Angola | Freedom House

Countries at the Crossroads



Countries at the Crossroads 2011

2011 Scores

Accountability and Public Voice
(0 = WORST, 7 = BEST)


Civil Liberties
(0 = WORST, 7 = BEST)


Rule of Law
(0 = WORST, 7 = BEST)


Anti-Corruption and Transparency
(0 = WORST, 7 = BEST)


Angola became independent from Portugal in 1975 after nearly 14 years of armed struggle that pitted Portuguese forces against three main armed liberation groups: the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), and the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA). While these three groups engaged in shifting alliances with one another in the fight against the Portuguese, all were vying for the right to assume power at independence. By January 1975, the three movements had agreed to assume power together in an uneasy transitional government that never materialized. Instead, by November 11, 1975—the date established for independence—the MPLA had taken control of the capital, Luanda, and assumed authority over the new state, while UNITA and the FNLA carried on the fight from the central highlands. The FNLA quickly faded from the scene as a military organization, but the struggle between the MPLA and UNITA intensified, lasting until 2002. Estimated deaths from the conflict range from 500,000 to 1.2 million people, with millions more displaced from their homes.[1]

This period was punctuated with peace agreements and UN peacekeeping missions in 1991–92 and 1994–97. Elections in 1992 led to the seating of a multiparty parliament, with 70 seats (out of 220) for UNITA, but a first-round presidential election failed to produce a majority for either candidate. The country plunged back into civil war before a second round could be held. It was not until the 2002 battlefield death of UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi that lasting peace was secured.

For six years after the war, a Government of Unity and National Reconciliation (GURN), established under the 1994 Lusaka Protocol, remained in place, giving UNITA figures representation in ministerial and other government positions. In September 2008, legislative elections were held, bringing the GURN to an end. The ruling MPLA won more than 81 percent of the vote, leaving UNITA and other opposition groups impotent and clearing the way for constitutional reform. In February 2010, a new constitution was promulgated that formalized the longstanding concentration of power in the executive branch. The Council of Ministers, previously an organ with the power to initiate legislation, has been reduced to an advisory body to the president. The new constitution also created three ministers of state—for defense and security, civil affairs, and economic coordination—who report directly to the president. These ministers have resources, access, responsibilities, and authority that supersedes that of the line ministries. Furthermore, the 2010 constitution eliminates the National Assembly’s right to question members of the government and gives it power only to “pronounce on” presidential declarations of war or states of emergency, not to authorize them, as had been granted by the 1992 constitution. The changes also boost the importance of the ruling party by eliminating direct presidential elections—henceforth the leader of the party receiving the most legislative votes will become president of the republic. However, unlike in parliamentary systems, there is no provision for a parliamentary no-confidence vote, and the executive is very minimally accountable to parliament.

Governance reform has been mixed in the period under review. The holding of elections was a positive development and stronger legal frameworks have been established to regulate public administration, protect civil liberties, and strengthen rule of law. Transparency of public administration has improved with the first-ever audits of Sonangol, the state-owned oil company and largest generator of state revenues, and the publication of this and other financial information on the internet. 

Yet in tandem with these formal improvements is the systematic use of state resources to suppress political opposition, reward political loyalty, and blur the lines between the ruling party and the state. President José Eduardo dos Santos has been in office since 1979. In addition to his formal roles as head of state, leader of the ruling party, and commander in chief of the military, President dos Santos occupies a central place in the economic life of the country. The ruling party’s overwhelming victory in the 2008 legislative elections legitimized and reinforced the president’s control of political and economic resources, but that victory was icing on the cake rather than an essential ingredient of presidential dominance in Angola.  

Accountability and Public Voice: 

Angola held long-awaited legislative elections in September 2008. In addition, in May 2008 the Constitutional Court was established, with one of its key functions being oversight of electoral disputes in place of the Supreme Court. 

While the legal framework was consistent with international norms and standards for free and fair elections, there were significant problems in the 2008 elections, including a lack of transparency in the tabulation process because of the decision by the National Electoral Commission (CNE) to exclude both party monitors and domestic observers; the failure to publish results by polling station, preventing their verification; and the decision not to require voters to vote at their designated polling station so long as they voted within the municipality where they registered. This made it impossible to verify turnout figures and to detect ballot stuffing reliably. In addition, though domestic observers were permitted for the first time, the CNE denied accreditation to more than half of them. The most egregious problems with transparency and voter access seemed to occur in Luanda, home to 30 percent of the population.[2] On voting day, only 320 of 2,584 polling stations in Luanda opened on time, leading election authorities to extend polling to a second day. Just 28 of 370 domestic observers in Luanda had received their credentials.[3]

In addition to the CNE—which was composed of members appointed by the government, ruling party, and opposition parties—the government created an interministerial electoral commission (CIPE), which prepared the voter lists. Though this was ostensibly done under the supervision of the CNE, the CNE did not in fact review the lists.[4] Furthermore, the division of labor between these two bodies was not always clear, weakening accountability for electoral administration.

Although the law provides for funding and airtime for opposition parties during campaign periods, in practice the ruling party enjoys advantages. State funding for the campaigns of all political parties with seats in parliament pales in comparison to the resources available to the ruling party through its control of state resources. Moreover, mandated state funding for opposition party campaigns was released just three weeks before voting day. Coverage on state-run radio and the country’s only daily newspaper (Jornal de Angola), also state-managed, was biased toward the ruling party, and private media’s reach is severely limited outside the capital.[5] Campaigning was relatively peaceful and politicians abstained from calls for violence during the campaign and electoral periods, but traditional authorities and civil servants, as well as state vehicles and other resources, were deployed in the service of the ruling party’s candidates. Thus, while opposition parties were able to enter and campaign in all areas of the country, most lacked the organization and financial wherewithal to mount effective national campaigns that could match the machinery of the incumbent party.

The imbalance in campaigning opportunities and resources, coupled with manipulation of election administration, contributed to a ruling party majority of nearly 82 percent (191 of 220 seats) in the legislature. This is a gigantic increase from the 54 percent of the vote won by the MPLA in 1992. UNITA captured only 16 seats (compared to 70 seats in 1992). Among the 14 groups (10 parties and 4 coalitions) that contested the elections, only 5 parties won seats.

By 2008, Angola was also long overdue for presidential elections, which had been held only once, in 1992. After the war ended, fresh presidential elections were planned for 2004, but it was not until 2007 that dates were set. Then, before they were held, the ruling MPLA used its parliamentary supermajority to push through a new constitution that eliminated direct presidential elections. 

While in principle there are opportunities for the effective rotation of power among different political parties, in practice the likelihood of such rotation is very limited. The 2010 constitution and the events that followed further eroded the few checks and balances that had existed in Angola. Thus, on August 12, 2010, the president of the National Assembly ordered the temporary suspension of the powers of the legislature to monitor the executive, until further notice.[6] This decree suspended even the weak oversight powers that survived constitutional revision.[7] The civil service is formally merit-based, but in practice party loyalty is considered in hiring and promotion decisions. 

Civil society groups have been growing in strength over the last decade. Civil society organizations (CSOs) can testify, comment on, and potentially influence government policy or legislation. In addition, the most capable CSOs have staged peaceful protests without being granted prior permission by the state. Although these exercises are often initially met with state resistance, they have succeeded in forcing open political space provided by law but rarely honored. Some ministries also welcome the technical capacity and resources domestic civil society organizations can bring to bear.

A new CSO law that has been in the making for several years promises to regularize the legal status of CSOs, some of which have been in legal limbo since the government brought suits against them, alleging illegal status or activity. It remains unclear, however, whether the new law will make it easier or more difficult for CSOs to obtain legal status. CSOs complain that laws are applied unevenly, with groups that are seen as state allies given more leeway than more critical organizations. While the constitution and statutory law recognize the right of civil associations, interest groups, and business organizations to organize, the government has repeatedly shut down some human rights organizations and reportedly threatened and harassed others, especially around election time.[8] In March 2010, after years of delay, the court declined to hear an appeal from the prominent human and legal rights organization Association for Justice, Peace and Democracy (AJPD), which was fighting its closure on the grounds that its “founding documents” were in violation of state law.[9] Donors and funders of civil society organizations are largely free of state pressures, but the country’s oil wealth imposes a certain amount of restraint on donor countries anxious to secure access.

Earlier in the decade there was a brief interval when independent media outlets proliferated and enjoyed relative freedom of expression. The state maintained a complete monopoly on television, but private radio stations emerged, mostly in Luanda, although none was permitted to broadcast nationwide. Radio Ecclesia, for example, has sought government permission to broadcast beyond Luanda for the past 15 years without success. In December 2008 the country’s first domestically owned independent TV station, TV Zimbo, began broadcasting in Luanda and in several provinces.

An independent national media council was created in 1992 with a mandate to guarantee freedom of the press, and its opinions—including those that go against the government—have been given publicity, even in the state press. In 2006, a new media law modified the libel provision to allow journalists to use the facts of a case in their defense. (Previously, making even truthful accusations against the president was considered libel and a criminal offense.) Under current law, however, journalists who offend “public authority,” including the president, members of government, the National Assembly, or security forces, may be charged with defamation and sentenced to a year in prison, as several journalists have been.[10]

Nevertheless, the independent media sometimes publish pieces extremely critical of the government and even the presidency. For example, in August 2010, a longstanding independent weekly, Folha 8, published a document by an Angolan journalist based outside the country titled “The Presidency: The Epicentre of Corruption.” Radio Ecclesia and Radio Despertar, both independent radio stations that operate in the capital, broadcast regular call-in shows on which listeners are quite critical of the government.

However, with the return of electoral politics in 2008, the state began cracking down on freedom of expression. State-owned media are consistently biased in favor of the president and the ruling party, and opposition parties find it difficult to obtain airtime to publicize their events. In the wake of the global financial crisis, and following several years in which government suits against independent papers put them in financial distress, new firms with close ties to the government and ruling party have bought most independent papers. Media Nova, a firm owned almost entirely by three individuals with close ties to the president—State Minister for Military Affairs General Helder Vieira “Kopelipa,” the head of communications in the president’s office General Leopoldino Fragoso do Nascimento “Dino,” and the chairman of Sonangol, Manuel Vicente—bought several papers (O Pais, Semanario Economico, Revista Exame, Chocolate), as did another such firm, Media Investe.[11] This has allowed the state to limit freedom of expression covertly, under the guise of private enterprise. While journalists working for these papers continue to publish stories critical of the government, the papers’ owners can curb such reporting at any time.

On at least two occasions in August and September 2010, Media Nova and Media Investe suppressed publication of issues of the newspapers they owned that reported on government corruption. In one case, all copies of the paper were seized and destroyed as they came off the printing press. Media Nova also owns the country’s largest printing press. Nova Media Marketing, owned by the same firm, has recently been established and is expected to be an important player in the advertising market.[12]

In addition, more stringent legislation has been passed to discourage the expression of views critical of the state. In November 2010, a new state security law made it a crime to publish words, images, sound, or video that insults the president, the state, or state institutions, punishable by up to two years in prison. In May 2011, the National Assembly passed the “Law to Combat Crime in the Area of Information Technologies and Communication,” which makes it difficult for media, CSOs, and ordinary individuals to express themselves using social media or indeed any form of electronic media, private or public. According to the law, sending an electronic message the state interprets as aiming to “endanger the integrity of national independence or to destroy or influence the functionality of state institutions” may be punishable by two to eight years in prison, as well as fines. The law also allows the state to block or intercept information from private computers or other devices without prior authorization.[13]

Intimidation and physical violence against journalists also appear to be on the rise. On September 5, 2010, a journalist from the private Radio Despertar was found shot dead in his home. It was not clear at the time of writing whether this was a politically motivated killing, but the ruling party had been harshly critical of the radio station just days before and threatened to close the radio station for airing views from UNITA leader Isaias Samakuva that it considered an incitement to violence.[14] In the days following this incident, a TV Zimbo reporter was shot in both legs, and two reporters from O Pais had their equipment stolen from their home and car. On September 30, 2010, police stole the equipment of photographers for O Pais after they photographed the site of government demolition of houses (see below). No arrests have been made in the months since those attacks. Prior to September 2010, attacks on journalists had been relatively rare, although government intimidation and harassment, particularly in the provinces, were not uncommon.

Civil Liberties: 

Angola’s laws on civil liberties are often consistent with international standards, but enforcement is problematic. Violations of human rights and civil liberties have been particularly acute in the enclave of Cabinda and, to a lesser extent, in the diamond-rich Lunda North and South provinces. Cabinda is an oil-rich enclave that is separated from the rest of Angola by a small chunk of territory belonging to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Armed Cabindan separatists have fought a decades-long, low-intensity war for independence from Angola. Although the war officially ended in 2009, the Angolan government has not abandoned its militarized stance toward citizens in the province. Politically motivated arrests are frequent. According to Human Rights Watch, “The Angolan government has long used the police and domestic intelligence services in Cabinda to intimidate and silence political critics.”[15] It is the military rather than the police that is most often accused of extrajudicial incarceration and blatant violation of due process rights in this region.[16] Human Rights Watch reports widespread physical abuse and torture of military detainees in Cabinda and long periods (up to a month) of solitary confinement without access to food, water, or sanitation facilities.[17]

Police behavior remains problematic elsewhere in the country as well. Although reform enacted in 2003 was meant to modernize police structures and bolster respect for human rights, new mechanisms established to provide redress for citizens whose rights have been violated are largely ineffective and offer little support to victims.[18] A human rights ombudsman was appointed in 2005 as part of a national justice reform program, but human rights complaints are often subject to political pressure.[19]

Angolan law includes an overly broad and ambiguous range of offenses against the state, including “every and any act, not provided for by law, that endangers or may endanger the security of the State.”[20] A 1978 law permits up to 215 days of pretrial detention for such crimes.[21] This law was used in August 2010 to convict four activists in Cabinda in connection with a fatal January 2010 attack on a bus carrying the Togolese national soccer team through the province. There was no evidence linking the four men to this attack, for which the armed separatist group Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC) claimed responsibility, but the four men had participated in an October 2009 meeting with FLEC representatives. They were released in December 2010 after the Constitutional Court overturned the part of the state security law under which they were convicted.

In other types of cases, incommunicado detention is permitted until the public prosecutor performs an interrogation; this is technically supposed to be within five days of incarceration, but can be extended in matters of national security.[22] Preventive detention for extended periods often exceeds the legally established time frame, due to a scarcity of trained lawyers, judges, and financial resources for courts. Even these permissive laws are often not respected. According to a 2008 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) report, the five-day time limit for the detained to see the public prosecutor is rarely adhered to; police investigators are allowed to interrogate detainees despite the law that decrees a prosecutor must do it; and because of a shortage of legal staff, “the right to access to a lawyer and a corresponding legal aid system as guaranteed by the Constitution exists only in theory.” The report concludes that there is “no effective system in place which can prevent arbitrary detention from occurring.”[23]

Angola has no specific laws to fight human trafficking, and there is little data on the extent of the problem. Angola is a country of origin for human trafficking, with young men forced into agricultural labor and women and children forced into domestic servitude in other countries.[24] There have been no recent efforts to investigate or prosecute traffickers.[25]

Both the 1991 and 2010 constitutions recognize the principle of equality and nondiscrimination against citizens, including gender-based discrimination. Angola has ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and has established numerous local, regional, and national organizations and initiatives for women.[26] The country has also ratified the core ILO Labor Conventions, and the constitution prohibits gender discrimination in employment and education.[27] Angolan labor law stipulates rights to paid maternity leave, equal pay, limited working hours, rest periods, and so forth, but compliance is weak.[28]

In practice there have been some significant advances, but the picture remains mixed. In the civil service and in some sectors such as banking, women make up 50 percent or more of all employees, but elsewhere they are seriously underrepresented, and they still face discrimination in the workplace. School enrollment rates reflect an imbalance of nearly 30 percentage points between males and females.[29]

For the 2008 legislative elections, the MPLA took a significant step toward increasing the representation of women in parliament by setting the goal that women comprise 33 percent of their party’s representatives. The party placed a woman in every third place on the ballot in an effort to meet this goal. Although this was not a legal requirement, nearly half of the parties that ran included at least 30 percent female candidates on their lists. Overall, 39 percent of the members of the new legislature are women, compared to 15 percent in the last parliament.

At this writing, the country’s first domestic violence bill is before the Angolan National Assembly and appears likely to pass. Prior to this, domestic violence was not a crime. Laws on inheritance give women formal rights to 50 percent of their deceased husbands’ estates, and legally men and women have equal rights to land ownership. However, these laws are not always enforced. Customary law privileges men in domestic matters, inheritance, and property ownership, often trumping the formal legal system in rural and periurban areas.

Protection on the basis of sexual preference is lacking. There are legal protections for the disabled, but here again law and practice are not always consistent.

Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the constitution and is not contravened in practice. The population is 37 percent Roman Catholic and 15 percent Protestant, and 47 percent hold indigenous beliefs. Catholic clergy have played a leading role in speaking out against human rights abuses by the government in Cabinda, and Catholic and Protestant leaders have been active in protesting forced eviction and demolition of private homes. Recently, Muslim groups (a small minority) have faced discrimination due to popular association with terrorism.[30]

Angola has three main ethnic groups: the Ovimbundu (37 percent), Kimbundu (25 percent), and Bakongo (2 percent). The three main armed groups fighting the Portuguese—and later one another—each drew core support from one of these groups: UNITA from the Ovimbundu, who were historically concentrated in the central highlands; the MPLA from the Kimbundu and Creole populations along the coast; and the FNLA from the northern Bakongo peoples. The Partido de Renovacao Social (PRS), a party that has espoused federalism, has its roots in the diamond-rich northeastern Lunda provinces. Despite this history, since the end of the civil war, ethnic identity has not been the basis of systematic discrimination, political tension, or violence. Instead, pastoral groups and nomads, who make up less than 6 percent of the population, face widespread discrimination and do not participate in politics of the state.[31]

Article 33 of the constitution allows for trade union participation. About one-quarter of the labor force is unionized, but unions are weak compared to employers. According to a recent report, “government influence on collective bargaining seems quite large. . . . the right to strike is strictly regulated.”[32] Although trade union laws are reportedly being revised, many roadblocks remain, including close monitoring from the government, long bureaucratic procedures, and restrictions on collective bargaining and striking.[33]

Both constitutions that have been in force in recent years recognize the right of citizens to hold public demonstrations. However, officials often appear to be uncertain or wholly ignorant of the laws governing such demonstrations. For example, in March 2010 local officials in Benguela dispersed a peaceful demonstration protesting government demolition of houses, saying organizers had failed to secure permission. The law requires organizers to notify authorities, but it does not require a permit. A second demonstration was permitted to go forward after local and international groups protested.[34] In Luanda and elsewhere in Angola, local authorities have repeatedly banned demonstrations and arrested protesters engaged in nonviolent protest. Despite these setbacks, several important ones have been held peacefully and successfully. Consistent with the pattern already discussed, freedom of assembly violations are prominent in the Cabinda region, where political activist groups are routinely harassed or detained.[35]

Rule of Law: 

The judiciary is not independent in Angola. As one Angolan jurist put it, the judiciary is “hostage to the executive.”[36] The Ministry of Justice has formal authority and budgetary control over the entire judicial branch. According to the 2010 constitution, the president now nominates—and the National Assembly formally electsall justices of the Constitutional Court, Supreme Court, and Audit Court. Under the previous constitution, the president nominated only three of the seven justices of the Constitutional Court, while the National Assembly named another three and the Supreme Court named one.

The judiciary is subject to political interference by the government, president, and other politically powerful individuals affiliated with the ruling party. The government has rewarded compliant judges with paid posts as chairs of committees. Some close to the system argue that sentences are frequently paid off, especially in civil cases. Political loyalty plays an important role in the system, and comparable cases are not necessarily treated equally, nor do they yield predictable outcomes. Bribery and influence peddling are commonplace in the courts.[37] Due process is inconsistent, and prosecutorial independence is limited at best. There is a shortage of trained judges and lawyers, especially outside of the provincial capitals. However, justice sector reform is officially a government priority, and the state has undertaken the rehabilitation of some provincial courthouses and in some instances increased salaries for judicial officials.

Although Article 67 of the constitution declares the presumption of innocence, in practice individuals are presumed guilty until proven innocent. Simple court cases can take five to 10 years to be heard. Many laws pertaining to the judiciary and the penal system date from the single-party era and have not been updated.

Only a handful of the 168 municipalities had functioning courts in 2008, and only a few more are operational today. Most municipal matters must therefore be dealt with at the provincial level. According to one report by an Angolan legal rights group, judges outside of Luanda are generally poorly informed about national legislation, largely because the state does not make this information readily available.[38]

Despite these problems, rulings are mixed: while there are often partisan rulings, there are also cases in which the rule of law is upheld. Civil society organizations are beginning to use the court system, with mixed success, to challenge restrictions on legal civil liberties. It is too early to say how successful these efforts will be.

Defendants are legally entitled to a public defender, although this is rarely available in practice. The Bar Association (Ordem dos Advogados) is charged with providing legal assistance to those who cannot afford private counsel. There are also nongovernmental organizations and private lawyers who provide legal aid, and work is reportedly under way on a public defender law. In general, there are not enough lawyers in the country, and most are concentrated in the capital city. According to legal experts, four provinces are entirely without lawyers (North Lunda, South Lunda, Moxico, and Cuando Cubango), and others have but a handful. (For example, there is reportedly only one in Bie province.)

Public officials are periodically prosecuted for corruption and other crimes. Often these instances are highly publicized and occur in conjunction with presidential announcements of a renewed assault on corruption, but such efforts are episodic rather than systematic.

The new Constitutional Court is seen as somewhat more independent than other courts, although its endorsement of the troubled 2008 electoral process tarnished that image. In a significant demonstration of independence, the court struck down Article 26 of the Law on Crimes against State Security, which had essentially given the state the authority to classify virtually any act as a crime.[39] As a result, the August 2010 conviction of four Cabindan human rights activists in connection with a fatal attack on the Togolese football team was overturned.

The president’s office exercises effective civilian control over the security forces, under General (Retired) Manuel Helder Vieira Dias Junior, rather than the Ministry of Defense or the Ministry of Interior. The military as such does not interfere in political processes. Leading generals in the armed forces have received privileged positions in joint ventures with foreign investors and have been given land and other significant economic assets. Members of the Presidential Guard are also given shares in economic ventures. Such privileges reflect the larger picture in which the president and the ruling party use their command of economic resources to secure political loyalty and ensure that any would-be whistleblowers are themselves tarred with the corruption brush. Military officials are no more or less likely to be held accountable for corrupt practices than other state officials.

Article 37 of the constitution recognizes the right of citizens, as individuals and collectivities, to own private property, which may be expropriated by the state for “public use” with fair compensation. The protection of property rights is poor in Angola. In 2009 the country ranked 114 out of 115 in the International Property Rights Index.[40] Most commercial disputes are not taken to court. Here, as in other areas in Angola, credible laws are not enforced or are directly contravened at the discretion of the president or other public officials. 

The state has behaved capriciously when it comes to respect for property rights pertaining to land. Article 5 of the 2010 constitution recognizes the right of local communities to have access to and use of land, but the state retains the right to expropriate land in the public interest, with compensation in accordance with the law. It is difficult and time consuming to register title to land, and the courts’ enforcement is weak.

A resolution passed by the National Assembly in September 2009 declares that it is the responsibility of the state to “protect, respect, and promote an adequate standard of living for Angolan families, guaranteeing them access to health care, housing, education and healthy living conditions.”[43] The same document describes the state’s legal right to demolish houses and relocate citizens in order to provide these benefits or to serve the public interest as defined by the state. Throughout the review period, the state has forcibly expelled citizens from their homes without compensation or remuneration. In 2009 and 2010 alone, thousands of families in Luanda, Lubango, and Huila had their houses demolished by the state, usually in the name of urban renewal.[42]

In August 2010, provincial government officials in Luanda put a notice in the daily newspaper declaring that all citizens who lived or owned property in a large area of Luanda province south of the city had 48 hours to register their property with the government. Failure to do so would result in their eviction. Registration required a series of documents that would most likely take more than 48 hours to acquire.[43] Such action is increasingly common.

Anti-Corruption and Transparency: 

Over the last three years, the Angolan government has taken a number of steps to improve transparency in the management of public funds. Important legislation necessary to combat corruption has been passed, and President dos Santos has declared zero tolerance for corruption in government. In practice, however, the separation of public and private interests is practically nonexistent at the highest levels of government, and both bureaucratic and political barriers to private economic enterprise remain significant. According to the Economic Freedom in the World report, the average time to launch a new business venture in Angola is nearly twice the world average (68 days, as opposed to 35 days).[44] Bureaucratic hurdles vary, however, with personal and political connections to the ruling party and the upper reaches of state authority suggesting that the problem is not simply one of bureaucratic incompetence.

Two important laws were passed in 2010: one defining and establishing penalties for money laundering, and one on public probity. The latter, which served in part to consolidate and bolster the existing scattered legislation on the subject, establishes criminal penalties for using public goods for private gains and accepting bribes and kickbacks, and it defines conflicts of interest and disclosure regulation. However, these laws have not yet been put to the test, and serious problems remain. The law on public probity, for example, requires public officials to disclose their assets and income from all sources once every two years. However, the dominant interpretation of the law is that the president, vice president, and president of the National Assembly are exempt from this requirement.

In addition, a number of institutions have a legal mandate to combat corruption. These include the Audit Court (Tribunal de Contas), the inspector general of finance, and the attorney general. The attorney general’s office is independent of the Ministry of Justice, an important step in reducing the judiciary’s dependence on the executive branch. The office has a broad mandate to tackle money laundering, corruption, and organized crime, although it is understaffed and underfunded. An anticorruption unit within the attorney general’s office is planned, and the attorney general is empowered to work with the Audit Court and to press criminal charges in corruption cases where appropriate.

The Audit Court is endowed with considerable legal power to investigate the actions of any government ministry or body, including public and private companies in which a government entity is a majority shareholder, and to enforce the laws pertaining to these entities. Its main concern is financial audits of government units and contracts over $50,000. Theoretically this empowers the court to investigate and pass judgment on the actions of Sonangol as well as other key privatized companies in which the government retains a majority share. However, in practice the court has yet to test its mettle. In addition, its political independence is questionable. Unlike in most countries, Angola’s Audit Court is not accountable to parliament. The president of the republic appoints all seven members of the court, including its president. Thus far, the findings of the court’s investigations are not automatically followed up with prosecutions; recommending follow-up action is the job of the Audit Court’s justices, who rarely do so. The court has published all of its 2010 opinions on its website, along with basic information about itself and its mandate. Despite these important steps, the Audit Court constitutes an extremely weak bulwark against corruption unless the president embraces and strongly advocates for its mission.[45]

The office of the inspector general of finance (INF) is based in the Ministry of Finance and has global responsibility to review government finances. Individual ministries also have internal audit offices, each of whose writ is restricted to that ministry. Though on paper the INF is independent, it is routinely subject to political interference. Moreover, it lacks the necessary resource and human capacity to conduct national-level audits, and the selection and conduct of audits is not done in a systematic fashion.[46]

In practice, the picture for fighting corruption remains bleak. In 2009, Angola was ranked 162 out of 180 countries in the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index, a decline from 2008, when the country ranked 158 out of 180.[47] The considerable economic resources generated by the oil sector, diamonds, banking, and telecommunications are controlled either directly by the state (in the case of oil and diamonds) or by individuals who belong to the president’s inner circle, the Presidential Guard, and/or the political bureau of the MPLA. The ruling party systematically uses state resources to coopt and control dissenting voices. Joint ventures with foreign companies—from banks to telecommunications to bioenergy companies—consistently include significant shares for individuals associated with the presidency or the ruling party. Privatization has privileged the same individuals. This favoritism consolidates the patron-client links between the president and potentially powerful political actors, and it severely diminishes accountability on policy questions, as well as political and economic competition. It also crowds out private investment by anyone without political connections. Corruption extends from the president’s office down to lower levels. Teachers accept bribes in exchange for grades, and bribes are also demanded to secure students’ places in school.

Sonangol is both player and referee in the country’s booming oil industry. Oil accounts for 85 percent of Angola’s GDP, and Sonangol is the country’s largest economic enterprise and the greatest single contributor to GDP.[48] It is authorized by law to acquire 51 percent of all foreign oil companies operating in Angola. Sonangol negotiates all concessions with foreign oil companies and directs the use of each firm’s required social investment funds in the country. In addition, Sonangol is itself an oil concessionaire. Sonangol has also become a key player in international joint ventures in other countries and other sectors.

Transparency of this once-opaque organization has improved dramatically in recent years, and recent reorganization of the Petroleum Ministry and Sonangol’s structure has brought some improvements. The first known audits of Sonangol were carried out and published in 2008 and 2009 respectively. Beginning in 2004, the government made public the signing bonuses paid by private oil companies for drilling concessions, a major step forward in improving transparency in the sector.[49] New regulations separate Sonangol as an organization into two parts: concessionaire and regulator, with different operating rules for each. In May 2010 the company presented its balance sheet as concessionaire for the first time. Although the Ministry of Petroleum formally oversees Sonangol, the company’s role as gatekeeper of oil investment makes it the more powerful entity.

Investigation and prosecution of public officials for corruption are rare. Following a series of public promises beginning in November 2009 by President dos Santos to crack down on corruption, there was a handful of high-profile arrests. In February 2010, the Attorney General’s office announced that it had arrested 21 people for embezzling $137 million from the Central Bank and Ministry of Finance in 2009.[50] A municipal administrator was arrested for embezzlement in September 2010, along with some other local officials in Benguela province. 

But other high-profile cases that appear to involve the misuse of public funds are downplayed or ignored. During summer 2002, then Central Bank governor Aguinaldo Jaime attempted to transfer some $50 million from the Angolan Central Bank to his own private bank accounts in the United States. The funds were refused for having suspicious origins, but Jaime was never investigated or prosecuted for his actions. Some observers believe the “zero tolerance” campaign is an excuse to dispatch real and perceived rivals of the president or other high officials. 

Moreover, the dominance of the president’s office in controlling key political and economic resources undermines anticorruption measures. Among the structures created by the president is the Office of National Reconstruction, whose director reports exclusively to the Angolan president and which is in charge of funds designated for national reconstruction. Included in its portfolio is money provided by the China International Fund, which has provided billions of dollars to support infrastructure development in Angola since the end of the war in 2002. There has been no public disclosure of the accounts of this fund.[51]

In a 2007 report, CMI described the legal framework for budgeting as “appropriate but not fully adhered to.”[52] According to law, the state budget is submitted to the National Assembly for approval, and there is a provision for a budget revision process later in the year if necessary. Until very recently, this was one of two areas in which the National Assembly still exercised meaningful oversight powers. However, this ended with the decree issued in August 2010 by the president of the National Assembly suspending all oversight of the executive by the legislature until further notice. Additional weaknesses in the budgeting process include the lack of public debate over the budget proposed to the legislature by the executive and the absence of audit reports to monitor whether planned and actual expenditures match.

Government procurement also suffers from irregularities. Procurement laws and regulations are unclear, little publicized, and not consistently enforced. Oversight mechanisms are weak; no audits are required. Inefficient bureaucracy frequently leads to payment delays for goods delivered, resulting in an increase in the price the government must pay. Transparency, enforcement, and capacity were all reported as inadequate. More recent reports confirm that bidding processes are still not well regulated, and the composition and procedures of tender committees are often opaque.[53]

Nevertheless, in key areas there is public access to government information. The Ministry of Finance website provides copies of the current and past state budgets. Government tax revenues by province appear on the website for 2007, though not for later years. The government has established an integrated accounting system (SIGFE) for all national and provincial government revenues and expenditures. A pilot version went online in 2008, and the full version became operational in 2009. There is no public access to SIGFE, however.  

A November 2009 $1.4 billion stand-by arrangement with the IMF, which had been spurned during the oil price boom, put increased pressure on the government to improve transparency and accountability mechanisms. The agreement required publication of a 2008 audit of Sonangol and the timely public disclosure of oil revenues. The IMF encouraged but did not require that government expenditures be audited, and the government has since established an accounting system for public expenditure. It has also published oil revenues from 2007 onward on the Ministry of Finance website. Less detailed information, through 2007 only, is available for the state-controlled diamond sector.

Angola has not joined the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), but it has complied with most of its requirements on publishing revenue data. According to the World Bank, Angola “has done far more [in this respect] than other countries that have signed on to EITI.”[54]

  • The government should take steps to limit constraints on freedom of expression. Steps should include investigating and prosecuting the perpetrators of attacks on journalists; increasing transparency of media ownership arrangements; encouraging respect for editorial independence; and reexamining laws that make criticism a criminal offense.
  • Efforts to strengthen the independence and resources of the judiciary should be stepped up, including training for judges and lawyers. The government should demonstrate clear respect for the principle of an independent judiciary at all levels.
  • Electoral administration should be improved ahead of the next general elections in 2012 to ensure free, fair, and credible elections. In particular, the roles of the CNE and any other bodies with authority over elections, such as those the CIPE was given in 2008, should be clarified and strictly enforced.
  • Improvements in the monitoring, control, and transparency of public expenditure, from Sonangol down to municipal government, should be encouraged and strengthened. Public officials at all levels should be held systematically accountable for the misuse of public resources.

[1] International Crisis Group (ICG), Angola’s Choice: Reform or Regress. Africa Report No. 61 (Luanda/Brussels: ICG, 2003).

[2] Alex Vines, “Angola: Looking Beyond Elections,” European Institute for Security Studies, October 2008, p. 1,

[3] Ibid.

[4] “Angola, Final Report: Parliamentary Elections 5 September 2008,” European Union Election Observation Mission (EUEOM), September 21, 2008, p. 15.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Despacho No. 0217/03/GPAN/2010, Assembleia Nacional, Gabinete do Presidente.

[7] Ibid.

[8] “Angola,” Human Rights Watch—World Report 2009, January 2009,

[9] “Amnesty International Report 2010 - Angola,” Amnesty International, May 28, 2010,

[10] “Still not Fully Protected: Rights to Freedom of Expression and Information Under Angola’s New Press Law,” Human Rights Watch, November 15, 2006,

[11] Rafael Marques de Morais, “The Angolan Presidency: The Epicentre of Corruption” [in Portuguese], August 2010,

[12] “Attacks on the Press 2010: Angola,” Committee to Protect Journalists, February 15, 2011,

[13] Gilberto Neto, “Angola Clamps Down on Internet, Social Media,” JOCOZA, April 15, 2011,

[14] Reuters, September 10, 2010.

[15] “Angola: Quash Convictions of Cabinda Activists,” Human Rights Watch, August 5, 2010,

[16] “Cabinda,” Global Security,, accessed June 13, 2011.

[17] “They Put Me in the Hole,” Human Rights Watch Report 2009, Section VII, June 22, 2009,

[18] “Angola: Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review,” Amnesty International, p. 8.

[19] Patrícia Magalhães Ferreira, “State-Society Relations in Angola,” Initiative for Peace, June 2009, p. 21,

[20] “Law on Crimes Against the Security of the State” (Law 17/78 of May 26, 1978, art. 26), Human Rights Watch.

[21] Law on Pre-trial detention (18-A/92) [Lei da prisão preventiva em instrução preparatória], art. 9 and 14.

[22] Law on Pre-trial detention (18-A/92) [Lei da prisão preventiva em instrução preparatória], arts. 25–26.

[23] UNHRC 2008 report (A/HRC/7/4/Add.4, p. 3.

[24] Mario de Queiroz, “Free Rein for Human Traffickers,” March 20, 2008,

[25] “Angola,” CIA World Factbook 2010,, accessed June 13, 2011.

[26] Combined fourth and fifth periodic reports of State Parties: Angola. UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

[27] Ibid.

[28] “An Overview of Women’s Work and Employment in Angola,” and University of Amsterdam–Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Labor Studies, July 2009,

[29] “Bertelsmann Transformation Index [BTI] 2010: Angola Country Report,” Bertelsmann Stiftung, 2009,

[30] “Angola Overview,” World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples,, accessed June 13, 2011.

[31] “World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Angola: Pastoralists and nomads,” Minority Rights Group International, 2008,, accessed June 13, 2011.

[32] “An Overview of Women’s Work and Employment in Angola,” and University of Amsterdam, p. 4.

[33] “2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights – Angola,” International Trade Union Confederation, June 9, 2010,

[34] “Angola Country Summary,” Human Rights Watch, January 2011.

[35] “Angola: Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review,” Amnesty International, February 2010, p. 6,

[36] Interview by author, Luanda, August 15, 2010.

[37] “Relatório sobre os Direitos Humanos e a Administração da Justiça Penal em Angola 2006-2009,” Associação Justiça, Paz e Democracia, 2009,

[38] “Relatório sobre os Direitos Humanos e a Administração da Justiça Penal em Angola 2006-2009,” Associação Justiça, Paz e Democracia.

[39] “Annual Report 2011: Angola,” Amnesty International,, accessed May 15, 2011.

[40] Property Rights Alliance, International Property Rights Index (IPRI): 2009 Report (Washington, DC: Property Rights Alliance), 20,, accessed August 1, 2011.

[41] Resolução 37/09 pela Assembleia Nacional e publicada no Diário da República N.º 167, I Série.

[42] Chancy Namadzunda. “Angola: Seven killed in brutal land evictions.”, 24 March 2010, accessed August 15, 2011 at

[43] Governo Provincial de Luanda, Edital No. 01/2010, August 3, 2010.

[44] Fraser Institute, Economic Freedom of the World 2010 Annual Report (Fraser Institute, 2010),

[45] Jan Isaksen, Inge Amundsen, Arne Wiig, with Celestina Abreu, “Budget, State and People: Budget Process, Civil Society and Transparency in Angola,” Chr. Michelson Institute, Report no. 2, 2007, pp. 47–8.

[46] Ibid.

[47] “Corruption Perceptions Index 2009,” Transparency International,, accessed June 13, 2011.

[48] “2011 Index of Economic Freedom,” Heritage Foundation,

[49] “Transparency and Accountability in Angola,” Human Rights Watch, April 13, 2010,

[50] “Transparency and Accountability in Angola,” Human Rights Watch.

[51] Rafael Marques de Morais, “The Angolan Presidency: The Epicentre of Corruption.”

[52] Isaksen et al, “Budget, State and People: Budget Process, Civil Society and Transparency in Angola,” p. vii.

[53] “OTEXA Market Reports: Angola,” U.S. Department of Commerce—International Trade Administration.

[54] Human Rights Watch interview with World Bank staff, Luanda, March 30, 2009 (cited in “Transparency and Accountability in Angola,” Human Rights Watch, p. 22).