in Angola in recent years, but there are signs that the large Chinese presence has bred resentment and opportunistic criminality. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reported in 2009 that Chinese workers in Luanda were being targeted in a wave of violent robberies. In November 2010, a FLEC faction attacked a convoy of Chinese oil workers in Cabinda.
Minefields from the civil war continue to restrict freedom of movement, as does the country’s rigid system of entry and exit visas. Tension involving refugees along the Angolan-Congolese border led to a series of tit-for-tat expulsions in 2009, affecting about 39,000 Angolans in the DRC and about 18,000 Congolese in Angola. In October 2010, about 200 DRC nationals were violently expelled from Angola; the victims were allegedly subjected to rape and torture, and three people were killed.
Since 2001, security forces have evicted thousands of people from informal settlements in and around Luanda without adequate notice, compensation, or resettlement provisions, ostensibly for development purposes. The 2010 constitution holds that all land belongs to the state, and that land rights can only be allocated to Angolan nationals or companies registered in Angola.
Women enjoy legal protections and occupy cabinet positions and National Assembly seats, but de facto discrimination and violence against women remain common, particularly in rural areas. Child labor is a major problem, and there have been reports of trafficking in women and children for prostitution or forced labor. A recent study by Angola’s National Children’s Institute and UNICEF found “a significant and growing” trend of abuse and abandonment of children who are accused of witchcraft after the death of a family member, usually from AIDS.