Angola | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2005

2005 Scores


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Freedom Rating
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Civil Liberties
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Political Rights
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Angola saw signs of greater stability in 2004, two years after the death of rebel leader Jonas Savimbi ended three decades of civil war. Civil society debate is growing as the country approaches general elections planned for 2006. However, the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) is still wary of critics, and independent media and opposition parties find it hard to thrive outside the capital.

Angola was at war continually for nearly three decades following independence from Portugal in 1975. During the Cold War, the United States and South Africa backed Savimbi's National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), while the former Soviet Union and Cuba supported the Marxist MPLA government. A 1991 peace accord that led to general elections in 1992 disintegrated when Savimbi lost the presidency and resumed fighting. A subsequent peace agreement in 1994 also fell apart. The UN Security Council voted in February 1999 to end the UN peacekeeping mission in Angola following the collapse of the peace process and the shooting down of two UN planes.

A 2002 ceasefire between UNITA and the ruling MPLA has held. However, the resettlement of 4 million refugees and internally displaced people has exposed the collapse in social services. With peace, the government can no longer use the war as an excuse for lack of delivery in housing, education, and health. Civic groups are increasingly urging the government to become more accountable for violations of human rights, slow political reform, and non-transparency in oil transactions. The United Nations, now a lead actor in the humanitarian effort, is shifting its focus from emergency relief to sustainable development. Nonetheless, more than 2.5 million Angolans depend on food aid, which poses a threat to social stability.

UNITA appears committed to peace. About 80,000 former rebel soldiers have been demobilized; 5,000 of them have been integrated into the armed forces and the police. However, the MPLA and UNITA disagree about how rapidly political and economic reforms can occur, and both sides need to demonstrate a commitment to rebuilding Angola rather than simply dividing up its diamond and oil riches.

The conflict claimed 500,000 to 2 million lives, displaced 4 million people, and sent 500,000 fleeing to neighboring countries. The majority of resettled people today remain without land, proper shelter and food, health care, jobs, education, and even identification documents. They commonly lack transport to return to places of origin or were coerced to resettle elsewhere. Women are vulnerable to sexual abuse and rarely receive demobilization benefits. Former child soldiers - estimates vary from 7,000 to 11,000 - have also remained outside the disarmament process. The United Nations expects the return and resettlement process to continue until 2006.

The resettlement process has been slowed by the presence of an estimated 700,000 land mines and by a war-ruined infrastructure, which make large tracts of the country inaccessible to humanitarian aid. At least 70,000 people have lost limbs to mines over the years. Rebuilding roads, bridges, and communications networks will take years.

Angola is Africa's second-largest oil producer. Petroleum accounts for up to 90 percent of government revenues, but corruption and war have prevented the average Angolan from benefiting from the wealth. More than $1 billion in oil revenue goes missing each year. The country's rich diamond areas have been carved up between MPLA and UNITA elites. Subsistence agriculture supports 85 percent of the population. The government has failed to make significant progress in reforms recommended by the IMF.

Accusations continue of human rights abuses against civilians in the oil enclave of Cabinda, perpetrated mainly by government soldiers sent in to crush a low-intensity separatist conflict that has simmered for decades. Two factions of the insurgent Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC) merged in 2004 to strengthen their negotiating position, should the government wish to continue dialogue begun the previous year.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Angolans freely elected their own representatives only once, in the September 1992 UN-supervised presidential and legislative elections. International observers pronounced the vote generally free and fair despite some irregularities. However, Jonas Savimbi rejected his defeat to President Jose Eduardo dos Santos in the first round of presidential voting and resumed fighting.

The two factions of the former rebel group UNITA merged into one party in 2002. Eighty-seven other opposition groups have formed a coalition with negligible weight. The National Assembly has little power, but members engage in heated debates, and legislation proposed by the opposition is sometimes adopted. The MPLA dominates the 220-member National Assembly; UNITA holds 70 seats. General elections planned for 1997 were put off until 2006. In May 2004, opposition parties walked out of parliament's Constitutional Commission, which is charged with laying the groundwork for the poll, accusing dos Santos of delaying work on a new constitution. UNITA and six other opposition parties have threatened to boycott the vote unless an independent electoral commission is created.

About 125 parties are registered in Angola. Although political debate is lively, opposition parties blame the MPLA for attacks on their members and offices, especially in the provinces of Huambo and Moxico where UNITA has traditionally claimed strong support. Recently, unidentified gangs have burned down homes of UNITA members and ransacked the party's offices. An opposition member of parliament was murdered in Luanda in July 2004 and several other MPs were beaten in June. The ruling party denies responsibility and says harassment is not official policy. However, the MPLA has not fostered the participation of civil society in reconstruction.

Corruption and patronage are endemic in the government. Angola was ranked 133 out of 146 countries surveyed in the 2004 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index.

Severe repression of the media by UNITA and the MPLA eased following the 2002 ceasefire. However, despite constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression, journalists often practice self-censorship or are subjected to intimidation by the authorities. The detention of journalists still occurs, especially outside the capital. Defamation of the president or his representatives is a criminal offense, punishable by imprisonment or fines. Private media outlets are often denied access to official information and events, and they report problems with funding. There are several independent weekly newspapers and radio stations in Luanda, but the government dominates media elsewhere. Authorities have prevented the outspoken Roman Catholic radio, Radio Ecclesia, from broadcasting outside Luanda. The only daily newspaper and the sole television station are state-owned, although the government announced plans in 2003 to open up the sector to private broadcasters. Internet access is limited to a small elite, as most citizens lack computers or even electricity.

Religious freedom is widely respected. The educational system barely functions. More than 50 percent of rural children do not attend school. Only 3 out of 10 rural women older than 15 years of age can read and write.

Hundreds of nongovernmental organizations and civic groups have formed in peacetime, demanding political reform and greater government accountability in human rights, and churches especially have grown more outspoken with peace. However, civil society organizations require greater coherence to be effective. The constitution guarantees freedom of assembly, and increasingly authorities are allowing opposition groups to hold demonstrations in Luanda. However, crackdowns are common in the interior of the country. Human Rights Watch reports that in April 2004, armed men believed to be police fired on protestors, killing nine people including three children.

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. The lack of a viable economy has hindered labor activity.

The government has yet to establish a Constitutional Court, as mandated by the constitution. Local courts rule on civil matters and petty crime in some areas, but an overall lack of training and infrastructure inhibit judicial proceedings, which are heavily influenced by the government. Only 23 of the 168 municipal courts are operational. Prisoners are commonly detained for long periods in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions while awaiting trial. Often, prisoners must rely on outsiders for food.

Severe human rights abuses - including torture, abduction, rape, sexual slavery, and extrajudicial execution - were perpetrated during the war by both sides. Such actions, though their frequency has subsided, still occur in the provinces. Displaced Angolans returning home have faced harassment, and police and security forces are rarely held accountable for shakedowns, muggings, rapes, or beatings. As estimated 4 million weapons in civilian hands threaten to contribute to lawlessness.

Angolans have the right to own property. However, the government dominates the economy and the war discouraged the development of a private sector. Prospects look better with peace, and the government in 2003 passed legislation aimed at facilitating private investment.

Women occupy cabinet positions and National Assembly seats. Nevertheless, despite legal protections, de facto discrimination against women remains strong, particularly in rural areas. Spousal abuse is common, and the war spawned rape and sexual slavery. Women are often the victims of land mines as they forage for food and firewood.