Freedom in the World
Freedom in the World Scores
Angola has been ruled by the same party and just two presidents since independence, and authorities have repressed political dissent and maintained restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly. Corruption, political imprisonment, and abuses by security forces all remain common.
- The 17 activists known as the Luanda book club, who were imprisoned in 2015 for discussing a book on civil disobedience, were conditionally released in June. However, their convictions on charges of sedition were not overturned.
- Police violently suppressed several protests during the year. In August, military police killed a teenage boy during a demonstration against housing demolitions.
- The national assembly passed several new laws restricting freedom of the press and free expression online, though dos Santos had yet to sign them at year’s end.
- Rebels associated with separatists in the exclave of Cabinda increased attacks against government forces, with deaths on both sides reported.
President José Eduardo dos Santos and his party, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), retained tight control over the political system and significantly restricted civil liberties during 2016. Dos Santos, who has been in power for 37 years, in March announced that he would step down in 2018, though he has made and broken similar pledges before. In the meantime, he reportedly named the defense minister as his preferred successor, and in June appointed his daughter to lead the national oil company.
The drop in global oil prices continued to damage Angola’s oil-dependent economy and state budget in 2016. Delays in workers’ pay have led to strikes. Amid popular frustrations with economic decline, corruption, and dos Santos’ continued rule, authorities have harshly suppressed protests and worked to increase restrictions on freedom of speech and the press. Meanwhile, separatists stepped up attacks on government forces in the restive exclave of Cabinda.
The 2010 constitution abolished direct presidential elections, stipulating instead that the leader of the largest party in the parliament would become president. The 220-seat unicameral National Assembly, whose members serve five-year terms, has little power, and 90 percent of legislation originates in the executive branch. The constitution permits the president to serve a maximum of two five-year terms, and to directly appoint the vice president, cabinet, and provincial governors. President dos Santos has been in power for 37 years, making him one of the longest-serving heads of state in Africa. Dos Santos’ first full term under the current constitution began in 2012, and he announced in March 2016 that he would step down in 2018. Angola’s scheduled August 2017 parliamentary elections are thus key to determining the next president if dos Santos follows through on his pledge. Dos Santos has reportedly named Defense Minister João Lourenço as his preferred successor.
The parliamentary elections held in 2012 were deeply flawed and followed a number of delays. The MPLA captured 72 percent of the vote, a notable decline from its 82 percent showing in 2008. Still, the party maintained its overwhelming dominance in the National Assembly, garnering 175 of 220 seats. The opposition National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) won 32 seats; the Broad Convergence for the Salvation of Angola–Electoral Coalition (CASA–CE) won 8 seats, the Social Renewal Party (PRS) won 3, and the National Front for Angolan Liberation (FNLA) won 2.
In October 2014, dos Santos confirmed that already-delayed municipal elections, called for in the constitution, would again be postponed until after the 2017 general elections. The president justified this unilateral decision by citing the difficulties experienced in organizing the 2012 elections and those anticipated in replacing existing local government institutions with new municipal governments. The opposition vehemently protested the decision.
Although five political parties are represented in the National Assembly, the ruling MPLA dominates Angola’s party system. Mutual mistrust, the inability to agree on common strategy, and enticements from the more powerful and better-funded MPLA prevent opposition parties from coordinating their efforts. In 2015 the four opposition parties represented in the National Assembly held their first joint parliamentary meetings to promote dialogue and discuss the state of the country with civil society leaders. Human rights and democracy activists allege that opposition parties fail to challenge government efforts to suppress civil resistance.
Throughout 2014, opposition members had criticized the government’s delay in establishing the Council of the Republic, a presidential advisory body that is constitutionally required to include members of the opposition. President dos Santos finally swore council members into office in February 2015, though their influence remains limited.
Political activism in the exclave of Cabinda, home to a long-standing movement for independence or autonomy, is regarded with suspicion by the government and can draw criminal charges. Rebels associated with the separatist Front for the Liberation of Cabinda (FLEC) increased attacks against government forces in 2016, with deaths on both sides reported. The clashes led to a corresponding troop build-up in the territory.
Corruption and patronage are endemic in Angola’s entrenched political elite, which is largely unaccountable to the public. Allegations of corruption continued throughout 2016, with controversy continuing to swirl around the dos Santos family’s business interests. The naming of the president’s daughter, Isabel dos Santos, widely thought to be the wealthiest woman in Africa, as head of national oil company Sonangol in June was a source of widespread anger in the country.
A freedom of information law ostensibly meant to allow citizens access to government-generated documents was approved in 2002. However, in practice accessing information remains extremely difficult.
Despite constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression, the state owns Angola’s only daily newspaper, all national radio stations, and all but one national television station. These outlets, along with private media owned by senior officials and members of the dos Santos family, act as mouthpieces for the MPLA. Censorship and self-censorship are common.
In 2016, the legislature approved several restrictive new laws that would allow greater government control over online and traditional media, and raise barriers to the creation of new media outlets. Dos Santos was expected to sign the legislation in 2017. Additionally, a new MPLA-controlled regulatory body, the Angolan Social Communications Regulatory Body (ERCA), was established. Independent news outlets remain active online, but it remains to be seen how the government may use the new laws against them.
Angolan authorities have consistently prevented independent journalists from reporting the news, denying them access to official information and events, preventing them from broadcasting, and threatening them with detention and prosecution, frequently abusing libel and defamation laws. In January and June 2016, journalists Francisco Rasgado and José Manuel Alberto were charged with defamation in two separate cases for covering corruption and misuse of state funds; Rasgado had received death threats for his coverage of provincial government corruption in Benguela. In May, police in Luanda detained Voice of America journalist Coque Mukuta for recording them beating a suspect, while Washington Post journalists were detained for reporting on a hospital in Luanda in June. In December, journalists Rafael Marques de Morais of Maka Angola and Mariano Brás of O Crime, both longtime targets of government persecution, faced defamation-related charges for publishing reports on alleged corruption by the attorney general.
The constitution guarantees religious freedom, but the government requires religious groups to meet rigorous criteria in order to receive legal recognition. Legal approval was last granted to a new religious group in 2004. Roughly 1,200 religious groups operate illegally in Angola. All of those that have been officially recognized are Christian, despite the presence of tens of thousands of Muslims in the country. The government maintains that it has no bias against the practice of Islam, though Muslims have complained of discrimination.
In April 2016, José Kalupeteka, leader of the Light of the World religious sect, was sentenced to 28 years in prison in connection with an April 2015 clash between security forces and sect members in Huambo province, in which the government reported that 13 civilians and 9 policemen were killed. Nonstate sources reported a much higher death toll, accusing the government of a massacre, while the government blocked independent investigation of the incident, and President dos Santos declared the Light of the World to be a threat to peace and national unity. New deadly confrontations between police and group members occurred in August 2016, with allegations that over 30 sect members were massacred.
There are no formal restrictions on academic freedom, though professors avoid politically sensitive topics for fear of repercussions.
While internet access is increasing in Angola, the government actively monitors internet activity and, in some instances, uses the data collected to crack down on dissidents, while newly approved social communication laws are designed to chill free speech on social media. Offline communication is also subject to monitoring and punishment. In March 2016, 17 young activists were convicted on charges of state security crimes, including sedition, in connection with their participation in a 2015 book club discussion on civil resistance. The Supreme Court ordered the conditional release of the 17 activists in June, though their convictions have not yet been overturned.
The constitution guarantees limited freedoms of assembly and association. In recent years, police and security forces have prohibited demonstrations, violently dispersed peaceful political gatherings, and intimidated and arrested protesters in provinces including Luanda, Malanje, and Benguela. In April 2016, police detained and assaulted protestors in Luanda demonstrating in support of the jailed Luanda book club members, while in August, police violently suppressed protests in the capital at which demonstrators called for President dos Santos’s resignation; police beat protestors and attacked them with dogs. In November, authorities prohibited demonstrations against Isabel dos Santos taking control of the national oil company.
Several hundred nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operate in Angola, and many advocate for transparency, human rights protections, and political reform. Organizations that are critical of the government have frequently faced state interference and been threatened with closure. NGOs are required to register with the government and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to operate and must obtain further authorizations to receive donations. Once registered, NGOs are required to submit to government supervision and audits.
The constitution includes the right to strike and to form unions, but the MPLA dominates the labor movement, and only a few weak independent unions exist. Still, strikes do occur: transit workers in Luanda began 2016 on strike, while port workers in Lobito and teachers in Bengo went on strike in August and September, respectively, over grievances including unpaid wages.
The courts are hampered by a lack of trained legal professionals, as well as insufficient infrastructure, a large backlog of cases, corruption, and extensive political influence, particularly from the executive. Many areas lack functional municipal courts, thus leaving crimes and conflicts to be adjudicated by informal tribunals, or by local police.
The president appoints Supreme Court judges to life terms without legislative input. Several examples of judicial abuse and lack of due process arose in 2016, including the convictions of the 17 activists of the Luanda book club, and prosecution of human rights defenders and journalists covering corruption. However, courts in 2016 issued two promising decisions regarding the activities of Cabindan human rights activists. In May, a court overturned a dubious conviction against José Marcos Mavungo for purportedly plotting rebellion. Similar charges against Arão Bula Tempo, another Cabindan rights activist, were dismissed in July.
There is no effective protection against unjustified imprisonment, lengthy pretrial detention, extortion, or torture. Angolan jails are reported to be overcrowded, unhygienic, lacking basic necessities, and plagued by sexual abuse. They also contain a number of political prisoners, advocates of the Cabindan autonomy movement, and members of peaceful activist groups. In September 2016, police at the Rangel station in Luanda allegedly tortured and killed suspect José Padrão Loureiro, an attack for which five officers were arrested.
In diamond mining regions, private security forces have taken the law into their own hands, and frequently abuse it. In April 2016, reports emerged that such forces had beaten local miners in Lunda-Norte with machetes, while in August, private security forces in the same region killed 17-year-old Gabriel Mufugueno, sparking protests.
Tensions in Cabinda remain high. The secessionist FLEC movement and its supporters—many of whom live in exile—continue to call for talks on independence amidst sporadic violence. Activists have alleged that Cabinda residents are not permitted to voice their opinions and are under constant risk of persecution and discrimination.
Security forces allegedly harass and abuse African immigrant communities, against a backdrop of the government’s failure to adequately protect refugees and asylum seekers. Nevertheless, immigration from countries including Brazil, China, and Portugal remains high, and migrants from neighboring countries also continue to enter Angola in large numbers.
National law criminalizes “acts against nature,” though there have been no recent cases of this provision being applied to same-sex sexual activity. LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people sometimes suffer harassment, and few formal LGBT organizations exist.
Several organizations have been working to remove land mines that were placed during Angola’s decades-long civil war. Land mines inhibit agriculture, construction, and freedom of movement, particularly in rural areas.
The process for securing entry and exit visas remains difficult and mired in corruption. Individuals who are critical of the government have faced problems when attempting to leave or enter the country.
Access to quality education is limited to Angola’s elite and the expatriate community. Literacy rates remain low, due to the shortage of qualified teachers and the lack of school facilities, especially in rural districts. Corruption and absenteeism among some teachers continues to be a problem.
In 2016, the government continued a campaign of forced evictions in Luanda and other cities. In the Zango II area of Luanda in August, residents protesting the demolition of their homes were attacked by soldiers firing live ammunition, with 14-year-old Rufino Antonio killed by a military police officer.
Bribery often underpins business activity, and high-level corruption ensures that wealth and economic influence remain concentrated among those with political connections. Despite years of abundant oil revenues, Angola has one of the lowest life-expectancy rates in the world at 52 years, and a large share of the population still lives below the international poverty line.
Women enjoy legal protections and occupy cabinet positions and multiple seats in the National Assembly. However, de facto discrimination and violence against women continues. Child labor is a major problem, and foreign workers are vulnerable to sex trafficking and forced labor in the construction and mining industries. The authorities have failed to effectively investigate human trafficking or prosecute offenders.