FAST Update Angola: Semi-annual risk assessment Aug - Dec 2006


Country Stability and Conflictive Events

- The most important domestic developments included the start of the voter registration process, while elections were further shifted to 2008, and the peace process in the enclave of Cabinda, which was undermined by ongoing low-intensity armed conflict and significant tension at the political level. Concerning international events, the period under review was marked by two major events: the exit of the World Food Programme (WFP), and Angola's joining of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

- On August 30, voter registration was set to start on November 15 with a duration of six months until mid-June 2007, including a one-month break in mid-December. On December 20, the Council of the Republic - the President's consultative body including the main political parties - recommended that general elections should take place in 2008, in order to allow sufficient time to verify and update the voter registration results, to be followed by presidential elections in 2009.

- The Council of the Republic meeting in December was preceded by a series of bilateral meetings between the President and opposition parties. The private press has been speculating on an alleged "secret pact"between the Angolan president and the UNITA president Isaías Samakuva, suggesting that Samakuva may not have objected to shifting the elections beyond 2008. UNITA's second Congress is scheduled for June 2007, with Samakuva facing a serious challenge from the deputy Abel Chivukuvuku running for the party leadership.

- The President's declarations in December that the electoral process was "irreversible", without specifying an election schedule, has not dissipated concerns of further delays. In its last meeting in July 2004, the Council of the Republic had recommended elections to take place "no later than 2006", while it avoided to clarify whether general and presidential elections would be simultaneous or consecutive. Most political parties and civil society at large have voiced that simultaneous elections, as experienced in 1992, were far more adequate for logistical and financial reasons. Yet, to hold presidential elections a year later apparently rather suits the President's agenda, counting on the conclusion of the milestones of the National Reconstruction Program by 2008. In the aftermath of the widely-commented dismissal of the formerly powerful external intelligence head Fernando Miala in February 2006, the President has also completed a reshuffle within the security forces, thus further centralizing control to prevent internal challenges.

- By accomplishing the first phase of voter registration in mid-December, the Inter-Ministerial Commission for the Electoral Process (CIPE) under the Minister for Territorial Administration, Virgílio Fontes Pereira, announced that 900'000 voters - from a roughly estimated number of seven million - had been registered. Besides this overall positive balance, however, the dual structure of the government body CIPE and the National Electoral Commission (CNE) has proved to be problematic. The fact that CIPE is in charge of the voter registration process, with only a minor role of the CNE, the main supervising body for the elections, has increased the organizational complexity and contributed to suspicions from the opposition parties regarding the process. Additionally, while the CNE has managed to build up good working relations with NGOs, the CIPE has eyed civil society activity with some suspicion.

- The CIPE, claiming full ownership of the voter registration process, has issued controversial statements regarding civil society participation in the civic education campaign. At its official launching ceremony in October, Virgílio Fontes Pereira denounced "external interference"in the elections process - thus implicitly referring to international organizations funding NGOs -, and insisted that civic education should be standardized by the government. For instance, in October, the local authorities in Benguela confiscated civic education materials of the Angolan NGO ADRA arguing that the phrase "elections are an opportunity for change" was biased. Despite these dissonances, civic education manuals of international organizations have continued circulating without interference.

- The trend to bring NGOs under closer control as "complementary"service providers for the government has been part of the government discourse since 2002. This was reflected in the seminar of the President's private Eduardo dos Santos Foundation (FESA) on the "Third sector"in August, as well as in ongoing discussions on the NGO Law revision. Additionally, the government's perception that most NGOs depend on external, donor-driven agendas has apparently disturbed the government's strong sense of national ownership of the elections. Nevertheless, the fact that civil society has participated for the first time in electoral preparations has to be noted as very positive.

- Due to its late start, however, the civic education campaign may not have reached large parts of society, and the degree of participation of NGO observers has reportedly varied greatly in the provinces. This is partly due to the advanced phasing out of humanitarian operations, which has negatively affected the funding situation of many NGOs especially in the interior.

- Monitoring of the voter registration process has been rather disorganized. The opposition parties UNITA, PRS, FNLA, PAJOCA, PDP-ANA, FpD and others have voiced a series of complaints. These included in the first place irregularities and delays in issuing credentials, administrative confusion and lack of information regarding the geographic distribution of monitors supposed to supervise the registration officials, frequent breakdowns of electronic equipment, and general transport and financial difficulties. Some complaints were raised by the opposition party PDP-ANA and the opposition coalition POC concerning discrimination of Lingala-speaking ethnic Bakongo Angolans. These claims deserve some attention in the context of intensifying government alerts over the year concerning the "silent invasion"of Angola by illegal foreigners as one of the challenges for voter registration.

- In the Council of the Republic meeting in December, the President allegedly promised additional financial support for opposition parties to cope with funding shortfalls due to the elections delay. Whileinitial administrative shortcomings in issuing credentials may be resolved and some additional funding disbursed, other obstacles might well accumulate in the following months. The voter registration process was designed by the government to develop "gradually", with the first month focusing on the more accessible and densely populated areas, involving only a part of the registration officials. With the registration process gradually moving to remoter, less accessible areas during the rainy season with a higher number of registration officials, the opposition parties' ability to monitor might significantlydecrease. Apart from logistical problems, the lack of access to information and of experience in multiparty politics in the interior of most provinces may further hamper monitoring activities.

- Voter registration started despite pending complaints concerning the electoral framework, such as UNITA's suit concerning the constitutionality of the Electoral Law, as well as other cases raised against the "unconstitutional"inclusion of judges into the CNE. However, the most controversial legal issue since August has been the media legislation. The ongoing delay in opening the state monopoly on national broadcasting has produced widespread criticism in Angola and from Human Rights Watch. On August 13, the legal time limit of 90 days passed since the approval of the new Press Law framework, without promulgating the indispensable regulations for implementation. While the stagnation of the catholic Rádio Ecclésia extension project continues and several local radios await legal regulations to apply for concessions, the Portuguese media in October also revealed a new wide-ranging media project allegedly supported by the President and his powerful Military Office.

- To the international community, the government has continued to issue ambiguous messages. On the one hand, the government has repeatedly appealed to the international community to support the electoral process in Angola. On the other hand, the government has stressed national ownership of elections, accepting only limited external support. For instance, the government has invited the USbased international Foundation for Elections (IFES) for technical advice, and Mozambican consultants have been advising the CNE. However, the government has not formalized any request to the UnitedNations. Bad memories of the UN's earlier engagements in Angola certainly contribute to the government's lack of confidence in the UN. Meanwhile, UNDP set up a Trust Fund to channel donor support for elections by way of supporting civil society organizations, in order to bridge funding gaps due to ongoing election delays. It is commonly assumed that the UN and the international community will only be invited ad hoc and at short notice to legitimize the process in its final stage.