Corruption and Democracy in Angola

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On April 1, 2011, the National Assembly of Angola voted for a bill that criminalizes the use of the internet and mobile phones to send information, photographs, or text messages without the prior written consent ofthose mentioned in the contents. The “Law to Combat Crime in the Area of Information and Communication Technologies and of Information Company Services” establishes a maximum penalty of twelve years in prison for such violations, while online child pornography is given a more lenient maximum sentence of two years. To date, the proposed legislation is in a state of political limbo, in part as a result of public pressure. Yet like previous controversial legislation, the authorities are likely to wear down their critics and may look to circumvent discontent by inserting the most provocative elements of the bill into relevant existing legislation.

Two weeks later, on April 19, 2011, the National Assembly established a threshold of an investment of one million US dollars for investors hoping to qualify for state incentives. The rationale for the “Law on Private Investment” was that it would attract bigger foreign investments and enable Angolans to be more competitive with their foreign counterparts—yet how many ordinary Angolans will qualify under the new legislation?

These two legal initiatives illustrate both the current state of democratization in Angola and its political economy. Examining these laws is critical to an understanding of the defining issue in Angola, both in official discourse and for the society at-large: untrammeled high-level corruption. Following the purging years of the Marxist-Leninist era and the continuous civil war (1975-2002), violence is no longer the key feature of governance in Angola—corruption is. At a time when citizens’ demands for democratic reform, economic opportunity, and political accountability have led to upheaval in the Middle East and North Africa, both laws demonstrate the government’s response to the fundamental question of how it plans to rule Angola within this period of regime change and democratic transformation.

In a new research paper on the relationship between corruption and democracy in Angola I argue that the power of the executive has historically been strengthened through the use of constitutional and legal measures. This shows that Angolan law rarely serves as a check on power, but instead is used as a tool to create a culture of impunity. The paper then uses the proposed “Law to Combat IT, Communications and Information Society Services’ Crimes” to illustrate the way that civil society has shrunk and independent voices have been quieted in the face of a dominant-party state.

Finally, I explain the way in which the new “Law on Private Investment” ensures a presidential monopoly over the levers of Angolan economic power. But the significance of the legislation, which will create new economic opportunities for members of the political elite, can only be fully understood by looking at two other factors. Most obviously, oil is increasingly central to the nation’s realpolitik. In 2010, Angola was the largest oil producer in Africa, with an estimated output of 1.9 million barrels a day. Crude oil represents more than 95% of the country’s total exports. At the same time, a discussion of private banking ventures in Angola reveals that high-ranking public officials are the main shareholders of these private banks and increasingly use these ventures as venues for money laundering. The combination of these two processes means that members of the political elite have access to considerable resources and ways to transform corruptly acquired funds into ‘legitimate’ wealth. In turn, it is this wealth that will enable members of the government to meet the one million dollar investment threshold to qualify for state incentives established by the “Law on Private Investment”, and so to benefit from their own legislation.

The paper concludes with a discussion of the current state of governance in Angola and the extent to which the scope and depth of corruption has undermined the prospects for democratization. Can this process be reversed to strengthen checks and balances on the abuse of power, and to promote public accountability?

For the full paper, click here.

For more on Angola, check out Rafael’s website here.

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