October 4, 2010 § Leave a comment

AngolaWho lives there?: Nearly 20 million people. There are a number of different (predominantly Bantu) tribes as shown on the map below right. There are approximately half a million Congolese migrant workers living in the country and 100,000 Chinese workers. At independence there were half a million Portuguese present – that population has now fallen to around 30,000. About 300,000 people live in the Cabinda northern enclave.

How does the system work? (the theory): Theory is the operative word here. The powerful President is elected every five years by a universal suffrage first past the post election with a runoff election between the two highest placed candidate in the event of no presidential candidate winning 50% of the vote. Presidents can only serve two terms. However, a first round of voting was held in 1992, after which the first round leader was declared a winner without a second round (despite the fact a second round was required).

Since then presidential elections have been delayed for a variety of reasons (or possibly pretexts) with the effect that the President is currently in the 18th year of his term. An attempt to hold presidential elections in 2009 was unsuccessful and the National Assembly are currently debating a constitutional amendment which would see the leader of the largest party in the assembly automatically elected president

The legislative branch consists of the national assembly which is elected by top-up or mixed member PR. There are are 90 first-past-the-post provincial seats and 130 top-up PR seats. The PR is of the closed list d’Hondt variety. In theory terms are of five years’ duration but again various delays meant that only two elections have ever been held: in 1992 and in 2008.

Angola is divided into 18 provinces each of which is governed by a provincial governor appointed by a president. It was intended that each province also elect a provincial legislature with 100 delegates but opinions differ (genuinely) as to whether this ever happened. Angola has a local government plan which will see more power devolved to provinces and lower district and commune level administrations. These administrations will be appointed in the first instance but the government has promised that some form of local elections will be held soon – although it looks like the original target of 2010 will be missed

How does the system work? (the practice): Elections are variously described as “free but not fair” or “neither free not fair but broadly representative”. In other words if the MPLA government didn’t rig the elections they might well win them anyway but rig them they certainly do. The amount of control the Government has outside of the capital Luanda was previously minimal, and even now the writ of the state is not particularly strong – especially in former rebel held areas. There are still over 2 million internally displaced people in Angola and the situation occasionally verges on the chaotic. Cabinda is highly isolated from the rest of Angola as the intervening section of Congo is very difficult to get through. A guerilla group, FLEC, is fighting for Cabindan independence and controls much of the jungle and border areas around the enclave.

Angola tribes

How did we get here?: Three groups waged violent war on Portugal in their quest for Angolan independence: the marxist MPLA, the populist/nationalist UNITA and the centrist FNLA. None of these groups were successful and Angola only achieved independence in the aftermath of the Portuguese revolution in 1975. The three groups then fought a bloody civil war, one of Africa’s longest and bloodiest with up to a million dead, for control of the country. Famously it became a cold war proxy war with Soviet countries, particularity Russia and Cuba, backing the MPLA and the USA, South Africa’s apartheid leadership and China (in an attempt to irritate Russia) backing UNITA and the FNLA.

The MPLA had the better of it and ruled Angola as a one party socialist state. in 1992 a period of détente and the adoption of multi party politics allowed Angola’s first ever elections to take place. They were reasonably free and fair, the MPLA presidential candidate José Eduardo dos Santos, who had been president since 1979, narrowly won the first round 49.5% to 40% for the UNITA’s candidate. The MPLA also won a narrow majority in the assembly with UNITA picking up a third of the seats and several other groups achieving representation. The MPLA gained control of 14 of Angola’s provinces – UNITA the 4 in their south-eastern stronghold. UNITA cried foul and went back to war, and the second round of elections was called off. The civil war only came to an end in 2002 with the death of UNITA’s leader.

Who’s in charge?: Santos is still in charge and the MPLA’s grip on the country has tightened. The 2008 elections were a landslide, albeit possibly not a fair one. On a (possibly inflated) 87% turnout the MPLA won 191 of the 220 seats. UNITA won 16 and the FNLA 3. Two new, post civil-war, parties also won seats: a coalition of pro democracy groups the Pro-Democracy Electoral Union won 2 seats and the centre-left federalists Social Renewal Party won 8, The SRP have worked in coalition with the MPLA in the past. There is a good guide to Angolan parties here.

What does it look like?: There are three main parts to Angola: a flat, dry, scrub-covered coastal lowland, a range on low hills, and then, behind the hills, a rolling plateau of scrubland where most of the people live. Angola has some of the richest mineral deposits in the world but most Angolans are subsistence farmers. Cabinda is covered in dense jungle. Here is one of the prettier bits:


What are the issues?: Angola is one of the poorest countries in the world, even compared with other African countries it does not compare well and has been known to come bottom of various wealth, equality and quality of life indicators. Food and development are the main priorities.

A good source of impartial information is: The government controlled all media until very recently. There are now a few private newspapers and one private TV station but they report issues gathering information from state sources. Angolense has a web presence in Portuguese.

A good book is: There are a fair few books available: Angola: Struggle for Peace and Reconstruction (Nations of the Modern World: Africa)looks to be the best.

When are the next elections?: Presidential elections are overdue but may now never happen given the potential changes to Angola’s constitution. Local elections are due in 2010 but will probably be late. Elections to the assembly are due in 2013.


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