Freedom in the World
You are here
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
The year 2006 saw continued delays in the holding of long-anticipated presidential and parliamentary elections, the first since 1992. An official date for the elections—already postponed into 2006—had yet to be set by year’s end. While the government cited the country’s dilapidated infrastructure as the main cause of delay, opposition parties and civil society organizations accused President Jose Eduardo dos Santos and his ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) of stalling for political gain. In August, the government signed a controversial peace agreement with representatives of oil-rich Cabinda’s splintered secessionist movement; the agreement was not recognized by significant elements in the umbrella Cabinda Forum for Dialogue, which cast doubt on the durability of the agreement. In February, an outbreak of cholera in Luanda led to more than 2,000 deaths across the country.
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 the rebel group National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) led by Jonas Malheiro Savimbi, while the former Soviet Union and Cuba supported the Marxist Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) government. A 1991 peace agreement—the Bicesse Accord—that led to general elections in 1992 under UN supervision disintegrated when Savimbi lost the first round of the presidential vote and resumed fighting. The Lusaka Protocol, a subsequent peace agreement signed in 1994, also fell apart. The collapse of the peace process, ineffective sanctions, and the shooting down of two UN planes caused the UN Security Council to vote in February 1999 to end the UN peacekeeping mission in Angola.
A 2002 ceasefire between UNITA and the ruling MPLA, spurred by Savimbi’s death earlier that year and formalized in the Luena Memorandum of Understanding, has held. However, the resettlement of 4 million refugees and internally displaced persons has exposed severe deficiencies in social services such as housing, education, and health care in this oil- and diamond-rich country. The conflict claimed 500,000 to 2 million lives, displaced more than 4 million people, and sent almost 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; more than 91,000 people remain internally displaced within Angola. The resettlement process has been slowed by the presence of an estimated 500,000 land mines and by a war-ruined infrastructure, which make large tracts of the country inaccessible to humanitarian aid. 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. In May 2006, the International Organization for Migration reported that the ongoing repatriation of more than 12,000 Angolans living in Zambia was slowed by a lack of donor funds and the threat of cholera.
The UN High Commission for Refugees, a lead actor in the humanitarian effort, has shifted its focus from repatriation and emergency relief to reintegration. More than 700,000 Angolans—mostly children and repatriated refugees—are dependent on food aid from the UN World Food Programme, and the government estimates another 100,000 Angolans will be vulnerable to food insecurity through 2007. Angola’s increased oil revenues and related economic growth have led to a significant reduction in donor funding of humanitarian programs.
UNITA appears committed to peace and has made the transition from being a disarmed military organization to becoming Angola’s largest opposition party. 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 much disagreement surrounds the management of Angola’s extensive oil and diamond resources.
Angola is Africa’s second-largest oil producer. In 2005 and 2006, increased oil production, coupled with rising global oil prices, saw Angola’s economy expand by 18 percent. As a result, foreign creditors seeking access to energy resources have extended billions of dollars in credit and loan guarantees to the Angolan government; in 2006, foreign financing allowed the government to almost double its national budget. Angola’s leading creditor is China, which in 2005 granted Angola a $3 billion loan to finance infrastructure recovery projects and in 2006 helped finance the construction of an oil refinery in Lobito, a new airport in Viana, and the reconstruction of the war-damaged Benguela railway. Despite these developments, corruption and mismanagement have prevented most Angolans from benefiting from the country’s wealth. It is estimated that more than $1 billion in oil revenue goes missing each year, and the bulk of new public investment has been directed at the oil sector or the country’s urban coast. Eight-five percent of the population engages in subsistence agriculture, and the United Nations estimates that 70 percent of the population lives on less than $1 a day.
Though the oil-rich exclave of Cabinda, located between the Democratic Republic of Congo (Kinshasa) and the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville), is recognized internationally as part of Angola, the government has been fighting secessionists in the area with varying levels of intensity since 1975. Cabinda, a protectorate during Portuguese colonial rule, accounts for 60 percent of Angola’s total oil revenues. In July 2006, Angolan officials began negotiations of a peace agreement with former Front for the Liberation of Cabinda (FLEC) leader Antonio Bento Bembe; Bembe claimed to represent the Cabinda Forum for Dialogue (CFD), a grouping of representatives from the Cabindan secessionist movements, civil society organization, the Catholic Church, and FLEC formed in 2004. In September, the Angolan government and Bembe signed a Memorandum of Understanding that ostensibly ends the fighting in the exclave and provides for the demilitarization of the separatists in exchange for a general amnesty and “special status” for Cabinda. However, Henriques N’Zita Tiago, the exiled leader of a rival FLEC faction, along with other elements in the CFD, rejected Bembe’s leadership and vowed to disregard the agreement.
By July, a February 2006 outbreak of cholera in Luanda’s Boa Vista slum had spread to 14 of Angola’s 18 provinces, infecting more than 48,800 Angolans and leading to over 2,000 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. The international organization Doctors Without Borders attributed the deadly outbreak to a general lack of access to clean water in Luanda.
Angola is not an electoral democracy. Angolans freely elected their own representatives only once, in UN-supervised presidential and legislative elections held in September 1992. International observers pronounced the vote generally free and fair despite some irregularities. However, UNITA leader Jonas Malheiro Savimbi rejected his loss to MPLA president Jose Eduardo dos Santos in the first round of presidential voting and resumed fighting, preventing a run-off election.
The MPLA dominates the 220-member National Assembly; UNITA holds 70 seats. The National Assembly has little power, but members engage in heated debates, and legislation proposed by the opposition is sometimes adopted.
General elections originally planned for 1997 have continually been delayed. In 2004, President Dos Santos and the MPLA announced that presidential and legislative elections would take place in 2006; the interim period would be used for ensuring the country’s electoral readiness by way of voter registration and education, civil disarmament, and the establishment of the proper administrative authorities. However, these efforts have proceeded slowly. In August 2005, an amended Electoral Law allowing Dos Santos to run for a third consecutive five-year term and establishing a National Electoral Commission (NEC) dominated by the MPLA prompted opposition parties’ complaints to the Supreme Court; these same elements accuse Dos Santos and the MPLA of delaying the elections in order to reap the political and economic benefits of Angola’s oil boom. Nevertheless, the NEC has demonstrated a willingness to consult with opposition parties and some civil society groups. In February 2006, Dos Santos, citing Angola’s still dilapidated infrastructure and lack of progress with voter registration, stated that elections were not likely to take place in 2006, pointing to 2007 or even early 2008 as a more realistic time; the president is mandated to announce the election date only 90 days prior. In October, Angola launched its long-awaited voter registration and education program.
Following the 2002 Luena Memorandum of Understanding, the two factions of the former rebel group UNITA merged into one party, representing the most significant opposition to the ruling MPLA. Eighty-seven other opposition groups have formed a coalition with negligible weight, and about 125 parties are registered in Angola.
While political violence is still a problem, it has decreased significantly in each year since 2002. The risk of increasing political violence as elections draw near is exacerbated by the millions of small arms in circulation amongst private citizens.
Corruption and patronage are endemic in the government. In February 2005, the International Monetary Fund delayed a mission to Angola after the Finance Ministry failed to provide the fund with data concerning the whereabouts of an extra $600 million in oil revenues reaped by the country in 2004 as the consequence of high oil prices. The giving of gasosas —literally “fizzy drinks,” but in reality a small bribe—underpins much of Angolan business in both rural and urban areas. In December 2005, a World Bank survey found outdated, poorly implemented, and corruption-prone bureaucratic regulations made Angola one of the world’s most hostile environments for micro-enterprise. Angola was ranked 142 out of 163 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Following the 2002 ceasefire between the government and UNITA, media restrictions became less stringent. Yet, despite constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression, journalists are often subject to intimidation, dismissal, detention, and legal sanction by authorities; the result is self-censorship. Defamation of the president or his representatives is a criminal offense, punishable by imprisonment or fines. In February 2006, the government approved a new Press Law, enacted in May. The law is an improvement on previous legislation: it ends the state monopoly on television broadcasting, calls for the creation of a public broadcaster that ensures the “right of citizens to inform, seek information and be informed,” and allows journalists to use the truth defense in libel and defamation trials. However, the law includes several restrictive provisions and requires implementing legislation for the execution of some of the more positive reforms (including application for independent TV and radio licenses). In July 2006, Reporters Without Borders reported on the murders of two Angolan journalists, though it was unclear whether their deaths were related to their work.
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 that criticize the government, but the state dominates media elsewhere. The only daily newspaper and the sole television station are state owned. As of 2006, authorities continued to prevent the outspoken Roman Catholic radio station, Radio Ecclesia, from broadcasting outside Luanda. In addition, high-ranking government officials pressured independent media to cover the government in a more favorable light. Internet access is limited to a small elite, as most citizens lack computers or even electricity.
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. According to UNICEF, only 6 percent of 10- to 11-year-olds attend school.
The constitution guarantees freedom of assembly and association. Hundreds of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and civic groups operate in Angola, demanding political reform and greater government accountability in human rights; in particular, churches have grown more outspoken. However, the government often denies NGOs access to Cabinda on security grounds and has not adequately fostered the participation of civil society in postwar reconstruction. Angola’s increased oil revenues and related economic growth have led to a significant reduction in donor funding of humanitarian programs. In 2006, the government continued to block the registration of the Association for Justice, Peace, and Democracy (AJPD), pending since 2000; nevertheless, the AJPD continued to function throughout the year.
Increasingly, authorities are allowing opposition groups to hold demonstrations in Luanda. However, crackdowns are common in the interior of the country. In December 2005, police detained 13 people protesting the demolition of homes in Luanda; the detainees were reportedly beaten in custody. In July 2006, Angolan military forces raided the headquarters of the Cabindan NGO Mpalabanda and the home of its president. In October, the director of Mpalabanda, Raul Danda, was arrested after voicing his opposition to the peace agreement signed with FLEC leader Antonio Bento Bembe. That same month, a demonstration in Cabinda by some 30 people opposed to the agreement and to Danda’s arrest was violently broken up by Angolan security forces.
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 judiciary is subject to extensive executive influence. 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 and a large backlog of cases inhibit judicial proceedings. Only 23 of the 168 municipal courts are operational; as a result, traditional or informal courts are utilized. However, the courts do occasionally rule against the government: in February 2005, the Supreme Court in Luanda overturned a 2004 conviction of the editor of the independent weekly Semanario Angolense for defaming the president . Prisoners are commonly detained for long periods in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions while awaiting trial. Prison conditions are life-threatening; prisoners are subject to torture, severe overcrowding, sexual abuse, extortion, and a lack of basic human services.
Severe human rights abuses—including torture, abduction, rape, sexual slavery, and extrajudicial execution—were perpetrated during the war by both sides. Though less frequently, security forces still perpetrate such actions. Displaced Angolans returning home have faced harassment, and police and security forces are rarely held accountable for shakedowns, muggings, rapes, or beatings. An estimated four million weapons in civilian hands threaten to contribute to lawlessness. In addition, murders, beatings, and other human rights violations at the hands of government and private security forces continue to afflict Angola’s lucrative diamond-mining industry. Such abuses became less frequent after the government mandated more humane methods in carrying out “Operation Brilhante ,” a recent campaign to curb illegal diamond mining that led to the expulsion of more than 120,000 Congolese and West African migrant miners. In January 2005, the government established the office of the Justice Ombudsman as the national human rights institution, and former justice minister Paolo Tjipilica was confirmed for the post by the National Assembly. However, the government’s failure to include civic actors in the process elicited protests from human rights organizations and civil society.
The disputed nature of the government agreement with separatist forces in Cabinda has caused concerns among human rights organizations of more severe human rights abuses in the exclave. These abuses could be stoked by both government attempts to enforce the agreement and infighting within Cabindan separatist factions. Accusations of rights abuses—torture, arbitrary detention, extrajudicial executions, restrictions on freedom of movement, and sexual violence—have been leveled throughout the duration of the conflict.
Eight provinces (about 50 percent of the country) contain areas that were heavily mined, which restricts freedom of movement. At least 80,000 people have lost limbs to mines over the years.
Angolans have the right to own property. However, the government dominates the economy, and the war discouraged the development of a private sector. In December 2005, authorities in Luanda destroyed more than 625 homes in the Cambamba neighborhood and forcefully evicted their inhabitants to make way for a new housing project. According to the U.S. State Department’s 2006 human rights report, the property rights of traditional pastoral communities lack adequate protection.
Women occupy cabinet positions and National Assembly seats. Nevertheless, despite legal protections, de facto discrimination against women remains strong, particularly in rural areas. Violence against women is widespread; spousal abuse is common. Women are often the victims of land mines as they forage for food and firewood. Child labor is a major problem, and there were reports of trafficking in women and children for purposes of prostitution or forced labor. A recent study by the state’s National Children's Institute and UNICEF found “a significant and growing” trend in the abuse and abandonment of children accused of witchcraft after the death of a family member (usually from HIV/AIDS).