Angola has been ruled by the same party since independence, and authorities have systematically repressed political dissent. Corruption, due process violations, and abuses by security forces remain common. Since President João Lourenço’s election in 2017, the government eased some restrictions on the press and civil society, but challenges persist.
Key Developments in 2020
- Lourenço announced in September that what would have been Angola’s first-ever municipal elections, planned for later in the year, would be postponed due to complications related to the COVID-19 pandemic. A new date was not set, and some analysts attributed the move to government reluctance to relinquish its power to appoint subnational officials.
- In 2020, the government privatized a number of media outlets officials said were owned by members of the political and military elite, but funded by the state. Journalists’ groups expressed concern about a lack of transparency regarding the privatizations, and afterward, about censorship at some of the outlets.
- The COVID-19 pandemic led to the declaration of a state of emergency for two months, from late March to late May, and other restrictions thereafter, which were enforced with violence by police and the military. Numerous killings by security forces were linked to enforcement of confinement measures.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||0.000 4.004|
The 2010 constitution abolished direct presidential elections. Instead, the head of the national list of the political party receiving the most votes in general elections becomes president, without any confirmation process by the elected legislature. The constitution permits the president to serve a maximum of two five-year terms, and to directly appoint the vice president, cabinet, and provincial governors.
In 2016, the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) announced that Defense Minister João Lourenço, who was also the MPLA vice president, would be its presidential candidate in 2017. The decision was made by the MPLA’s political bureau, without public consultation. The MPLA retained power in the 2017 legislative elections, and Lourenço succeeded José Eduardo dos Santos, who had been in power for 38 years.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||2.002 4.004|
Angola’s 220-seat, unicameral National Assembly, whose members are elected to five-year terms by proportional representation, has little power, and most legislation originates in the executive branch.
In the 2017 legislative polls, the MPLA won 61 percent of the vote and 150 seats, while the opposition National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) took 27 percent and 51 seats, and the Broad Convergence for the Salvation of Angola–Electoral Coalition (CASA–CE) won 9 percent and 16 seats. Two smaller parties won the remainder. An African Union (AU) monitoring mission praised the elections’ conduct, noting that they were peaceful and that there was a broad consensus that polling preparations and processes were better organized than in past elections. However, the prevalence of biased progovernment media, deficiencies in voter registration processes, and the MPLA’s use of public resources in its campaign disadvantaged the opposition. There were also reports of postelection violence in some locations.
Alleging grave irregularities at the National Election Commission (CNE), including manipulation of the vote count, opposition leaders called the 2017 polls fraudulent and jointly disputed the results. The Constitutional Court dismissed their claim, citing a lack of evidence. Opposition figures elected to the National Assembly ultimately took their seats—a move that prompted intense criticism from their political base.
Lourenço announced in September 2020 that the country’s first-ever municipal elections, planned for later in the year, would be postponed because the COVID-19 pandemic had interfered with the process of drafting relevant electoral legislation. A new date was not set, and some analysts attributed the decision to government reluctance to relinquish the power to appoint subnational officials.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||1.001 4.004|
The law states that the makeup of the CNE should reflect the disposition of power in the National Assembly, which gives an advantage to the MPLA. The political opposition, in its challenge of the 2017 election results, cited serious misconduct and a lack of transparency on the part of the CNE.
The opposition rejected the nomination, in February 2020, of the new CNE president, citing a lack of independence from the MPLA, past cases of corruption, and alleged fraud committed during the process of his appointment. He was later confirmed by the MPLA-led National Assembly; opposition protesters defied a ban on demonstrations in Luanda to oppose the confirmation, and were met with violence by police.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||1.001 4.004|
While there is a multiparty system in place, competition is limited. The process for creating new political parties is fraught with bureaucratic obstacles and attempts at cooptation, factors that severely hinder public confidence in new parties.
Citing irregularities in the process, the Constitutional Court in August 2020 rejected the legalization of a new opposition party, PRA-JA Servir Angola, led by Abel Chivukuvuku. The decision also placed bureaucratic limits on the ability of Chivukuvuku and the party’s other promoters to attempt to establish a new, different party in the coming years. The court’s decision was appealed.
Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 because the government-aligned Constitutional Court refused to permit Abel Chivukuvuku’s opposition grouping, PRA-JA Servir Angola, to register as a political party.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||1.001 4.004|
There is little space for the opposition to increase its parliamentary representation, much less gain power through elections. Angola has never experienced a transfer of power between rival parties. Nevertheless, opposition parties have been building public support in recent years, particularly in and around the capital, Luanda.
No municipal elections are held in the country for opposition parties to contest, though the national government has been working to change this since 2015. However, citing delays in voter registration, in September 2020 authorities announced the postponement of local elections set for later in the year, without indicating whether they would take place in 2021.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||1.001 4.004|
MPLA-aligned economic oligarchies nurture a system of dependency and patronage that can subvert candidates’ and voters’ ability to freely express their political choices.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||2.002 4.004|
While societal pressures can discourage women from active political participation, women’s rights advocates have an increasingly vocal presence in political life.
Government and state institutions are controlled by the MPLA, which draws much of its support from Kimbundu ethnic group, while the Ovimbundo and Kikongo ethnicities are predominant, respectively, in UNITA and FNLA.
Discussion of issues affecting LGBT+ people have historically been considered taboo, and such topics have been absent from political debate. This has changed somewhat with the parliament’s adoption of a new penal code that decriminalized same-sex relations in January 2019.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||1.001 4.004|
The country has been ruled by the MPLA since independence, and the president is expected to consult routinely with the party’s political bureau. Former president dos Santos retained his position as head of the MPLA for a year after President Lourenço’s election. In 2018, dos Santos was finally replaced by Lourenço as party leader, enabling the new president to consolidate his authority.
Executive powers are broad and varied, leaving the parliament to act largely as a rubber stamp in approving the president’s policies. Like his predecessor, President Lourenço frequently adopts legislation by presidential decree.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||1.001 4.004|
After decades of MPLA rule, corruption and patronage have become entrenched in nearly all segments of public and private life. President Lourenço stressed his willingness to fight endemic corruption since his 2017 election campaign, and a few high-profile dos Santos-era officials have been convicted of corruption, including, in 2020, José Filomeno dos Santos, the son of the former president. His sister, Isabel dos Santos, had her assets seized in Angola and Portugal after she was accused of siphoning public funds from the state oil firm, Sonangol.
Other figures under judicial inquiry and facing seizure of assets include two close aides of the former president, Manuel Hélder Vieira Dias “Kopelipa” and Leopoldino do Nascimento, as well as Carlos São Vicente, son-in-law of dos Santos. However, prosecution of high-profile individuals not directly connected to the family of the former president has seldom led to trial. Charges of mismanagement and coercion levied against former minister and Luanda governor Higino Carneiro were dismissed by the Constitutional Court in July 2020, for example; and no charges have been brought against Manuel Vicente, who for more than a decade led the state oil company Sonangol, the epicenter of corruption during the Santos era.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||0.000 4.004|
Government operations are generally opaque. In 2018, the government announced the formation of the National Oil, Gas, and Biofuels Agency (ANPG) to oversee the industry beginning in February 2019. However, its leadership has been sourced from Sonangol; ANPG head Paulino Jerónimo previously served as the state oil firm’s chief executive in the 2010s.
|Are there free and independent media?||1.001 4.004|
The Angolan state owns most media in the country, and state-owned media report favorably on the government and rarely carry critical coverage. In 2020, government-controlled outlets declined to cover large youth marches at which participants demanded employment opportunities, for example. Most ostensibly private outlets also act as mouthpieces of the regime. However, foreign news outlets, including Portuguese news agency Lusa, French news agency RFI, and Voice of America (VOA), are widely read.
In 2020, the government privatized a number of outlets they said were owned by members of the political and military elite but funded by the state. Journalists’ groups expressed concern about a lack of transparency regarding the privatizations, and afterward, about claims that reports critical of the government had been censored at several of those outlets.
Insult and defamation are both considered criminal offenses. The criminal code also includes “abuse of press freedom,” a charge that can be levied against those accused of engaging in incitement, hate speech, defense of fascist or racist ideologies, or “fake news.”
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||2.002 4.004|
The constitution guarantees religious freedom, but the government imposes onerous criteria on religious groups for official recognition, which is required for the legal construction of houses of worship. Notably, many Pentecostal churches—which have had a profound social impact in Angola—remain unregistered.
There are no registered Muslim groups, and Muslim communities have been vocal in their demands for recognition and the right to worship freely. In September 2020, the government reauthorized religious celebrations on Saturday and Sunday, leaving out the Muslim holy weekday, Friday. (Large religious celebrations had been prohibited under COVID-19-related restrictions.)
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||2.002 4.004|
Academics must maintain a façade of agreement with the MPLA’s preferred narratives and refrain from open criticism of the party, or risk losing their positions. Those who voice dissent are often monitored by security services.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||2.002 4.004|
In recent years, there has been somewhat less fear of retribution for expressing criticism of the government or controversial opinions in private conversations. However, self-censorship persists, fueled by concerns that a perceived intent to organize against the government could result in reprisals. While internet access is increasing in Angola, the government actively monitors online activity. Known surveillance of civil society groups, journalists, and academics can leave people reluctant to speak out.
The results of an Afrobarometer poll, released in August 2020, indicated that 32 percent of individuals surveyed considered themselves “not at all free” to express their political views, and another 16 percent said they felt “not completely free.” Together, this was greater than the percentage of individuals who said they considered themselves totally or partially free to express such views.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||2.002 4.004|
Constitutional guarantees of freedom of assembly are poorly upheld. While the Lourenço administration has shown more tolerance for public demonstrations than its predecessor, peaceful marches are still at times met with violence and arrests by the security forces. In February 2020, police violently dispersed and made arrests at a protest against the nomination of the new president of the electoral commission, and journalists were also injured amid the upheaval. Police responded similarly in August, when a group marched for access to water, and in September, at a march where participants demanded greater employment opportunities. Grassroots protest marches in October and November were likewise met with disproportionate force, resulting in several unlawful killings.
Separatists in the oil-rich Cabinda region were also targeted by the government in 2020. In November, several activists in were arrested at a march in support of local political leaders who had been detained.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||2.002 4.004|
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working on human rights and governance are closely monitored. The MPLA traditionally made vocal attempts to discredit their work and sometimes threatened such groups with lawsuits and outright closure, prompting many to curtail their activities. However, the environment for NGOs has improved since 2018, with a reduction in interference and a greater willingness on the part of the government to engage in dialogue with civil society groups.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||2.002 4.004|
Certain employees who provide services considered essential—including prison guards and firefighters, but also workers in the oil sector—may not legally strike. Unions not associated with the MPLA have faced interference and harassment. However, the government in recent years has allowed more strikes to proceed without interference or repression.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||1.001 4.004|
The president appoints Supreme Court judges to life terms without legislative input. Corruption and political pressure from the MPLA contribute to the judiciary’s general inefficacy and undermine its independence.
Under President Lourenço, the judiciary has seized assets of some high-profile MPLA officials and members of the former presidential family, a few of whom have been put on trial. Whether the developments reflect lasting improvement in judicial independence remains to be seen.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||1.001 4.004|
Constitutional guarantees of due process are poorly upheld. Many defendants are unable to afford legal counsel, and the state largely fails to provide qualified legal aid to those who need it. Arbitrary arrest and lengthy pretrial detention remain problems.
Legal representatives for several leading political activists in Cabinda who were detained in 2020 claimed violations of judicial procedures by local authorities and courts.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||1.001 4.004|
Security forces enjoy impunity for violent acts, including torture and extrajudicial killings committed against detainees, activists, and others. In 2020, a medical doctor was killed while in police custody, reportedly after he was arrested for not properly wearing his face mask. Angolan prisons are reported to be overcrowded, unhygienic, lacking in necessities, and plagued by sexual abuse.
According to government statistics, violent crime, including robberies, assaults, and homicides, has increased in Luanda in recent years.
The low-level separatist insurgency in the isolated Cabinda region continues to pose a security threat. The Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC) claims to have engaged in guerrilla activity against Angolan soldiers, but the government has not verified these claims.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||2.002 4.004|
Women face discrimination in the workplace that makes it difficult for them to rise to senior positions. There have been reports of abuse of women and children accused of practicing witchcraft.
Same-sex relations were banned in Angola until January 2019, when the parliament adopted a new criminal code that did not include a historical “vices against nature” statute. Lawmakers also banned discrimination based on sexual orientation the same month.
Semi-nomadic Khoi and San tribes in southern provinces have been particularly hard-hit by a prolonged drought, which has been largely neglected by the government. These hardships were aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Security forces allegedly harass and abuse immigrant communities, and the government has failed to adequately protect refugees and asylum seekers. United Nations representatives expressed concern about the forced expulsion of Congolese migrants in 2020, suggesting it violated international directives on the treatment of refugees.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||1.001 4.004|
Several organizations have been working to remove land mines that were placed during Angola’s 1975–2002 civil war. Land mines inhibit agriculture, construction, and freedom of movement, particularly in rural areas.
There have been reports by local NGOs, namely the Justice, Peace, and Democracy Association (AJPD), that the authorities and private security groups that guard Lunda Norte Province’s diamond mines restrict the movements of local residents, and some local farmers abandoned their land.
The process for securing entry and exit visas remains difficult and mired in corruption. Bribes are frequently required in order to obtain employment and residence.
Restrictions on movement and other activity enacted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic were frequently enforced with violence, with Amnesty International and local NGOs reporting at least seven resulting deaths.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||1.001 4.004|
Predatory Angolan elites tend to either disrupt or coopt emerging new businesses. Authorities at times have expropriated land and demolished homes without providing compensation. Customary law practices can leave women with unequal inheritance rights.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||1.001 4.004|
Domestic violence is widespread in Angola, and perpetrators are rarely prosecuted. Child marriage remains common, particularly in rural areas.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||0.000 4.004|
Public oil revenues are not equitably distributed or used to benefit the entire population. Rural regions in particular have inadequate infrastructure and access to services, leading to inequities in economic opportunity.
Child labor is a major problem, and foreign workers are vulnerable to sex trafficking and forced labor in the construction and mining industries. The authorities have failed to effectively investigate human trafficking or prosecute offenders.
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Global Freedom Score30 100 not free
Internet Freedom Score61 100 partly free