Africa Notes: Angola’s Election

Reuters reported today the somewhat unsurprising challenge by Angola’s opposition party, UNITA, to the national election results of August 31st (Reuters). The ruling MPLA party, led by President dos Santos, won with 74 percent of the vote (Reuters). This was a legislative election, but the constitution–changed in 2010 under MPLA and Dos Santos direction–stipulates that the party leader should become president for a five-year term. Dos Santos has already served about 33 years.

MPLA’s advantages
The MPLA had key advantages going into the election, in terms of resources and influence over most media. It also is able to claim itself as the choice for peace and stability, given the near decade of peace that it has presided over since the end of the civil war (Reuters-Timeline-Angola). And that past decade has also been prosperous for Angola as a whole. Between 2002 and 2008, growth averaged an astonishing 17 percent per year. To further their case as the party of prosperity, the MPLA announced a platform with a main focus on combating hunger and extreme poverty.

The opposition’s case
The platform of the opposition groups have focussed on limited political and civil rights and–perhaps most directly–the growing economic inequality within Angola. UNITA and other opposition groups are quick to point out that benefits of a decade of economic growth have been unevenly realized (Reuters; Mail&Guardian). They accuse the government of mismanaging oil revenues.

In terms of the election itself, many were concerned about the lack of transparency in electoral rolls. And on the day of election there were reports of some irregularities. Perhaps even more seriously, one relatively new opposition group, CASA-CE, protested the imprisonment of its youth leaders (Global Voices). Finally, many claimed that the National Electoral Commission was biased in its attachment to the ruling MPLA party. The relatively low voter turnout of 57%, some suggest, might have to do with both the fraudulent conduct of the election and voter apathy in the midst of the inevitability of an MPLA win (Global Voices). It will be a little while before we know what types of impacts the opposition’s complaints to the National Electoral Commission will have.

My take on all of this
Many democracy advocates are upset about the conduct of the recent elections and the MPLA’s continued grip on power. And I agree that there are some legitimate grievances here. However, optimist that I am, I think there may be a few reasons to be optimistic about what happened here. First, I think that the practice of voting and participating in contested elections strengthens democracy. This was only the second election since the civil war ended and there was far more enlightened contestation in this one. Second, the MPLA and Dos Santos were forced in this election to consider and respond to the needs of those who feel left out of Angola’s rapid economic rise. I think there is a case to be made for thinking that the fledgling middle class in Angola may be starting to learn its important potential roles in Angolan democracy. Third, opposition groups also learned in this process. And while their challenges may not have much of an impact, the use of the official institutions–as frustrating as the process may be–could have an impact. Finally, there will be another window of opportunity in the next five years, whether from an early retirement by Dos Santos or through a regularly scheduled election, for both sides to take the lessons they are learning and apply them. I’m not optimistic that there will be a major shift in political power in that next election, but perhaps the one after? It take time to build a democracy.

Africa Notes: Spotlight on Angola

Inside Angola

This year may prove to be a critical year in Angola’s political development. The upcoming parliamentary elections are an important chance to move toward democratization. There will not be a presidential election as the presidency now goes to the leading candidate of the party who wins the general election, a completely unique selection mechanism (VoA). While there is an active opposition (UNITA still lives on), it is relatively weak. Dos Santos will likely remain President.

There are some positive developments in Angolan politics. While it is unlikely that it accurately conveyed the full human rights situation, Angola did– for the first time–present a report on its current human rights situation to the African Commission on People and Human Rights (Angpop). Their report is available here: Republic of Angola: Implementation of the African Charter of Human and People’s Rights. It should be noted that a number of African countries have never participated in the process and most have only issued 1-3 reports (ACHPR).

Angola and Central/Southern Africa
It is never entirely clear whether Angola fits best within our conventional understanding of “southern” or “central” Africa. Certainly, when viewed as part of the later, it is the dominant sub-regional power. Angola, however, may find its influence somewhat diminished by the recent coup in Guinea-Bissau. Angola has had a significant economic and military partnership with the ousted leadership and, as a brief statement by Executive Analysis suggests, the new regime is likely going to want to reduce at least some of Angola’s influence. That said, the coup planners have faced a number of important obstacles. It is still possible things will go Angola’s way.

Angola and Europe
Angolan-European relations continue to remain strong. Angola and the European Union are reportedly close to a new economic partnership deal (Reuters). This is being compared with the “strategic partnerships” Angola is or has negotiated with the US, China and others. Cooperation extends to political areas as well. Angola also reportedly invited the EU to send observers to monitor the election later this year (iol news).

Finally, Angola made a little bit of a splash in the news last fall when it became apparent that the former colony was now providing the investment its former colonial masters in Portugal sorely need. There apparently has been a little bit of a backlash, however, prompting Angola’s ambassador to defend those investments (Angop).

Angola and the US
Recent reporting by the Financial Times highlights a scandal in Angola-American relations. Three Angolan officials secretly had interests in a Houston-based Cobalt International Energy oil venture. The allegation is that these officials were bought off by Cobalt, making Cobalt potentially liable under US anti-corruption laws. One of these Angolan officials is Manuel Vicente, the recent head of state-owned Sonangol and widely regarded as a potential eventual successor to President Dos Santos (African Diplomacy).
        The Cobalt story probably first broke at Maka Angola, a site dedicated to anti-corruption in Angola.

Africa Notes: Angola has had a busy week

I’m not the only one who has noted Angola’s busy week in politics. Africa is a country has a post on this. Here are the big themes:

Fall Elections
The elections are six months away. It is unlikely that the current ruling power, MPLA, will lose power, but that doesn’t mean others are not challenging them.

  • A UNITA population, Abel Chivukuvuku has now created his own party to launch his presidential campaign: CASA, short for “Ample Convergence of Angolan Salvation” (Africa is a country)
  • Independent newspaper, Folha 8, was raided by Angolan authorities.
  • Anti-government protests took place in Luanda and its suburbs. There were minor clashes with police. Attempts to protest in Benguela as well were apparently blocked by police intervention. Concerns about the head of the electoral commission were central to these protests.
  • Rafael Marque, who I was fortunate enough to meet not so long ago, testified this week regarding human rights crimes in Angola’s diamond mines (Africa is a country). If human rights is his cause, he might have more work cut out given reports on how the police have handled the recent protests: “Activists Beaten Just Days Before Protest.”

Meanwhile, the President is trying to bolster his self-image. Dos Santos announced new investments in small and medium businesses. Shrikesh Laxmidas at Reuters has a quick overview of the“Key political risks to watch in Angola”: succession, protests, the election itself, transparency, economic growth, and oil dependency.

Angola saves Portugal
The tone of this theme was set last fall, when news reports showed increased investment flows from Angola to Portugal. And, while it has been standard in recent years to discuss the problems of African immigration to Europe, it seems that migration flows are the other way around with respect to Angola. From Reuters:

Pedro Luz, 34, who recently graduated with a second degree in business management, is a typical young professional who has been drawn to Angola by opportunity and better pay. Sent out from Lisbon, he is working as a business consultant on a project that will last four months but expects to stay longer.

“As expatriates here we have a lifestyle we simply don’t get at home,” he said. “If we didn’t have this crisis in Europe, Angola wouldn’t be my first choice.”

Songangol is reportedly in talks to “buy more of Portugal’s Galp”.

Updated: I shouldn’t post things late at night. I accidentally pasted the wrong quote above in the original version of the post (a quote about migration to Brazil instead of Angola… both are covered in the Reuters article).

GEP Course Notes: Conservation in Africa, the Elephant

African elephants have been a major subject recently. News reports state that…

At least half the elephant population in Cameroon’s Bouba N’Djida reserve have been slaughtered because the west African nation sent too few security forces to tackle poachers.

Over at Africa Unchained, Julie Owono notes that there is a major capacity problem for Cameroonian authorities. But clearly another major problem is that there is global–and in particular Chinese–demand for ivory. Last summer, Deborah Brautigam blogged about how “When China and Africa Dance, the Elephants Get Trampled”, citing an article in Vanity Fair. But today, over at the New York Times, Bettina Wassener, sees this demand traced to Cameroon’s recent elephant massacre (“China’s Hunger for Ivory…”).

But not all of the news is pessimistic. Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe have agreed to establish the “world’s largest wildlife conservation area”, to be known as the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA).