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Angola: Election Free and Fair, Sort Of
Sep 27, 2008 (080927)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
"Election free and fair, sort of," was the headline from the UN's
Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) news service after
Angola's long-awaited parliamentary election early this month. The
news service notes that its stories do not represent the position
of the United Nations, and there was no official United Nations
observer team. But the comment was an accurate summary of the
consensus of observers from Africa and Europe.
In Angola's last election, in 1992, for which I served as part of
a multinational observer team organized by the U.S.-based
International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES,
http://www.ifes.org), official and unofficial observers
reached roughly the same conclusion. In fact, judging by reports
from Angola this time, the 1992 election was probably better
organized and more transparent than the one this year, 16 years
later (see my op-ed in the Christian Science Monitor, Nov 3, 1992,
The war resumed after that 1992 election and raged for a decade,
but finally concluded after Jonas Savimbi died in fighting with
government troops in 2002. This time, UNITA, despite criticizing
bias in the election process, accepted the results. Angolans do not
expect a return to war. The oil-driven economy is booming.
Although Angola gets relatively little attention in the news, it is
2nd only to Nigeria among African oil producing countries, and
ranks 6th among suppliers of oil to the United States, behind
Canada, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Venezuela, and Iraq. Angola may rise
even higher among oil producers as projected new fields go on-line.
Nevertheless, neither democracy nor prosperity is at hand for the
majority of Angolans. The gap between rich and poor continues to
widen, even if the oil revenue inflow is large enough that trickledown
does have some effect on the majority,
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains a brief post-election news
report from IRIN; excerpts from a reflective analysis by Bob van
der Winden, a close observer and supporter of grass-roots Angolan
civil society organizations and independent media, as well as
former program director of the Netherlands Institute for Southern
Africa (NiZA); and excerpts from the most recent Africa Peace
Monitor from Action for Southern Africa in London, including
elections results by province.
For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Angola, see
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++
AfricaFocus Book Notes: Recent Books on Angola
Patrick Chabal and Nuno Vidal, The Weight of History. 2007
Analytical essays on past & present by top experts.
Karl Maier, Promises and Lies, 2nd edition, 2007
More on past than present, but still the best-written and bestinformed
Assis Malaquias, Rebels and Robbers, 2007
The political economy of violence in post-colonial Angola
Tony Hodges, Anatomy of an Oil State, 2nd edition, 2003
Solid analysis and data.
For more books on Angola, see
Authors include William Minter, Basil Davidson, Piero Gleijeses, Pepetela, Marissa Moorman
+++++++++++++++++++++end book notes+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Angola: Election free and fair, sort of
Luanda, 9 September 2008 (IRIN) - Angola's main opposition party,
UNITA, has conceded defeat in last week's parliamentary elections,
after initially demanding a fresh ballot over allegations of poll
The former guerrilla movement said "it was not possible" to say the
elections had been free and fair, as voting had been extended for
an unscheduled second day after 320 centres across the country
failed to open on time on 5 September, and in locations where there
had been problems with the supply of ballot papers.
UNITA also alleged that people had been allowed to vote without
But in a news conference on Monday, held shortly after the national
electoral commission had dismissed its complaints, UNITA leader
Isa¡as Samakuva said he accepted the outcome of the poll and
praised the incumbent MPLA party, hoping it "governs in the
interest of all Angolans".
"After about 80 percent of valid votes have been counted, despite
all that has happened, the leadership of UNITA accepts the results
of the elections," Samakuva said. Other opposition parties echoed
UNITA's acceptance of the outcome of Angola's first elections in 16
As the counting process continues, the MPLA holds a huge lead,
scoring close to 82 percent of the vote to UNITA's 10 percent. If
the MPLA manages to win a two-thirds majority in the 220-seat
assembly, it will have the power to change the country's
constitution as it sees fit.
International election observers, while accepting the result, have
criticised aspects of the poll. An African Union team said although
it was free and fair, the MPLA had benefited from unfair access to
the state-dominated media. The European Union noted problems with
the organisation of the election, but concluded that people had
clearly voted massively for the MPLA.
The US Embassy congratulated Angolans "on their participation in
this important step in strengthening their democracy" but noted the
procedural problems encountered with the ballot, and hoped valuable
lessons would be learnt for Angola's future polls, beginning with
next year's presidential elections.
Angola, independent in 1975, struggled with 27 years of civil war
until a peace agreement was signed with then UNITA rebels in 2002.
The oil-rich country is now one of the world's fastest growing
Angola: Elections 2008
Bob van der Winden
[Excerpts. For full text, and for the paper mentioned in the first
paragraph, see http://www.bwsupport.nl/main/index.php?page=New]
I spent August 2008 in Luanda, Angola's capital. First
participating in a seminar where we presented for civil society and
politics the book Sociedade civil e pol¡tica em Angola (edited by
Justino Pinto de Andrade and Nuno Vidal, and with an article on
Civil Society of David Sogge, Ren‚ Roemersma and me). Later
delivering two workshops on communication and presentation for
small Civil Society Organizations and people from Development
Workshop, an Angolan NGO of Canadian descent, that commissioned the
Life is slightly improving ...
Downtown Luanda is booming: everywhere building of skyscrapers is
going on, roads are repaired and traffic is a nightmare: I've seen
more new 4x4's than anywhere else.
The good news is indeed that even in the poorest parts of the city
(the musseques) life is little by little becoming a bit better for
people. The family I described in A family of the musseque (1996)
and which I visited again, so many years later, has now after 20
year finally access to electricity in their neighborhood. Also 3
instead of 1 members now have jobs in the formal economy.
[A Family of Musseque is available in a downloadable pdf on-line at
http://www.bwsupport.nl/docs/angola.pdf - 8M, including
full-color phographs; it is available for purchase at a discount at
A feudal, rather than a failing state ...
The bad news is that Angola is still an (African) feudalist state,
more resembling the Netherlands in the beginning of the 20th
century than now. The centuries of the colonial and decades of
Marxist (One-party-state) system have instilled a culture of fear,
of 'the winner takes all' in all people, including those of the
ruling party. The contrasts are unbearable:
- Economy is growing over 20% a year, but still 70% of the
population live below the poverty line (2 US$/day) and 40% is
barely surviving sub-nutrition.
- There is formal press freedom, but news does not reach beyond the
capital's centre: over 10 million people who live in the periphery
of Luanda or in the rest of the country only receive government
radio and television, with 90% propaganda for the ruling party.
This week (5 September) the long expected elections will finally
take place after 6 years of Peace and 16 years after the last
elections. But people have only 1 main alternative: the ruling
Although the tangible improvement in living conditions is real,
people still have no say in anything.
The oil income of the nation (roughly 20 billion US$/year) is
firmly in the hands of the ruling party, who do (before elections!)
now relatively many things 'for the people, over the people, but
certainly also without the people' like water and electricity
supply, roads, more jobs etc. Many times by hired Brazilian and
Chinese enterprises, paid with oil backed loans. And remarkably
enough the ruling party manages to use this to their benefit: many
people are happy with a crumb of the cake, rather than realizing
that meanwhile every year 1 billion US$ 'leaks' into the pockets of
the powerful. Imaginable, but very sad ...
At the same time you can - as a simple citizen - easily be thrown
out of your plot of land with your shack on it, because new houses
of 0,5 million US$ are going to be build there for the rich (Luanda
Sul); you can be arrested with no grounds, because you have been
critical of a provincial governor, who rule as kings in their
provinces. Or your small civil organizations (and also political
parties) are prohibited because you dare to advocate for autonomy
of Cabinda. Or your broadcaster (like Radio Ecclesia) is - contrary
to the law - refused access to the provinces, you can only work in
Luanda, the capital: the provinces (with still 2/3 of the
population) are considered hunting ground for the ruling party ...
Protest results in arrest or worse, if you haven't been susceptible
to blackmail and bribery before. Intimidation (on smaller and
larger scale) is the order of the day.
MPLA is going to win ...
Meanwhile a real good show is given by the ruling party, boasting
in 90% of the TV and radio time on all the good they did and the
fact that they will certainly win... Internal MPLA polls indicate
a 60% win for the party, they are mainly campaigning to get over a
2/3d majority, of which even a prominent party member, former prime
minister told me that he sincerely hoped MPLA would not get a
qualified majority: he feared that one party rule might come back
Meanwhile other political parties are fighting themselves into the
system, knowing that they will certainly not win this time, but
hoping on some seats in order to build upon for the future. Unita
is still fighting against the ghost of Jonas Savimbi, many people
see them still as murderers. FNLA has only supporters in the North
(former Congo kingdom). New (more programme minded) parties like
FpD and PAJOCA are too small to fight against the enormous
campaigns of - mainly - MPLA. In which they are hindered in every
possible way, starting with delay of government payments (every
party has the right of access to funds for its campaign), outright
making meetings impossible, arrests of political campaigners, etc,
etc... Also private media face all kinds of chicanes in their work,
let alone more party orientated media like Radio Despertar (Unita),
which was simply closed for technical infringements during the most
important months of the elections.
A democracy without debate is no democracy, a country without a
free and vibrant public space will never become a democracy: people
simply do not know what they vote for, and that's exactly what's
happening: the ruling party is going to win at least the majority:
based on false arguments, on identification with the state, on some
intimidation and very little violence, and where needed a bit of
fraud. Everything in moderation, an excellent show ...
Still, I'm an optimist...
Yes, I think this is a step in an irreversible process that will
take decades at least. But (yes, Habermas again...) the 19th
century Europe can teach us, that the changing economic basis will
most certainly provide more openings in the system: internet cannot
be prohibited anymore, information will flow more and more through
the country (Angolan powers look with horror to Zimbabwe where the
rulers ruined their own economy, including their own income...),
contacts are growing with people outside the country, people are
returning from everywhere with fresh experience of some democracy,
finally people will get more time to learn, read, discuss and
exchange with others, certainly now the roads are open again.
And there are other reasons to be optimistic: the pressure from
outside is diminished for a while because of the unconditional
loans of Chinese banks, but even these are part of the growing
consent in the world that you need to be able to think and work in
freedom in order to contribute to the wellbeing of all: in the
first place the results of the work of the Chinese like electricity
will liberate a lot of energy.
Support a culture of debate and responsiveness!
Finally the Civil society (in the broad sense) is here to stay:
Catholic universities, headmen's (Souba's) organizations, all kind
of churches, small village papers, they are all contributing to the
We, the writers of this article, plead for more investments in
those groups and organizations that are willing to promote and push
responsiveness of the rulers to citizens' needs, for instance by
expanding and making transparent the public arena including the
MPLA will win these elections, I bet on that, but democracy will
not follow from these elections: it will have to be conquered
after, in a public space where the issues at stake are debated and
transparency and responsiveness can be demanded from ruling
parties, whoever they are.
Luanda, Amsterdam, September 1, 2008
No Independent Oversight, Media Bias
Human Rights Watch (HRW)
[Brief excerpt. For full test see
For additional HRW reports see
(New York, September 15, 2008) - Angola's parliamentary elections
on September 5, 2008, reportedly won by the ruling MPLA party, were
marred by numerous irregularities, Human Rights Watch said today.
Preliminary results indicate that the MPLA won more than 80 percent
of the vote, the first held in Angola since 1992.
" With presidential elections due in 2009, Angola needs to reform
the electoral commission so it isn't dominated by the ruling party
and can respond effectively to election problems. "
Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch
Key problems identified by Human Rights Watch include obstruction
by the National Electoral Commission (CNE) of accreditation for
national electoral observers, its failure to respond to media bias
in favor of the ruling party, and severe delays by the Angolan
government in providing funds to opposition parties. The evidence
obtained by Human Rights Watch on these three key issues -
observers, media bias, and state funding - suggests the polls did
not meet the Southern African Development Community (SADC)
Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections in key
"With presidential elections due in 2009, Angola needs to reform
the electoral commission so it isn't dominated by the ruling party
and can respond effectively to election problems," said Georgette
Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "If the electoral
commission isn't reformed, there's a risk that Angolans and
international partners could lose confidence in the country's
fledgling democratic process."
Human Rights Watch and international election observers found that
voting day and the immediate pre-election period were largely
peaceful, and all political parties affirmed having effective
police protection for their rallies once the campaign was under
way. In Cabinda, however - the oil-rich province where a separatist
movement remains active - international observers told Human Rights
Watch that the fragile security situation had prevented them from
extending their mission to all parts of the province. There were
also some violent incidents in former strongholds of the main
opposition party, UNITA, in the rural areas of Huambo and Benguela.
Angola Peace Monitor
Issue no.11, Vol.XIV September 2008
The Angola Peace Monitor is produced every month by ACTSA Action
for Southern Africa. ACTSA, 231 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London, SW1V
1EH tel +44 20 3263 2001, fax +44 207 931 9398
[Brief excerpts only. For full report, including detailed vote
breakdown by province,and earlier Angola Peace Monitors, see
Angolan elections full results
The MPLA has won a huge majority in Angola's parliament following
legislative elections on 5 September, gaining 81.64 per cent of the
vote. Its nearest rival, UNITA, received only 10.39 per cent. In
third place was PRS with 3.17 per cent. The historic liberation
movement, the FNLA, came fifth with only 1.11 per cent of the vote.
The turnout was 87.36 per cent.
On 16 September the National Electoral Commission, CNE, announced
that the MPLA would have 191 parliamentarians out of a total of 220
in the new National Assembly, a large increase on the 129 seats
that it had following the 1992 elections.
The main loser is UNITA, which sees its 70 parliamentary seats
reduced to just 16. The third largest party, PRS, gains two seats
bringing its presence in the National Assembly to 8 in total. Only
two other parties have any presence in the National Assembly the
FNLA with three seats and ND with two seats.
The national results are as follows:
The elections were the first parliamentary elections to be held in
Angola since 1992, when the MPLA won 53 per cent of the vote. In
that election UNITA gained 34 per cent of the vote (the result in
the presidential elections was closer, with Jose Eduardo dos Santos
receiving 49.57 per cent of the vote with Jonas Savimbi receiving
40.07 pre cent). However, UNITA rejected the result and returned to
There was a large turnout for the elections. 7,213,281 people voted
out of a registered electorate of just over 8 million, which
equates to a turnout of 87.36 per cent. By comparison, in Britain's
last general election the turnout was 61.4 per cent of the
One striking feature of the election results was the uniformity of
the results throughout the provinces. Some commentators had
expected the ruling MPLA to do badly in the capital, Luanda, and in
provinces traditionally believed by some to be bastions of support
for UNITA, such as Bie province. However, the results released by
the CNE show that the MPLA gained over half the vote in all 18
provinces. In Bie province it received three quarters of the vote.
In Cabinda province, where a low intensity insurgency has been
waged by the separatist movement FLEC, the MPLA gained 62 per cent
of the vote. UNITA received its best result in this province, with
31 per cent of the vote. A call by separatists to boycott the vote
went unheeded, with 87.87 per cent of the registered population
voting. This is in fact slightly above the national average. Of the
votes cast in Cabinda province, 91.02 per cent were valid, compared
with a national average of 89.42.
Huge logistical problems in Luanda
The systems put in place at great expense for voting day seemed to
fall apart even before polling began with many voters, particularly
in the capital, Luanda, unable to cast their vote.
According to the CNE 320 polling stations out of 2,584 in Luanda
did not open on 5 September. The reason for the failure to open was
because ballot papers and voter register lists were not delivered.
Some of these voting stations were opened on 6 September (later
reports state that the head of the CNE, Caetano de Sousa, reduced
the figure for non-opening stations down to 48 that required to
open on 6 September). Luanda's turnout was well below the national
average, with 82.42 per cent of registered voters casting their
The European Union observer mission noted that many other polling
stations were hit by delays and lack of materials. It reported that
16.3 per cent of observed polling stations opened over an hour
late. A further 12 per cent of stations suspended voting at some
point on Election Day, mainly due to insufficient ballot papers.
Problems were also caused by the panic decision by the CNE on 2
September to allow people to vote anywhere within their own
municipality rather than at named polling stations as previously
This late decision was not transmitted to all the voting stations,
resulting in widespread confusion and the breakdown in the system.
According to the European Union observers, most polling stations
failed to keep details of these extra voters, with cases of voters
lists being abandoned completely during the vote. However, the
observers did note that voters were required to dip their finger in
indelible ink as a safeguard against multiple voting.
During Election Day most participants accepted these failures as
election officials doing their best under near impossible
conditions rather than as part of a ploy by any political party to
gain an advantage. Indeed, the European Union observers noted "no
formal complaints were filed by any of the political party agents
in any of the observed polling stations". ...
Observers find election credible despite flaws
The elections were observed by several international and local
organisations, which in general found that the result was fair and
reflected the will of the people. However, there was a consensus
that prior to polling day the MPLA had used its position of power
to gain an unfair advantage through the state media.
Meanwhile, the Pan African Parliament sent a 26-member observer
mission, which worked with the Electoral Institute of Southern
Africa (EISA). It found several shortcomings in the process. It
noted that the composition of the CNE "tends to result in a skewed
composition of the CNE giving more members aligned to the ruling
party", and also found that the MPLA received more coverage from
the public media. Furthermore, state funding for political parties
was released late. The mission made several other complaints, on
voter education, accreditation of observers, the problems of
non-opening polling stations in Luanda, and the lack of voters
However, it balanced its criticisms with praise for the
registration process, the high levels of political tolerance
displayed by political parties, the equal allocation of airtime to
political parties, and the transparent counting of votes. Overall,
the mission leader, Dr Idriss Ndele Moussa, concluded that the
elections were "generally free and fair".
The elections were also observed by a 108-member mission from the
European Union. It had several misgivings about the process,
leading it to the conclusion that the process fell "short of basic
international standards". Many of its criticisms were similar to
the other observer missions, particularly on the confusion caused
by late decisions taken by the CNE. However, the EU mission found
that these decisions were taken in an effort to ensure the fairness
of the election process and overcome difficulties.
The EU mission put the problems on voting day in context. There
were 12,400 polling centres subdivided into 50,000 polling
stations. Over 270,000 polling staff were trained which makes up
three per cent of the entire voting population. The mission found
that the problems were partially due to the CNE making late
decisions in order to enable people to vote more easily. ...
Government under fire for ban on NGO
The Angolan government has come under widespread criticism for its
decision to try and close the human rights organisation, the
Association for Justice, Peace and Democracy (AJPD).
On 4 September the Constitutional Court began proceedings against
AJPD, which had until 19 September to present a case against its
AJPD is a partner of the British non- governmental organisation
Christian Aid, which claims "in recent years the government has
conducted a consistent campaign of harassment and intimidation
against human rights activists and organisations".
Christian Aid suggests that the problems for AJPD stems from a
government decision in 2007 that only NGOs which provided a "social
impact" would be permitted to work in Angola. The Director of the
government's Technical Unit for the Coordination of Humanitarian
Aid (UTCAH), Pedro Walipi Kalenga, stated in 2007 that four
organisations were using human rights as a cover for breaking the
law and threatened to close them. The four were AJPD, SOS Habitat,
Associacao Maos Livres and the Open Society Institute.
The action against AJPD follows the decision earlier this year to
close down the Angolan office of the United Nations High
Commissioner for Human Rights.
According to Rosario Advirta of Christian Aid, "AJPD is doing
important civic and human rights defence work. AJPD and its work is
in full compliance with the Angolan constitution and the law
regulating all associations. There are no grounds for AJPD to be
banned. This new development against a human rights organisation is
worrying, and may signal a further closing down of civic space. We
hope this is not a consequence of the election results".
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