July 21, 2024

Amnesty International sets ‘human rights manifesto’ for Angola ahead of August 24 general election as João Lourenço goes head-to-head with Adalberto Costa in Africa’s biggest oil producer

João Lourenço of MPLA (left) and Adalberto Costa Júnior of UNITA (right)
João Lourenço of MPLA (left) and Adalberto Costa Júnior of UNITA (right)

Amnesty International on Monday set what it described as ‘human rights manifesto’ for Angola ahead of August 24 general election, noting that the southern African nation has faced “an unprecedented crackdown on human rights, including unlawful killings and arbitrary arrests.” It will be Angola’s fifth general election since the end of its civil war in 2002. Angolans will be electing their president and parliamentary representatives.

In its new briefing, “Make the vote meaningful for human rights observance: Human rights manifesto for Angola ahead of the 2022 general election”, the organization said Angolan authorities have increased their clampdown on human rights amid a deteriorating humanitarian situation compounded by drought-induced hunger in the country’s southern region.

“Angola has been characterized by an increase in brutal crackdowns on human rights in recent years, including repression of any form of dissent. Protesters, including young people demanding accountability and their socio-economic rights, have not been spared,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.

He added, “As the country heads to the polls, authorities must outline their plans to respect human rights, ensure accountability for countless human rights violations, and access to justice and effective remedies for victims. Authorities must work with the international community to bring humanitarian relief to the victims of drought and hunger in the southern region.”

The organization noted that while land grabs of communal grazing sites by commercial cattle ranches have progressively eroded economic and social resilience of pastoralist communities since the end of the civil war in 2002, millions of people in the south of Angola are now facing further threats as a climate change-related drought continues. Food and water are growing increasingly scarce, which has caused thousands of people to flee their homes and seek refuge in neighboring Namibia.

Going back to two years ago in 2020, Amnesty International said that at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, the security forces responsible for implementing restrictions killed at least seven boys and young men by using excessive and lethal force.

In January 2021, police shot and killed dozens of activists who were peacefully protesting the high cost of living in the mining town of Cafunfo in Lunda Norte province.Security forces also chased down protestors in surrounding neighbourhoods and forests. While the exact numbers of those killed and injured remain unknown, dumped bodies were found in the nearby Cuango River.

Following the violent repression of a peaceful protest on February 8, 2021, the country’s Criminal Investigation Service arrested José Mateus Zecamutchima of the Lunda Tchokwe Protectorate Movement, which advocates for autonomy and self-determination of the eastern half of Angola. Accused of “association with evildoers and armed rebellion” and “leading the rebellion to overthrow the government”, José Mateus was subjected to an unfair trial and imprisonment. He has often been denied contact with his lawyer and family.

On May 30, 2021, police in Cabinda arrested and detained several protestors after violently ending their procession and confiscating their personal items. The demonstration was part of a wider five-province protest against drought-induced hunger, unemployment and the unaffordable cost of living.

Amnesty International said it is calling on the candidates in the upcoming election to publicly commit, if elected, to conduct prompt, thorough, impartial, independent, transparent and effective investigations into all the killings and hold those suspected to be responsible accountable in fair trials; ensure access to justice and effective remedies for victims and their families; bring to justice in fair trials all members of the security forces accused of using excessive and lethal force against peaceful protestors and provide access to justice and effective remedies for victims and their families; and work with the international community to promptly bring humanitarian relief to the victims of drought and hunger in the southern region.

Early this month, some top United States Senators introduced a Senate resolution calling for free, fair, and peaceful elections in Angola on August 24, and urging all political parties not to use violence whatever the outcome of the vote. They should rather work together to develop and implement reforms that will benefit all Angolans, as the southwestern African nation continues to strengthen its democratic institutions.

The resolution urges “all political parties in Angola to pledge that they will not use violence during or after the election, will respect the outcome of the vote, and will investigate any disputes peacefully, using legal mechanisms.”

It also urges “the people of Angola to exercise their right to vote on election day and calls on all parties to work together, whatever the outcome of the election, to develop and implement a broad-based reform agenda, undertaken in collaboration with civil society, that will address the most urgent issues facing Angola.”

In addition to urging the government of Angola to take specific steps to ensure the credibility of the upcoming election, the resolution also calls for the United States to hold accountable any actor from any political party or group who might try to subvert the electoral process or use violence during or after the election on August 24.

Angola will hold a general election to elect its President and National Assembly on August 24, 2022, the country’s fifth multiparty election since 1992. Angola’s two main political parties, the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), were the principal belligerents in the country’s 26-year civil war. However, in 2017, the country experienced its first presidential electoral transition when President Joao Lourenco of the MPLA succeeded Jose Eduardo dos Santos, also of the MPLA, who ruled Angola for 38 years.

In the past five years, human rights and anti-corruption organizations have noted some significant progress in the strengthening of the rule of law and government institutions, the respect for human rights, and the fight against corruption.

The presidential election on August 24 is a straight fight between João Lourenço of MPLA, who has been in power since 2017, and Adalberto Costa Júnior of UNITA, the country’s main opposition party.

João Manuel Gonçalves Lourenço, who was born March 5, 1954, has served as the president of Angola since September 26, 2017. He was Minister of Defense from 2014 to 2017. In September 2018, he became the Chairman of the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), the ruling party. He was the party’s Secretary-General from 1998 to 2003.

Adalberto Costa Júnior, who was born on May 8, 1962, is the current president of UNITA and a member of the National Assembly of Angola who trained in electrotechnical engineering at the Instituto Superior de Engenharia do Porto and in public ethics at the Gregorian University in Rome. Costa Junior was elected as president of the UNITA in 2019, ending Isaias Samakuva’s 16-year term. He is known to have campaigned against public corruption and was the grandson of Jonas Savimbi.

Jonas Savimbi was an Angolan revolutionary politician and rebel military leader who founded and led UNITA. UNITA waged a guerrilla war against Portuguese colonial rule from 1966 to 1974, then confronted the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola during the Angolan Civil War. Savimbi was killed in a clash with government troops in 2002.

Lourenço, who is largely expected to win, has touted his achievements in several areas, including the fight against corruption, the strengthening of the rule of law, the opening of the Angolan economy, and investments in several sectors such as healthcare and development. Costa Júnior, who is the underdog has also campaigned against public corruption and promised that he would speed up the country’s development.

The U.S. Senate resolution was introduced by Senators Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations CommitteeBen Cardin (D-Md.)and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.)Chairman of the SFRC Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health Policy.

“Regardless of who wins this election, I call on all political actors to work together to develop and implement reforms that will deliver greater government transparency, prosperity, equality, and liberty for the Angolan people,” Senator Menendez wrote, adding that “After enduring decades of autocratic rule and mismanagement of state resources by one man and one party, Angolans deserve a chance to institutionalize the practice of choosing their own leaders through a free and fair process.”

“According to Freedom House, Angola is ‘not free’ – with a history of repressing democratic freedoms,” noted Senator Cardin. “Our resolution calls on the government of Angola to break away from its historic repression and hold free, fair, and peaceful elections later this month.”

“Angola has been ruled by one party since its independence, and the upcoming elections have already been marred by attempts to silence and intimidate opposition parties. We urge all parties involved to act in the best interests of the people of Angola and to give all Angolans an opportunity to finally have their voices heard through a free, fair, and credible democratic process,” added Senator Van Hollen.

The resolution introduced on Wednesday notes that “despite holding regular elections and having active political opposition parties, Angola is classified as ‘‘Not Free’’ by Freedom House due to the ruling MPLA’s abuse of state institutions to control political processes and limit free expression.”

It says “mass media in Angola is controlled or highly influenced by the state, independent journalists face harassment, opposition parties are subject to bureaucratic interference, and fewer than half of Angolans feel free to speak their mind, according to a 2019 poll by Afrobarometer.”

It adds that “Angola is in a period of economic and social crisis, with widespread frustration over the poor state of the oil based economy and persistently high rates of poverty, inequality, and public corruption,” and that “since 2020, Angolans have expressed their dissatisfaction through frequent public protests, which have been met with arrests and police violence against protesters.”

It warns that failure not to hold a credible election will dangerously exacerbate political tensions in Angola, and urges the government to ensure the credibility of elections by allowing for all parties and candidates to campaign without undue restriction, harassment, or intimidation, and by publishing and freely disseminating electoral information, including voter rolls and election results, as well as by permitting the unrestricted participation of independent election monitors, including by inviting the European Union to send an election observation mission, as the European Union has stated it is prepared to do.

This should also be done by ceasing the use of state resources and institutions to support or promote particular political parties or candidates; and reversing the ban on opinion polling during elections.

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