The Struggle for Democracy in Angola

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Democracy in Africa contributor Justin Pearce has contributed an article to the African Arguments series. Here, he summarizes his argument that the recent protests against the government reflect wider dissatisfaction with the tenure of José Eduardo dos Santos.

The anti-government demonstrations that have taken place regularly in Luanda since the beginning of this year have never numbered more than a few hundred, but they are significant in a country where until recently street protests were almost unknown. The repression of the one-party days and the fears of violence and unrest born of years of civil war have left Angola with an authoritarian political culture that is only now starting to be challenged by young people who came of age after the end of the war. Demonstrators have called attention to issues including poverty, inequality, and housing demolitions, but the most consistent demand has been for President José Eduardo dos Santos to stand down after 32 years in office.

Responses have included counter-demonstrations organised by the ruling MPLA, as well as attempts at banning the marches, arrests, and brutality meted out both by police and by plain-clothes thugs operating under the eyes of the police. Yet the protests have continued. The detention of demonstrators in September prompted a new round of protests until the detainees were released on the orders of the Supreme Court.

Although no one in government has acknowledged the legitimacy of the protests, there are signs that the protesters’ dissatisfaction with the president’s long tenure has been heard at the top. Dos Santos has long been able to dictate the pace of change in Angola. A show-of-hands voting system in internal party elections has ruled out any challenge to the party leadership, while electoral delays and conveniently timed constitutional changes have ensured that Dos Santos has never sought a popular mandate since the incomplete electoral process of 1992. In October, party sources told Angolan journalists that Dos Santos had floated the possibility of standing down from the presidency, not at the next election in 2012, but no later than the one after that.

More controversial was the suggestion that Dos Santos had named Manuel Vicente, chief executive of the state oil company, Sonangol, as his preferred successor. Vicente has little experience of active politics and no military background, something which appears not to have been well received by the MPLA elite. Vicente is a close associate of Dos Santos, part of an inner circle that has become more and more influential in recent years at the same time as MPLA as a party has seen its influence on government diminish. So it’s no surprise that the president is facing some opposition in the top ranks of the party to his choice of successor.

To read Justin’s article in full, click here.

For a Human Rights Watch report on the protests, click here.

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