Anxiety escalates ahead of pivotal Angola polls


Angolan president, João Lourenço

from PEDRO AGOSTO in Luanda, Angola
Angola Bureau
LUANDA, (CAJ News) -THE tightening of the grip on the rights of civil society, a crackdown on journalists and the banning of opinion polling on elections sum up the pressure faced by Angola’s ruling party as it stares the biggest threat to its almost five-decade stranglehold on power.

The clampdown comes at a time the support of the governing People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) is declining, the economy sliding down and the Southern African country enduring its worst drought in 40 years.

These factors are exacerbating the party’s fortunes.

MPLA and the incumbent, President Joao Lourenco, also face an opposition united more than ever in the elections set for August 24.

Two months before the polls, the government is maintaining an iron fist on civil society, thereby violating the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

Towards the end of May, police prevented two nongovernmental organisations – Omunga and Association for the Development of Culture and Human Rights (ADCDH) – from holding a conference on peace building.

Law enforcers, claiming to be working “under orders from superiors” blocked the entrance to the hotel in Cabinda where the event was to be held.

Located in the north, Cabinda is Angola’s most militarised province owing to years of armed conflict between government security forces and the rebel group Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC).

It is projected to be a hotspot for election violence hence the civil society organisations planned a peace conference.

“Angola continues to carry out another electoral plea next August, but the actions of the authorities do not demonstrate that there is the full exercise of freedom of expression in the country,” said John Malavindele, Omunga Executive Director.

Omunga is running campaigns advocating for transparent elections.

Restrictions on the operations of civil society organisations and civic space have been increasing in Angola in recent months.

In April, the police arbitrarily arrested 26 youths who were planning a march to demand the release of political prisoners. Authorities accused the youths of disobeying and insulting the police.

All of the detainees were eventually released but the two organisers were convicted and slapped with fines.

Amnesty International lamented the clampdown in Cabinda and authorities’ growing intolerance of criticism ahead of elections.

“The repression of independent civil society organizations, debate and critical views on issues such as the economy and human rights must stop,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty’s Director for East and Southern Africa.

The advocate noted the muzzling of the civil society was reminiscent of previous election years, when human rights came under repeated attack.

Such violations were commonplace under the presidency of Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who was in power for 38 years until Lourenco succeeded him in 2017.

“The Angolan authorities must stop targeting activists and civil society groups and instead respect, protect and promote their human rights and provide a conducive environment for them to operate,” Muchena stated.

The pre-election tensions have coincided with government’s onslaught on media.

In April, military and police officers assaulted reporters Daniel Fernandes and Romão De Jesus as they covered the demolition of homes to make way for a new airport in the capital city, Luanda.

Fernandes is a reporter with Radio Despertar, owned by the main opposition National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA).

De Jesus is a journalist for the privately-owned Radio MFM.

They fled the scene of protests.

Last year, Jorge Manuel, another journalist from Radio Despertar, was detained for five days for covering similar anti-eviction protests in Luanda.

Last month, Lorenco’s government banned the release of opinion polling results during the electoral campaign period.

Polling firms can do their research but must not disclose them in the media or public during campaign period, according to a government proposal.

The most recent poll before the embargoes was by Afrobarometer.

It indicated an increase in the number of voters eager to vote for the opposition UNITA and a decline for MPLA.

Some 22 percent endorsed UNITA in the presidential election. This is up from 13 percent in the 2019 survey.

Conversely, 29 percent said they would vote for the MPLA, down from 38 percent in 2019.

UNITA numbers grew in cities, rural areas and Luanda from between 11 percent and 16 percent in 2019 to 19 percent and 23 percent currently.

UNITA, MPLA’s main challenger since independence from Portugal in 1975, is part of the opposition coalition, Frente Patriotica Unida (FPU or United Patriotic Front).

It is the first time UNITA has joined a coalition. UNITA leader, Adalberto Costa Júnior (60), is poised to be the main challenger to Lourenco (68).

Former defence minister, Lourenco, was elected into office with a pledge of delivering an economic miracle.

“That promise has relapsed into a nightmare as the economy staggers,” said Maico Borba, the local sociopolitical commentator.

MPLA’s campaign is premised on sustainable development and improvement of the social conditions of Angolans.

Angola’s economy is overly-reliant on oil, a sector battling upheaval globally. It is the continent’s second producer of the commodity, after Nigeria.

Production has fallen from around 2 million barrels daily to 1,25 million barrels over the past decade.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects Angola’s gross domestic product (GDP) to grow by 3 percent in 2022.

The country of more than 34 million people is enduring its worst recorded drought in four decades.

The southern provinces of Cunene, Huila and Namibe are experiencing the fifth consecutive year of drought conditions.

Food insecurity analysis the Red Cross conducted in southern Angola established that between October 2021 and March 2022, around 1,58 million (58 percent of the analysed population) people experienced high levels of acute food insecurity.

The World Bank places the economic impact of the drought at US$749 million.

In 2022, over 400 000 children are projected to be acutely malnourished in Angola.

Angola is also feeling the impact of the Russia-Ukraine war. A major wheat importer, the country felt the rise in the prices, which went 50 percent up in March 2022 and are forecast to increase further.

– CAJ News













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