Freedom in the World
The ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola dominated August 2012 parliamentary elections, taking more than 70 percent of the vote. While the polls suffered from serious flaws, including outdated and inaccurate voter rolls, the results were endorsed by the African Union. A spate of urban-based antigovernment protests that had begun in 2011 continued in 2012, leading to state-backed intimidation of protest leaders, scores of arrests, and the violent dispersal of demonstrations.
Angola was racked by civil war for nearly three decades following independence from Portugal in 1975. José Eduardo dos Santos took over as president in 1979 after the death of Angola’s first post-independence leader, Agostinho Neto. 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 dos Santos’s Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). The death of UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi in 2002 helped to spur a successful ceasefire deal later that year, and 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.
Legislative elections, delayed repeatedly since 1997, were finally held in September 2008. The ruling MPLA took the vast majority of seats, with UNITA placing second among 14 parties. While domestic and international observers found that the results reflected the people’s will, the campaign was marred by political violence and pro-MPLA bias by both the state media and the National Electoral Commission (CNE), which denied the opposition access to the voter registry and obstructed the accreditation of domestic monitors who were not aligned with the government.
In 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. After a number of delays, parliamentary elections were held in August 2012. The MPLA’s 72 percent of the vote marked a notable decline from its 82 percent showing in 2008, though the party still maintained its overwhelming dominance of the National Assembly, garnering 175 of 220 seats. UNITA took 32 seats, while the newly formed Salvation-Electoral Coalition won 8 seats. The Social Renewal Party (SRP) won 3 seats, and the Angolan National Liberation Front (FNLA) took the remaining 2. Dos Santos was easily reelected by the MPLA-dominated National Assembly in September.
While the African Union deemed the elections “free, fair, transparent and credible,” the polls were deeply flawed. Voter rolls were outdated and inaccurate, and many registered voters were not listed or told to vote at distant polling stations. Additionally, the election commission failed to provide accreditation for many opposition party delegates and domestic observers to monitor the vote and ballot count. Media coverage, especially by the state-dominated broadcast sector, was biased toward the MPLA. Voter turnout dropped from 80 percent in 2008 to 60 percent countrywide and to 50 percent in the most populous province, Luanda.
The spate of small, sporadic antigovernment demonstrations in urban areas that had begun in 2011 continued throughout 2012, as did authorities’ efforts to crack down on dissent. Security forces used tear gas—and in some cases live ammunition—to break up a number of antigovernment rallies by youth groups in Luanda, as well as protests in Benhuela and Cabinda City. Scores were arrested, about a dozen jailed, and protest leaders were assaulted, intimidated, and allegedly threatened with death by nonstate actors aligned with the government.
Angola is not an electoral democracy. The August 2012 legislative elections, while largely reflective of the people’s will and an improvement over the 2008 polls, were not free and fair. 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 2010 constitution, the largest party in the National Assembly selects the head of state. The constitution also mandates that, as of 2012, the president may serve a maximum of two five-year terms, and directly appoints the vice president, cabinet, and provincial governors. The last direct presidential election was held in 1992. Vice President Manuel Vicente, the former chairman of the national oil company Sonangol, is rumored to be the most likely successor to dos Santos as MPLA head and thus state president when dos Santos retires (although he can technically serve until 2022).
While five political parties are represented in the National Assembly, the ruling MPLA dominates Angola’s party system. UNITA is the largest opposition party. Nine parties and coalitions participated in the 2012 elections. In a victory for political pluralism, in May the Angolan Supreme Court blocked the appointment of MPLA-favored CNE head Susana Ingles, which had been opposed by UNITA and other opposition parties; they argued that Ingles’s status as a lawyer, rather than a judge, disqualified her from the position. André da Silva Neto was appointed to the post in June. In July, the CNE disallowed diaspora Angolans from voting in elections.
Corruption and patronage are endemic in the government, and bribery often underpins business activity. While President José Eduardo dos Santos has criticized MPLA members for misallocating significant portions of the country’s oil revenues, the president himself is alleged to be one of the country’s richest men. A December 2011 International Monetary Fund (IMF) report stated that $32 billion in government funds from 2007 to 2010, believed to be linked to Sonangol, could not be accounted for. In May, the IMF reported that the government attributed about $18.2 billion of that money to infrastructure projects, and about another $14 billion to overseas financial transactions. Angola was ranked 157 out of 174 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Despite constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression, journalists are driven to self-censorship by the threat of dismissal, detention, and prosecution. The state owns the only daily newspaper and national radio station, as well as the main television stations, and private media are often denied access to official information and events. Libel and defamation are punishable by imprisonment and fines. Journalists, particularly those covering antigovernment protests and reporting on corruption, endured harassment, attacks, and detentions by security forces in 2012. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), state media incited progovernment vigilantes to violence against antigovernment protesters. In March, security forces raided the offices of the independent weekly Folha 8 and confiscated its computers, alleging that the newspaper had committed “crimes of outrage” against the state and the president. Editor William Tonet—who in 2011 was convicted of libel and fined 10 million kwanza ($105,000) for reporting allegations of corruption by close dos Santos associates—said the raid was connected to the paper’s re-publication of photos satirizing dos Santos and other top officials, which had also spurred a criminal investigation of the paper in 2001. In July, two Angolan journalists working for the Portuguese state broadcaster and Voice of America were arrested and briefly detained while covering a demonstration in Luanda. Authorities have consistently prevented the outspoken Roman Catholic radio station Radio Ecclesia from broadcasting outside the capital.
In recent years, the government has tried to restrict electronic communication; many of the antigovernment protests in 2011 and 2012 were organized over social networks and SMS. Although opposition from civic organizations and local media played a role in the government’s 2011 decision to scrap legislation that would have criminalized the electronic publication or distribution of what authorities deemed to be sensitive or subversive information, the government announced that same year that it would incorporate clauses from the law into an ongoing reform of the penal code.
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 freedoms of assembly and association, although these rights are not respected in practice. In 2012, authorities continued to violently disperse sporadic demonstrations by mostly young antigovernment protesters, and to arrest and intimidate protest leaders. According to HRW, between January and April 2012 security forces banned and/or dispersed at least 5 demonstrations and arrested at least 46 protesters, 11 of whom were sentenced to up to 90 days in prison; another 10 were arrested in July. In March, progovernment vigilantes raided the home of rap artist and protest leader Dionísio Casimiro “Carbono,” beating him and three associates. In May and June, MPLA-affiliated war veterans staged a number of large protests calling for higher benefits from the government, under the auspices of an ad hoc grouping, the United Patriotic Movement. The government cracked down severely: 50 protesters were detained—some for weeks—and 3 were killed in June, while a number of protest leaders were allegedly assaulted. In October, the government agreed to dispense more generous pensions for the veterans.
Hundreds of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operate in Angola, many of them advocating for political reform, government accountability, and human rights protections. However, the government has occasionally threatened such organizations with closure. In 2011, authorities restricted the activities of a number of local and international NGOs relating to a Southern African Development Community summit. 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.
The judiciary is subject to extensive political influence, particularly from the executive, though courts occasionally rule against the government. The president appoints Supreme Court judges to life terms without legislative input; the May 2012 decision disapproving the government’s candidate for CNE head was a rare sign of independence. The courts in general are hampered by a lack of training and infrastructure, a large backlog of cases, corruption, and conflicts of interest. While the government has sought to train more municipal magistrates, municipal courts are rarely operational, leading to the use of traditional or informal courts.
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. The government is building five new prisons in order to reduce overcrowding by 2013. According to Amnesty International, Angolan jails contain a number of political prisoners, mostly members of peaceful activist groups and advocates of regional autonomy. 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. Citing continued attacks by rebels—primarily from the FLEC-FAC group, a splinter from the main FLEC movement—the military restarted a counterinsurgency campaign in Cabinda in 2011, which continued in 2012. In August, the rebels called for talks with the government, which did not take place by year’s end.
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 and migrants along the Angolan-Congolese border has led to a series of tit-for-tat expulsions affecting tens of thousands of people. In 2011, about 100,000 Democratic Republic of Congo nationals were deported from Angola. In May 2012, HRW reported that deportees are commonly subjected to sexual assault, beatings, arbitrary arrests, and denial of due process before their deportation.
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.
Women enjoy legal protections, and occupy cabinet positions and 75 seats in the National Assembly. However, de facto discrimination and violence against women remain common, particularly in rural areas. A new law on domestic violence, which included a broader definition of sexual violence, took effect in 2011. According to the government, the law significantly increased the frequency of reports of domestic violence in 2012, 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 the UN Children’s Fund 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.