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Angola: Election Free and Fair, Sort Of

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Sep 27, 2008 (080927)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"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,, 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 journalistic account

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 irregularities.

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 proper identification.

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 years.

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 economies.

Angola: Elections 2008

Bob van der Winden

[Excerpts. For full text, and for the paper mentioned in the first paragraph, see]

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 workshops.

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 - 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 party.

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 then...

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 public space.

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 media.

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 areas.

"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 or]

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:

MPLA            81.64%
UNITA           10.39%
PRS              3.17%
ND               1.20%
FNLA             1.11%
PDP-ANA          0.51%
PLD              0.33%
AD               0.29%
FpD              0.27%
PADEPA           0.27%
PAJOCA           0.24%
PRD              0.22%
PPE              0.19%
FOFAC            0.17%


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 war.

High turnout

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 electorate.

Provincial breakdown

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 ballot.

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 agreed. ...

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 rolls.

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 closure.

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".

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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