Putin-Style Presidential Decree Ends NGO Independence in Angola

Civil society in a democratic state is generally defined as the space filled by   non-governmental organisations and institutions that represent citizens’ interest and the public will and which are independent from the state.

Hegel, the philosopher of the modern state, considered that civil society, with all its differences, made the nation state more efficient.

If Angola is consolidating its democracy under the 2010 Constitution, Presidential Decree 74/15 of 23 March 2015, which regulates non-governmental organisations (NGOs), raises a matter of grave concern. This decree echoes the legal technique used by the Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin, who in 2012 introduced legislation obliging foreign NGOs to register with the Foreign Ministry as “foreign agents”. This effectively turned all NGO staff into hypothetical “spies”.

The Angolan presidential decree includes a series of provisions that make it practically impossible for NGOs to work in an independent and impartial manner as the representatives of civil society.

Let us look in detail at the articles in the decree that impose restrictions on  freedom and democracy guaranteed in the Constitution.

Articles 7 and 8 oblige NGOs to register with the central government, a process that can be delayed indefinitely if something is deemed wrong with the documents. The creation of an NGO thus comes to depend, ultimately, on the government’s administrative will.

Article 10 requires registration a second registration with the Foreign Ministry. In effect, this echoes what was done in Russia.

Article 11 demands    registration with the Institute for the Promotion and Coordination of Aid to the Communities  (IPROCAC). This makes three bureaucratic procedures, just for an NGO to be legal in Angola. It becomes clear that the law is being used deliberately to make it difficult to set up this type of institution and organisation.

Article 15 strips NGOs of any financial independence, and prevents them from developing any activity contrary to the principles upheld by the bodies of national sovereignty (article 15, no. 2, end of line 1). Thus, no NGO can exist that upholds principles different from those of the President of the Republic. This article is excessive and could, moreover, represent the end of democratic pluralism.

Furthermore, article 15 numbers 3 and 4 allows an NGO to operate financially only after reaching a mandatory agreement with the Angolan authorities. Thus, the government must vet first the projects NGOs seek to implement, and the sources of funding. Without its approval, NGOs are forbidden to get funding. In reality, no NGO will be able to operate in Angola without express permission from the government.

Article 18 requires NGOs to be supervised by a member of the government. “Supervision” may be defined as an act of directing, guiding, motivating and managing outcomes within the institutions being supervised. This “supervision” implies direct intervention in NGOs’ activities.

This decree therefore puts an end to NGOs’ independence.
Articles 20 and 23 restrict freedom of association and the setting up and operations of NGOs.

The truth is that this decree spells the end of independent NGOs in Angola. This is either the result of a serious error on the part of the president’s legal team, or, as one would rather not believe, this is a Putinesque attempt to  restrict NGO activity.

It is up to concerned Angolans, the competent authorities and the courts to draw attention to the unconstitutionality of  this decree.  It is indubitably an attack on freedom of association and expression, as well as on other fundamental rights.

Only through the just application of the law will Angola be transformed into a modern and just constitutional democracy.