Freedom in the World
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Freedom in the World Scores
Angola has been ruled by the same party 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.
Key Developments in 2017:
- The ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) won parliamentary elections held in August. João Lourenço then became Angola’s president, succeeding José Eduardo dos Santos, who had been in power for 38 years.
- Opposition parties jointly challenged the elections’ results, which they deemed fraudulent, but the Constitutional Court dismissed their claim. The court additionally ruled that opposition figures had submitted fraudulent documents as part of the claim, and referred the issue to prosecutors. Opposition figures elected to the National Assembly ultimately took their seats—a move that prompted criticism from their supporters.
- After taking office, Lourenço fired several senior officials associated with dos Santos, including Isabel dos Santos, the daughter of the former president, who had headed the state oil company.
- In March, the National Assembly abandoned amendments that would have criminalized abortion, following vocal opposition by women’s groups.
POLITICAL RIGHTS: 10 / 40
A. ELECTORAL PROCESS: 3 / 12
A1. Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 0 / 4
The 2010 constitution abolished direct presidential elections. Instead, the head of the national list of the political party receiving the most votes in general elections becomes president, in the absence of any confirmation process by the elected legislature. 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.
In December 2016, the MPLA announced that Defense Minister João Lourenço, who was also the MPLA vice president, would be its presidential candidate in 2017. The decision was made by the MPLA’s political bureau, without meaningful public consultation. The MPLA retained power in the 2017 legislative elections, and Lourenço succeeded José Eduardo dos Santos, who had been in power for 38 years. Dos Santos remained the head of the MPLA.
A2. Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 2 / 4
Angola’s 220-seat, unicameral National Assembly, whose members serve five-year terms, has little power, and most legislation originates in the executive branch.
In the 2017 legislative polls, the MPLA won 61 percent of the vote, while the opposition National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) took 27 percent, and the Broad Convergence for the Salvation of Angola–Electoral Coalition (CASA–CE) won 9 percent. An African Union (AU) monitoring mission praised the elections’ conduct, noting that they were peaceful and that there was a broad consensus that polling preparations and processes were better organized than in past polls. However, the prevalence of biased progovernment media, deficiencies in voter registration processes, and the MPLA’s use of public resources in its campaign hampered the opposition. There were also reports of postelection violence in some locations.
Alleging grave irregularities at the National Election Commission (NEC), including the manipulation of the vote count, opposition leaders called the polls fraudulent, and jointly disputed the results. The Constitutional Court dismissed their claim, citing a lack of evidence, and further concluded that officials from UNITA and another opposition party, the Social Renewal Party, had forged documents related to the complaint; the case was referred to prosecutors, and convictions on the charges could result in sentences of as many as eight years in prison. Opposition figures elected to the National Assembly ultimately took their seats—a move that prompted intense criticism from their political base.
A3. Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 1 / 4
The law states that the makeup of the CNE should reflect the disposition of power in the National Assembly, which attributes an advantage to the MPLA. In 2017, the political opposition cited serious misconduct and a lack of transparency on behalf of the CNE in its challenge of the year’s election results.
B. POLITICAL PLURALISM AND PARTICIPATION: 6 / 12
B1. Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 2 / 4
The creation of new political parties is fraught with bureaucratic obstacles and attempts of cooptation, factors that severely hinder public confidence in new parties. The newly created National Patriotic Alliance (APN) is largely seen as an offshoot of the MPLA and mimicked UNITA’s flag.
B2. Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 1 / 4
There is little space for the opposition to increase its share of parliamentary representation, much less gain power through elections, although they are gaining the support of the larger public, particularly in Luanda.
B3. Are the people’s political choices free from domination by the military, foreign powers, religious hierarchies, economic oligarchies, or any other powerful group that is not democratically accountable? 1 / 4
MPLA-aligned economic oligarchies nurture a system of dependency and patronage that can subvert candidates’ and voters’ ability to freely express their political choices.
B4. Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 2 / 4
Discussion of issues affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people are taboo, and such issues remain absent in public debate. While societal pressures can discourage women from active political participation, women’s rights advocates nevertheless have an increasingly vocal presence in political life. In March 2017, the association Ondjango Feministas organized a march in Luanda to protest an amendment that would criminalize abortion. The National Assembly later dropped consideration of the measure, with pushback by women considered a factor in the decision.
C. FUNCTIONING OF GOVERNMENT: 1 / 12
C1. Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 1 / 4
The country has been ruled by the MPLA since independence, and president is expected to keep constant consultations with the party’s political bureau. However, the forum is not presided over by the recently elected President Lourenço, but by the leader of the MPLA, former President dos Santos.
Executive powers are broad and varied. Under dos Santos, legislation was frequently passed through presidential decree. Before leaving office, President dos Santos signed several decrees ensuring the continuation of key officials in the economy and military sectors.
C2. Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 0 / 4
The structural distribution of power in the country erected throughout several decades of MPLA rule have entrenched corruption and patronage in nearly all segments of public and private life.
President Lourenço stressed his willingness to fight corruption during the electoral campaign. Months after taking power, he fired Isabel dos Santos, the daughter of the former president, from her position as head of the state oil company, Sonangol, whose revenues funded the patronage system that kept her father in power for more than 35 years. At year’s end she was being investigated for misappropriating funds from the company. Lourenço also fired the central bank governor, a dos Santos appointee, in what was seen as both part of an anticorruption drive and an attempt to consolidate power.
C3. Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 0 / 4
Government operations are generally opaque.
CIVIL LIBERTIES: 16 / 60 (+2)
D. FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND BELIEF: 7 / 12 (+2)
D1. Are there free and independent media? 1 / 4
The Angolan state owns most media in the country. Many outlets outside state control are privately owned by senior officials of the MPLA, and act as mouthpieces of the regime.
In March and June 2017, the Portuguese news channel SIC Notícias was taken out of the list of channels offered with Zap and DStv subscriptions, ahead of national elections; the channel had run stories about financial scandals involving the dos Santos family. (Zap is owned by Isabel dos Santos.) Critical journalists continued to face spurious legal charges during the year. In June, prominent journalist Rafael Marques de Morais was charged with “outrage to a body of sovereignty and injury against public authority,” a crime carrying up to six years in prison, in connection with a 2016 story implicating the attorney general in a corruption scheme.
Lourenço in November replaced the heads of several major state-owned media outlets, and urged that the outlets serve the public interest. Long-term effects of the shakeup remain to be seen.
D2. Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 2 / 4 (+1)
The constitution guarantees religious freedom, but the government requires religious groups to meet rigorous criteria in order to receive official recognition, which is required for the legal construction of houses of worship. Notably, many Pentecostal churches—which are having a profound social impact in Angola—remain unregistered. There are no registered Muslim groups, and Muslim communities have been more vocal in their demands for recognition and the right to worship freely.
However, many unregistered groups are able to operate and worship in practice. Violent crackdowns against small, unregistered sects that took place in recent years have not been repeated.
Score Change: The score improved from 1 to 2 because the government has pulled back from a past crackdown on small unregistered sects.
D3. Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 2 / 4
Since most academic positions are attained through political connections, indoctrination is prevalent in virtually all areas of academic life. Academics have to maintain a façade of agreement with the MPLA’s preferred narratives and refrain from open critique of the party, or risk losing their positions. Academics who engage in criticism of the regime are often monitored by security services.
D4. Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 2 / 4 (+1)
In recent years, there has been somewhat less fear of retribution for expressing criticism of the government or controversial views in private conversations; such concerns had spiked amid 2015–16 affair in which participants of a democracy-minded book club were convicted on charges of state security crimes; they were released conditionally in 2016. However, self-censorship remains, fueled by concerns that a perceived intent to organize against the government could result in reprisals.
While internet access is increasing in Angola, the government actively monitors internet activity. Known surveillance of civil society groups, journalists, and academics can leave people reluctant to speak out.
Score Change: The score improved from 1 to 2 due to a greater willingness by individuals to express their views in private discussions.
E. ASSOCIATIONAL AND ORGANIZATIONAL RIGHTS: 3 / 12
E1. Is there freedom of assembly? 1 / 4
Constitutional guarantees of freedom of assembly are poorly upheld. Grassroots antigovernment gatherings are typically dispersed with violence, and participants and organizers risk arrest and prosecution. Activities organized by opposition parties are better tolerated. A nationwide protest organized by UNITA in June 2017 to demand transparent elections went forward without notable incidents. However, in April, seven people were sentenced to serve 45 days in prison and pay fines for taking part in a demonstration in Cacuaco, in which they made similar demands for fair elections and good governance.
E2. Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 1 / 4
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working on human rights and governance are closely monitored. The MPLA makes vocal attempts to discredit their work, and sometimes threatens such groups with lawsuits and outright closure, prompting many to curtail their activities.
E3. Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 1 / 4
Certain kinds of employees who provide services considered essential—including prison guards, fire fighters, but also workers in the oil sector—may not legally strike. Unions not associated with the MPLA face interference and harassment. In 2017, the head of the New Alliance of Taxi Drivers of Angola (ANATA), which is widely perceived as antigovernment, received death threats.
F. RULE OF LAW: 3 / 16
F1. Is there an independent judiciary? 1 / 4
The president appoints Supreme Court judges to life terms without legislative input. Corruption and political pressure from the MPLA contribute to the judiciary’s general inefficacy. In a controversial decision, the Constitutional Court dismissed a challenge of the 2017 election results filed jointly by the opposition, and further concluded that claimants had forged documents they submitted to the court. The issue was referred to prosecutors, and a case against them was open at year’s end.
F2. Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 1 / 4
Constitutional guarantees of due process are poorly upheld. Many defendants are unable to afford legal counsel, and the state largely fails to provide qualified legal aid to those who need it. The use of physical force by the Angolan police is common, including the use of firearms.
F3. Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 0 / 4
Security forces enjoy impunity for violent acts committed against detainees, activists, and others. 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.
F4. Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 1 / 4
Security forces allegedly harass and abuse African immigrant communities, against a backdrop of the government’s failure to adequately protect refugees and asylum seekers.
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.
Women face discrimination in the workplace that makes it difficult for them to rise to senior positions. There have been reports of abuse of women and children accused of practicing witchcraft.
G. PERSONAL AUTONOMY AND INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS: 3 / 16
G1. Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 1 / 4
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. Patronage is frequently required in order to attain employment and residence. .
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. Many young people prefer to abandon school in order to work.
G2. Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 1 / 4
Predatory Angolan elites tend to either disrupt or assimilate emerging new businesses. Authorities at times have expropriated land and demolished homes without providing any compensation. Customary law practices can leave women with unequal inheritance rights.
G3. Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 1 / 4
Domestic violence is rampant in Angola. Teenage pregnancy is common. Protections for children are generally absent. Same-sex marriage is illegal.
G4. Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 0 / 4
The Angolan economy is characterized by an informal system of economic exploitation that relies on the lack of opportunity for the poor and people otherwise less privileged. Rural regions have lesser infrastructure and service availability, and thus people in rural areas are disadvantaged in terms of employment and education.
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.