Capital: Luanda
Population: 16,800,000

Political Rights Score: 6 *
Civil Liberties Score: 5 *
Status: Not Free


A presidential election that had been scheduled for 2009 after repeated delays was postponed yet again during the year, as a commission dominated by the ruling party failed to meet its deadline to present a new draft constitution. Also in 2009, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo engaged in tit-for-tat refugee expulsions, sending thousands of Angolans back over the border without adequate humanitarian preparations.

Angola was racked by civil war for nearly three decades following independence from Portugal in 1975. Peace accords in 1991 and 1994 failed to end fighting between the rebel National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) and the government, controlled by the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), but the death of UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi in 2002 helped to spur a successful ceasefire deal later that year. UNITA subsequently transformed itself into Angola's largest opposition party.

The conflict claimed an estimated one million lives, displaced more than four million people, and forced over half a million to flee to neighboring countries. Many resettled people have remained without land, basic resources, or even identification documents. The resettlement process was slowed by the presence of an estimated 500,000 land mines and a war-ruined infrastructure, which made large tracts of the country inaccessible to humanitarian aid. The United Nations concluded its voluntary refugee repatriation program in 2007, and between August and October 2009, Angola and the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) engaged in a series of tit-for-tat expulsions. The resulting return of some 32,000 Angolans and 19,000 Congolese to their home countries raised concerns about a humanitarian crisis.

Legislative elections, delayed repeatedly since 1997, were finally held in September 2008. As expected, the ruling MPLA won a sweeping victory, taking 191 of 220 seats. UNITA placed second among 14 parties, with 16 seats. While both domestic and international observers found that the results reflected the people's will, the voting was less than free and fair. The run-up to the elections was marred by political violence, pro-MPLA bias in the state media, and other problems, and many polling places in the capital failed to open on election day. UNITA accepted the outcome after an initial challenge of the Luanda results was rejected by the electoral commission.

The presidential election, scheduled for 2009 after a number of delays, was postponed once again that year. The MPLA made a new constitution a precondition for the presidential vote, and in July 2009 the country's Constitutional Commission announced that it would not meet the September deadline for presenting its draft. The commission was made up of members of the MPLA-dominated parliament.

Angola, Africa's second-largest oil producer, has enjoyed an economic boom in recent years, though it slowed in 2009 following a drop in oil prices. Corruption and mismanagement have prevented the country's wealth from reaching most residents. Eighty-five percent of the population engages in subsistence agriculture, and the United Nations estimates that 54 percent of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Angola is not an electoral democracy. Long-delayed legislative elections held in September 2008, while largely reflective of the people's will, were not free and fair. The 220-seat National Assembly, whose members serve four-year terms, has little power, and 90 percent of legislation originates in the executive branch. The president, who is supposed to serve five-year terms, directly appoints the prime minister, cabinet, and provincial governors. Presidential elections, repeatedly delayed since 1997, were postponed again in 2009.

The 2008 legislative elections were contested by 14 parties, but the electoral framework was highly advantageous to the ruling MPLA; aside from UNITA, the main opposition party, just three smaller parties won seats. The National Electoral Commission (CNE), which was dominated by MPLA loyalists, denied opposition parties access to the voter registry and obstructed the accreditation of domestic monitors who were not aligned with the government. In addition, the government released state funding for opposition parties later than mandated, and the MPLA exploited additional state resources to support its own campaign. Voting in Luanda – home to between one-quarter and one-third of registered voters – was marred by serious irregularities, including late delivery of ballot papers, 320 polling stations that failed to open, and a breakdown in the use of voter rolls to check identities. While political violence rose in the run-up to the elections, it has decreased significantly since 2002, and the government provided security for opposition rallies around the country.

Corruption and patronage are endemic in the government, and bribery often underpins business activity. Business regulations are reportedly outdated and poorly implemented, and state budget-making and spending processes have been criticized for extreme opacity and other weaknesses. In November 2009, President Jose Eduardo dos Santos called for a crackdown on corruption, alleging that MPLA members had squandered large portions of the country's oil revenues; the president himself is alleged to be one the country's richest men. Angola was ranked 162 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Media restrictions were eased somewhat after 2002, but despite constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression, journalists are driven to self-censorship by the threat of dismissal, detention, and legal sanction by authorities. Defamation of the president or his representatives and libel are criminal offenses, punishable by imprisonment or fines. The 2006 Press Law ended the state monopoly on television broadcasting, called for the creation of a public-service broadcaster, and allowed journalists to use truth as a defense in libel and defamation trials. However, the law includes onerous registration requirements as well as restrictive provisions concerning journalistic "duties" and access to information. Moreover, almost none of the legislation required for the law's implementation had been passed by the end of 2009.

The state owns the only daily newspaper and national radio station, as well as the main television stations. In December 2008, however, the country's first private television station, TV Zimbo, was launched. The state outlets favored the ruling party ahead of the 2008 elections, and private media are often denied access to official information and events. There are several independent weeklies and radio stations in Luanda that criticize the government, but they have reported funding problems, and the state dominates media elsewhere. In 2009, authorities continued to prevent the outspoken Roman Catholic radio station Radio Ecclesia from broadcasting outside the capital. Internet access is limited to a small elite, as most citizens lack computers or even electricity.

In 2008, journalist Fernando Lelo was sentenced to 12 years in prison after being tried along with several soldiers before a military court in the restive region of Cabinda; the defendants were accused of rebel activity, but Human Rights Watch (HRW) and other groups said Lelo was mainly targeted for critical opinions he had expressed while working for Voice of America. Separately, in April 2009, two newspaper editors were charged with inciting criminal activity after publishing photographs of the corpses of the recently slain president of Guinea-Bissau and his military chief. One of the editors, William Tonet of the biweekly Folha 8, was barred from foreign travel in May.

Religious freedom is widely respected, despite colonial-era statutes that ban non-Christian religious groups. The educational system barely functions, suffering from underpaid and often corrupt teachers and severely damaged infrastructure.

The constitution guarantees freedom of assembly and association. Increasingly, authorities are allowing opposition groups to hold demonstrations in Luanda, though crackdowns are common in the interior. The right to strike and form unions is provided by the constitution, but the MPLA dominates the labor movement and only a few independent unions exist. Hundreds of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operate in Angola, many of them demanding political reform, government accountability, and human rights protections. Churches in particular have grown more outspoken. However, the government has occasionally threatened organizations with closure. In 2008, the government ordered the local representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to cease activities and leave the country. Ahead of that year's elections, the government accused the local Association for Justice, Peace, and Democracy (AJPD) of having illegal statutes and threatened to close the organization. The Constitutional Court heard the case in September 2009, and a decision was pending at year's end.

The judiciary is subject to extensive executive influence, though courts occasionally rule against the government. Supreme Court judges are appointed to life terms by the president without legislative input or approval. The courts in general are hampered by a lack of training and infrastructure, a large backlog of cases, and corruption. While the government has sought to train more municipal magistrates, municipal courts are rarely operational. As a result, traditional or informal courts are utilized.

Lengthy pretrial detention is common, and prisoners are subject to torture, severe overcrowding, sexual abuse, extortion, and a lack of basic services. Despite increased resources and human rights training, security forces continue to commit abuses with impunity. An estimated four million weapons in civilian hands threaten to contribute to lawlessness, and the diamond-mining industry is afflicted by murders and other abuses by government and private security personnel.

In 2006, the government signed a peace agreement with secessionists in the oil-rich northern exclave of Cabinda, hoping to end a conflict that had continued intermittently since 1975. While between 80 and 90 percent of the rebel fighters have reportedly joined the army or demobilized, some violence has continued. According to a June 2009 report by HRW, the Angolan military had arrested at least 38 people in Cabinda between September 2007 and March 2009 and accused them of state security crimes. Most of these detainees were allegedly denied basic due process rights and subjected to torture and other cruel or inhumane treatment. In May 2009, a civilian judge acquitted four such detainees for lack of evidence, though prosecutors have appealed.

China has invested heavily in Angola in recent years, funding major infrastructure projects, but there are signs that the large Chinese presence has bred resentment and opportunistic criminality. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reported in November 2009 that Chinese workers in Luanda were being targeted in a wave of violent robberies.

Eight provinces representing about 50 percent of the country contain areas that were heavily mined, restricting freedom of movement. At least 80,000 people have lost limbs to mines over the years.

Angolans' property rights are tenuous in practice. Since 2001, security forces have evicted thousands of people from informal settlements in and around Luanda without adequate notice, compensation, or resettlement provisions. The government claims the residents are trespassing on state land that is needed for development purposes. In July 2009, authorities displaced some 3,000 families from the Bagdad and Iraque neighborhoods of Luanda.

Women enjoy legal protections and occupy cabinet positions and National Assembly seats, but de facto discrimination and violence against women remain common, particularly in rural areas. Women are often killed or injured by land mines as they search for food and firewood. Child labor is a major problem, and there have been reports of trafficking in women and children for prostitution or forced labor. A recent study by Angola's National Children's Institute and UNICEF found "a significant and growing" trend of abuse and abandonment of children who are accused of witchcraft after the death of a family member, usually from AIDS.

*Countries are ranked on a scale of 1-7, with 1 representing the highest level of freedom and 7 representing the lowest level of freedom.

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