| Democratic Process
This section has been updated
by Mr Boubacar Issa Abdourhamane,
a doctorate student at the CEAN, IEP Montesquieu University of Bordeaux
Angola is a country that has
been at war constantly since the beginning of the armed struggle for liberation in 1961.
That combat was followed by the civil war which has opposed the Popular Movement for
Liberation of Angola (MPLA) in power and the National Union for the Total Independence of
Angola (UNITA) of Jonas Savimbi since independence in 1975. Because of this, the
democratic process in Angola has always been dependent on the state of a peace process
that has constantly been brought into question. There was no National Conference in
Angola, just a single-session Multipartite Conference whose recommendations
were not considered by those in power as being binding.
It was the New York Accords, signed in December 1988 between Angola, Cuba and South Africa and leading to the independence of Namibia, that opened the way to negotiations between UNITA and the MPLA government, in 1990 in Lisbon, on the basis of the complete departure of Cuban troops in May 1991. The UN adopted Resolution 626 creating the United Nations Angola Verification Mission (UNAVEM I with 70 observers). In December 1990, the MPLA announced a modification of the Constitution allowing the creation of opposition parties, but this was promulgated only in March 1991. However, this nascent multi-party system was partly stifled by the two-party system that was established by the signature of the Bicesse Peace Accords (Portugal) on 31 May 1991, preceded by the Estoril Accords (Portugal) of 1 May 1991 scheduling elections for 1992. By the terms of these agreements, the MPLA retained control of government and all its resources, but a joint MPLA-UNITA political-military commission was set up, excluding all other parties or associations. This commission was in charge of all matters relating to the Bicesse Accords under the supervision of three States (USA/Portugal/Russia) and was observed by a reinforced United Nations mission, UNAVEM II, with between 500 and 1,000 personnel at different times.
In fact, the two parties were quite free not to apply the rules laid out at Bicesse (in particular demilitarisation, demobilisation and the formation of a unified army), faced as they were with a UNAVEM that suffered from a weak political mandate and did not have sufficient human resources at its disposal (less than 500 permanent staff) and three States that were interested only in ensuring that elections were held on the planned date. Although they were the favourites to win the election six months beforehand, UNITA made the mistake of continuing to behave with the civilian population in a military, threatening fashion, thus pushing some of those who were discontented to vote for the MPLA. The latter organisation used the resources of the State to the full and received sound advice from a Brazilian marketing firm. The first pluralist elections were held in late September 1992. The MPLA won 53.7% of the votes, compared with 34.1% for UNITA. President José Eduardo Dos Santos won 49.4% against 40.1% for Jonas Savimbi. Despite the fact that the UN observers judged the elections to have been fair, UNITA refused to recognise the results, thus leading to the resumption of civil war in October 1992.
It should be noted that UNITA was now beginning to lose credit on the international scene (particularly in the US) with the defection in March 1992 of two of its Generals, Miguel NZau Puna and Tony da Costa Fernandes, both from Cabinda, who revealed, from Paris, the assassinations in 1991 of Tito Chingunji and Wilson dos Santos, the representatives of the movement in the United States and Portugal. The refusal of UNITA to respect the process led to an arms embargo through Resolution 864 of the UN Security Council, in parallel with the peace talks in Lusaka. It was only in November 1994 that the Lusaka Protocol was signed with the aim of getting the peace process going again.
In February 1995, the UN created UNAVEM III with 7,000 personnel entrusted with the mission of ensuring that this agreement was applied. The mission of UNAVEM was extended several times until its replacement in July 1997 by another mission, MONUA, with 980 personnel. A government of national unity was set up with members of UNITA and a special status for Savimbi. However, tensions rose rapidly between the two parties. UNITA dragged its feet with the disarmament of its troops and the government of national unity collapsed in the wake of disturbances in which several representatives of UNITA were killed in Luanda. War resumed and became more intense from March 1998. As it continued unabated, President Dos Santos took full power in January 1999 (abolition of the post of Prime Minister, large-scale army recruitment etc) for a so-called exceptional period, with the objective of fighting against UNITA which, although less widely supported than before, had built up huge reserves through diamond sales. In February 1999, the UN decided to withdraw the MONUA due to the warlike attitude adopted by both parties. It then decreed an embargo against UNITA as of June 1999, with the aim of preventing the sale of diamonds from the zones under the control of the rebels, sales which were financing the war and allowing the purchase of arms. In November 2000, the MPLA-dominated parliament voted a law of general amnesty applied to the rebels and their chief, Jonas Savimbi. The civilian opposition has doubts as to the efficiency of such a measure when it comes to bringing about a return to peace and would prefer direct negotiations to be opened with Savimbi. It is also demanding that general elections be held, for the term of office of the current parliament, initially elected in 1992, has already been extended twice (1996 and 2000) by presidential decree, as it was impossible to organise elections against the backdrop of civil war.
The Constitution of 11
November 1975 was revised on 7 January 1978, 11 August 1980, 6 March 1991 (law of December
1991 on pluralism), 26 August 1992 and in July 1995. The Republic of Angola is a unitary
and indivisible State which promotes economic, social and cultural solidarity in the name
of the development of the nation as a whole, via the elimination of regionalism and
The President of the Republic is elected for five years (the current President, José Eduardo dos Santos, elected on 30 September 1992, had been appointed by the MPLA on 21 September 1979 in the wake of the death of its founder, Agostinho Neto, and again on 9 December 1985). The President has considerable powers. He is the Chief of State, the head of the government and of the armed forces, appoints the Prime Minister and ministers, as well as other officials designated by the law, appoints the judges of the Supreme Court, presides over cabinet meetings, signs, promulgates and publishes the laws passed by the Assembly and ministerial decrees, presides over the National Defence Council, decrees the state of siege and of emergency, announces the holding of general elections, can grant amnesties and commute sentences.
The post of Prime Minister was abolished in 1977, newly established in July 1991 and then abandoned once again, in January 1999,for an exceptional period related to the resumption of the civil war. The cabinet reports to the National Assembly.
Despite the presidential nature of the regime, the highest authority of the State is, officially, the single-chamber Parliament. The 220-member National Assembly (plus 3 seats for expatriates, that have not been attributed) is elected for four years. For reasons of civil war, however, the Assembly has not been renewed since it was first elected in 1992. It sits in ordinary sessions twice a year and there may be extraordinary sessions held at the request of the Speaker of the Assembly, the Permanent Commission of the Assembly or at least one-third of the members. UNITA (apart from a few dissidents) has never occupied the seats to which it is entitled. In the wake of the resumption of war, the small opposition parties have largely rallied around the MPLA or have been practically reduced to silence. Angola thus has a system that is monopolised de facto by the MPLA.
The Constitutional Court (Tribunal Constitucional) is the competent body in constitutional matters. It is composed of seven judges appointed for a single, seven-year term during which they cannot be removed from office. It decides on the constitutional validity of laws and international treaties and deals with certain conflicts between institutions concerning their fields of competence. Three of the members, including the President of the Court, are appointed by the President of the Republic, three by the National Assembly and one by the Supreme Court sitting in plenary session.
The legal system is based on
the tradition of Portuguese civil law, which has survived the Marxist Leninist
period, and on certain features of the common law system.
The legal system is currently being reformed. There is a Supreme Court (Tribunal Supremo) and an Appeal Court in Luanda, as well as courts of first instance. The Judicial High Council is responsible for guaranteeing the independence of the legal system and for deciding on disciplinary questions involving magistrates. This Council is presided over by the President of the Supreme Court. The death penalty was abolished in 1992. This separation of power and formal independence of the legal system are, however, limited by the virtual political monopoly held by the MPLA.
Decentralisation and Devolution
Despite its huge territory and its varied ethnic make-up, Angola is a politically centralised State, even though the successive wars have prevented the actual governing of large stretches of the territory. Even in Luanda there is not an elected municipal council, just a sort of prefecture. The Governors of the provinces have no autonomy and report to the President of the Republic, the Cabinet and the Provincial Assemblies. There are 18provinces which are in turn divided into 139 districts. They had provincial assemblies of between 55 and 85 members without real powers, but the term of office of these assemblies came to an end with the end of the national Assembleia de Povo in 1992 and they have not been replaced by any other form of provincial election. The trend is thus one of accentuated direct administration of the provinces by the central State, all the more so given that the few posts of provincial Governor granted to UNITA under the terms of the Lusaka agreements were distributed, not on the basis of the influence of that party but, on the contrary, of its weakness in such or such a province. The resumption of the civil war led to a struggle to control the territory, with the UNITA doing all it could to take back the places it had handed over to the government in the framework of the application of the peace agreements.
Angola has about forty political parties or associations. Eighteen parties took part in the elections of 29-30 September 1992 and 12 are represented in Parliament. With turnout of about 90% of the 4,862,748 registered voters, the MPLA won 53.7%, compared with 34.1% for UNITA, that is to say 129 and 70 seats respectively (with various small parties sharing the other seats between them). Out of the 12 candidates standing for the presidential elections, Eduardo Dos Santos (MPLA) won 49.57% of the votes against 40.07% for Jonas Savimbi. Other parties that we can mention are the PRD, PDLA, PSDA, FNLA, PRA, FDA, PDA, CNDA and PNDA etc.
The MPLA-controlled UNTA (União
nacional dos trabalhadores angolanos) is the only union federation and has now the
added the name Confederação Sindical, becoming the UNTA-CS. Taken firmly in
hand after the coup détat of May 1977, it played only a minor role. This
organisation brings together Sindicatos nacionais by branch and by province and Uniões
by province. The recent strikes were not organised by this movement. In September 1995, it
did give official advance notice of a general strike to the authorities in Luanda but,
although they gave no answer, it did not go through with the protest. On being received by
the President of the Republic for New Year 1996, its leaders confirmed that they had
indeed not been given satisfaction and that they would do
However, there are three free trades unions. For example, some journalists broke away from the official UJA (União dos Jornalistas de Angola) and founded the SJA (Sindicato dos Jornalistos Angolanos). Then there is the teaching union SINPROF (Sindicato nacional dos professores) which decided to act outside the framework of the UNTA in a long teachers strike and would appear to be the most active union organisation in the country. This strike often starts up again. Finally, the health sector (many strikes in 1995 and 1996) is subject to pressing demands that have led to the appearance of the Sindicato dos Enfermeiros.
Officially, the Constitution
recognises total freedom of expression, belief, demonstration and association, with the
exception of military or paramilitary groups. It establishes the presumption of innocence
as well as the right to work, to health care and to education. All citizens over 18 years
old are eligible to vote or to be elected.
Law n° 12/91 of March 1991 officially established the rule of law and pluralism and this was complemented by law 13/91 (on nationality), law 14/91 (on associations), law 15/91 (on political parties), law 16/91 (on the state of emergency and the state of siege), law 22/91 (on the press) and law 23/91 (on the right to strike). In many respects, the Bicesse Accords were a step backwards in terms of democracy. Nevertheless, certain NGOs have been able to develop and there is an Angolan Association of Human Rights which is close to the government.
Amnesty International or Africa Watch regularly denounce serious violations of human rights committed by the government as well as by UNITA.
The Law on the Press of 15
June 1991 re-established the freedom of the press, radio and television that had been
abolished in 1976. Government control over the media, however, remains close, including
over certain supposedly independent newspapers. No opposition political party has
succeeded in finding a printer willing to work for it. Just one party, the PSDA, briefly
tried to distribute a newspaper, O Batuque, printed in Kinshasa. The UNITA press,
obviously banned since the resumption of the war, is not sold in government-controlled
zones (in the same way that the MPLA press is unavailable in UNITA-controlled areas).
There are various newspapers, some of which do not appear regularly. Alongside the Diário da República (C.P.1306, Luanda), the (pro-government) daily paper is the Jornal de Angola (C.P. 1312, Luanda). Then there are the twice-weekly papers - Jornal de Benguela (C.P.17, Benguela) and O Planalto (C.P.96, Huambo) - the weeklies - Angola Norte (Malanje), Comercio Actualidade (Luanda) which has published articles about corruption and João Melos Correio da Semana which accepts to publish opposition communiqués (C.P. 1312, Luanda).
Among the magazines, we should mention Lavra e Oficina (Union of Writers, C.P.2767) and A Voz do Trabalhador (published by the UNTA union, C.P.28, Luanda). The UNITA paper Terra Angolana has never been printed in Luanda.
There are also publications distributed by fax which play a far from negligible role. The independent review ImparcialFax, created in 1991 by a critical section of the MPLA, which carried out investigations notably into corruption and diamond dealing, was destroyed by the assassination in January 1993 of its chief editor, Ricardo de Melo and the flight of his colleagues. In 1993 appeared the Folha 8 of William Toinet who is also the President of the (legal) Angolan Association of Human Rights. In 1995 ActualFax appeared with a more pro-government stance.