Freedom in the World
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Legislative and presidential elections, originally scheduled for 1997, were delayed yet again in 2007. The legislative poll is now expected to be held in September 2008, followed by the presidential election in 2009. Also in 2007, the security forces faced fresh allegations of widespread abuse and torture, and Angola’s oil-driven economic growth continued to be plagued by endemic corruption.
Angola was at war continually for nearly three decades following independence from Portugal in 1975. The 1991 Bicesse Accord temporarily ended fighting between the rebel National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) and the government, controlled by the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), a Marxist group. However, the accord disintegrated when UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi, having lost the first round of a UN-supervised presidential election in 1992, once again took up arms. The collapse of a 1994 peace agreement (the Lusaka Protocol), ineffective sanctions, and the shooting down of two UN planes caused the United Nations to end its peacekeeping mission in Angola in 1999. After 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, UNITA appeared committed to peace and subsequently transformed itself from a disarmed military organization into Angola’s largest opposition party. About 80,000 former rebel soldiers were demobilized, and 5,000 were integrated into the armed forces and police.
The conflict claimed an estimated one million lives, displaced more than four million people, and forced over half a million to flee to neighboring countries; according to a 2007 estimate by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), some 410,000 Angolans had returned home in the previous four years, while about 190,000 continued to live outside the country. Many resettled people—particularly those in the peripheral provinces—remained without land, proper shelter and food, health care, jobs, education, or even identification documents. The resettlement process was slowed by the presence of an estimated 500,000 land mines and a war-ruined infrastructure, which continued to make large tracts of the country inaccessible to humanitarian aid. In March 2007, the UNHCR formally concluded its voluntary repatriation program for Angolan refugees.
Angola is Africa’s second-largest oil producer. Due to increased oil production, rising global oil prices, and the government’s wide access to oil-backed credit, the economy grew by an estimated 13 percent in real terms over the three years ending in 2007. Angola’s leading creditor, China, has funded multiple billion-dollar development projects to rehabilitate the country’s infrastructure. In March 2007, Angola cancelled negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) over an economic stabilization program, claiming it had sufficient resources to achieve consistent growth without the fund’s conditional support. Nevertheless, 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 toward the oil sector or the country’s urban coast. Eighty-five percent of the population engages in subsistence agriculture, and the United Nations estimates that 68 percent of the population lives on less than $1 a day. Angola’s oil boom has led to a significant reduction in donor funding for humanitarian programs. In 2007, the World Food Programme, citing lack of funds, substantially reduced food aid distribution in Angola to just over 200,000 recipients, from 450,000 in 2006.
Though the northern exclave of Cabinda is internationally recognized as part of Angola, the government has been fighting secessionists there intermittently since 1975. Cabinda accounts for 60 percent of Angola’s total oil revenues. In 2006, the government signed a peace agreement with former Front for the Liberation of Cabinda (FLEC) leader Antonio Bento Bembe, the ostensible representative of the Cabinda Forum for Dialogue (CFD), an umbrella grouping of secessionists. Several factions of the CFD denounced the agreement and vowed to continue fighting. Nevertheless, the deal appeared to hold in 2007. According to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), between 80 and 90 percent of FLEC fighters have either joined the army or demobilized.
Angola is not an electoral democracy. Angolans freely elected their representatives only once, in UN-supervised balloting held in 1992. While the 2002 Luena Memorandum of Understanding created a “government of unity and national reconciliation, the MPLA dominates the 220-seat National Assembly with 129 seats; UNITA holds 65 seats (after expelling five of its lawmakers in 2006). The National Assembly, whose members serve four-year terms under the constitution, has little power, and 90 percent of legislation originates in the executive branch. The president, who is supposed to serve five-year terms, directly appoints the prime minister, cabinet, and provincial governors.
General elections originally planned for 1997 have continually been delayed. In 2004, they were scheduled for 2006 to give time for voter registration, civil disarmament, and the formation of proper electoral authorities. President Jose Eduardo dos Santos in 2006 put the votes off for at least another year, citing dilapidated infrastructure and a stalled registration process. Then, in March 2007, the Council of the Republic, headed by the president, announced that legislative elections would be held in 2008, followed by a presidential vote in 2009; in December, legislative elections were set for September 2008. While an MPLA victory in both polls is likely, opposition parties and civil society organizations have accused dos Santos of stalling for political gain.
In September 2007, the government ended its voter registration drive, claiming that eight million Angolans had successfully registered. However, the electoral laws—amended in 2005 to allow dos Santos to run for a third consecutive term—have been widely criticized as inadequate for free and fair elections. In March 2007, a team from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) recommended that the government ministry tasked with organizing the elections be replaced by a more independent body. It also echoed opposition and civil society activists in objecting to the structure of the MPLA-dominated National Electoral Commission (CNE).
UNITA remains the most significant opposition party facing the ruling MPLA. Eighty-seven other opposition groups have formed a coalition with negligible weight. A total of about 125 parties are registered in Angola. While political violence has decreased significantly in each year since 2002, it is still a problem, and UNITA officials have argued that violence has increased during the voter registration process. UNITA leader Isaias Samakuva claims that 13 party members were killed for political reasons in 2006 and 2007, a claim the government denies. In March 2007, Samakuva accused police officers of trying to assassinate him during a tour of Kwanza Norte province, but the government denied that the incident took place. In February, members of the opposition Angolan Party for Progress and Democratic Assistance (PADEPA) were arrested and held incommunicado for five days before being released without charges.
Corruption and patronage are endemic in the government. Bribery underpins much of Angolan business in both rural and urban areas. In 2005, a World Bank survey found that outdated, poorly implemented, and corruption-prone bureaucratic regulations made Angola one of the world’s most hostile environments for microenterprise. A 2007 report by the Norway-based Chr. Michelsen Institute found that state budget making in Angola was extremely opaque and that budget execution was hampered by the country’s inefficient public finance system and weak budget-related institutions. Angola was ranked 147 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2007 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Following the 2002 ceasefire between the government and UNITA, media restrictions became less stringent. However, 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 and libel are criminal offenses, punishable by imprisonment or fines. In May 2006, the government enacted a new Press Law that ended the state monopoly on television broadcasting, called 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 concerning journalistic “duties,” journalists’ access to information, the right to practice journalism and to establish new media outlets, and the registration of both journalists and media outlets with the government.
The only daily newspaper and the sole television station are state owned. Private media outlets are often denied access to official information and events, and they report problems with funding. In addition, high-ranking government officials pressure independent media to cover the government in a more favorable light. There are several independent weekly newspapers and radio stations in Luanda that criticize the government, but the state dominates media elsewhere. As of 2007, authorities continued to prevent the outspoken Roman Catholic radio station Radio Ecclesia from broadcasting outside Luanda. 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, 47 percent of girls and 53 percent of boys attend primary school.
The constitution guarantees freedom of assembly and association. Increasingly, authorities are allowing opposition groups to hold demonstrations in Luanda, though crackdowns are common in the interior. 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. Hundreds of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and civic groups operate in Angola, many of them demanding political reform, government accountability, and human rights protections. In particular, churches have grown more outspoken. However, the government often denies NGOs access to Cabinda on security grounds. In February 2007, British researcher Sarah Wykes, who was investigating corruption in the oil industry for the NGO Global Witness, was detained by Angolan police in Cabinda and accused of spying. She was allowed to return to Britain in March but may still face espionage charges in Angola. In 2006, Angolan military forces raided the headquarters of the Cabindan NGO Mpalabanda, which opposed that year’s peace agreement, and arrested leader Raul Danda. Now banned, Mpalabanda in August 2007 alleged that members had been arrested ahead of a visit to Cabinda by dos Santos.
The judiciary is subject to extensive executive influence, though courts do occasionally rule against the government. The government has yet to establish a Constitutional Court, as mandated by the constitution. Supreme Court judges are appointed to life terms by the president without legislative input or approval. Local courts rule on civil matters and petty crime in some areas, but an overall lack of training and infrastructure, a large backlog of cases, and corruption inhibit access to and functioning of the judiciary. Despite government efforts to train more municipal magistrates, municipal courts are rarely operational. As a result, traditional or informal courts are utilized.
Accused criminals are commonly detained for long periods while awaiting trial, and prisoners are subject to torture, severe overcrowding, sexual abuse, extortion, and a lack of basic services. Despite government efforts to reform security forces through increased resources and human rights training, officers continue to commit abuses with impunity. In September 2007, separate reports by Amnesty International and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) noted that Angolans still faced arbitrary detention, abuse, and torture by security forces, and denial of access to legal counsel. An estimated four million weapons in civilian hands threaten to contribute to lawlessness, and Angola’s diamond-mining industry is afflicted by murders and other abuses by government and private security personnel. The government created a national justice ombudsman’s office in 2005 to improve human rights observance, but activists and civil society groups objected to their exclusion from the process.
Accusations of severe rights abuses, including extrajudicial executions, have been leveled throughout the duration of the Cabinda conflict. In September 2007, UN investigators reported that civilians were being held incommunicado at military bases in Cabinda.
Eight provinces (about 50 percent of the country) contain areas that were heavily mined, restricting freedom of movement. At least 80,000 people have lost limbs to mines over the years.
Angolans have the right to own property, but it is very problematic in practice. Since 2003, forced evictions from informal settlements in and around Luanda have displaced 20,000 people and destroyed over 3,000 homes, according to Human Rights Watch and SOS Habitat. These groups say the government usually fails to give prior notice or provide adequate resettlement and compensation. The government claims the residents are trespassing on state land that is needed for public development purposes. Land laws passed in 2004, requiring the registration of ownership within three years, have generally been welcomed in rural areas and opposed in urban areas.
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, and spousal abuse is common. Women are often killed or injured by land mines as they search 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.