Angola Elections 2022: Trouble Ahead?
Angola’s 2022 election seemed to go well. International observers dubbed the poll ‘free and fair’ and the official election organizer, the Comissão Nacional Eleitoral (CNE), declared the MPLA the victor with just over 51% of total votes cast. This official result was immediately challenged by the main opposition party, UNITA, amid allegations of inconsistencies in the count and procedural irregularities by the CNE itself. The situation risks undermining the all-too-recent gains in democratic freedoms and civil liberties, with opposition supporters taking to the streets to express their anger, feeling cheated of the change they desperately wanted.
When on August 29th the CNE announced the official election result, awarding victory to the ruling MPLA, it was immediately challenged by UNITA on the grounds of alleged inconsistencies between the certified polling station tallies and the final count given by the CNE. Initially, the main opposition, UNITA seemed to suggest the numbers showed the MPLA might still claim victory but by a narrower margin. In the days that followed, members and supporters went further, arguing that UNITA may have won the election, a cry taken up across social media that served to exacerbate a tense situation.
The UNITA leader, Adalberto Costa Júnior, called for calm while seeking a “transparent” recount of the polling station tallies. He alleges that the numbers reported by the CNE do not match the opposition parties’ certified copies. UNITA also sought an injunction from Angola’s Constitutional Court to freeze the result, on the grounds of alleged procedural infractions by the CNE. Announcements are imminent on the result of these efforts.
In the interim there have been intermittent street protests in cities across the country with large numbers of riot police deployed to keep public order. The threat of violent political unrest could easily put at risk the democratic gains and civil liberties that Angolans have only recently begun to enjoy. Although its grip on government has been endorsed by four previous democratic elections, for most of its 47 years of rule the MPLA has acted as though Angola were a totalitarian one-party state, its President having extensive powers of control over not just government, but also the military, public administration, and the judiciary. It was only with the election of João Lourenço as President in 2017 that the MPLA began, hesitantly, to relax this grip. It meant, that although the governing party still controlled public funds, the organization of the elections, and the national media, this year Angolans enjoyed far greater freedom of expression and freedom of choice than ever before. That is what could be in jeopardy.
The Example of Bocoio
The municipality of Bocoio in Benguela province has been a flashpoint for political violence ever since the civil war ended in 2002. Electoral cycles have often aggravated the divisions between MPLA and UNITA supporters, with partisanship dividing families with sometimes violent results.
The most recent outbreak of this kind was on Friday September 2nd when the UNITA office in the town came under attack. UNITA says ten members of staff were injured and had their computers stolen, office materials, cars and motorcycles were vandalized and set on fire.
The Benguela National Police provincial commander put out a statement citing “acts of intolerance by members of both the MPLA and UNITA” and appealed to their members “to conduct themselves with respect for the constitution and the law, avoiding any action that could undermine public order so as to preserve the Angolan peoples’ hard-won peace”.
There were clashes between MPLA and UNITA supporters in Boicoio before and after the August 2017 election. A civil society group in Benguela found that it was sparked by UNITA’s attempts to take their election campaign into the Balança district, an MPLA stronghold. Both sides reported casualties – nine UNITA supporters hurt and and eight MPLA. Further clashes then erupted during the subsequent MPLA victory parade. According to the non-governmental organization, Omunga, 13 people were injured while 55 homes, four bars and two pharmacies were looted and sacked. In effect, criminals took advantage of the political unrest to steal large sums of money and goods.
Omunga invited the Ufolo Centre for Good Governance and law professor Fortunato Paixão to a meeting with area residents to help explain the situation in terms of human rights, respect for different opinions and peaceful activism. More than 100 people turned up, amongst them traditional chiefs from across the district, people from government, the political parties and the churches.
People spoke of the dire consequences of partisan violence – one woman who attended had attacked and burned her own sister. We heard of other families broken up because of partisan intolerance. All too often, parents and children, brothers and sisters find themselves at odds – as is the case even in the two parties’ local leadership. This is not down to party policy but to individual conduct, with passions incited by partisan campaigns and is unacceptable in the present day when, at national level we see members of the party elites able to shrug off old allegiances and change sides. Former MPLA President dos Santos’s daughter, Tchizé, has been a vocal campaigner on social media for UNITA while one of the former UNITA leader Savimbi’s sons, Tão Kanganjo Sakaíta, openly sought votes for the MPLA.
This is something that local leaders need to take on board, not just in Benguela but across the nation. Both the MPLA and UNITA need to instruct local leaders to tell their members and supporters they must refrain from violence to end once and for all this tragic self-destruction by those on the very bottom rung of society’s ladder. Instead of issuing a press release complaining of victimization in the aftermath, local leaders need to step up and unequivocably condemn violence and promote respect for human rights while the country awaits the outcome of the electoral process, challenges and all.
It is a worrying sign of the deteriorating situation and the spectre of post-election violence that the Chief of the General Staff has placed the Angolan Armed Forces on a state of “combat readiness in the wake of the elections”. He stressed the need for “preventative measures to avoid the incidence of public order disturbances while maintaining national security, in particular the security of the capital, Luanda”. It is the duty of all political leaders, at national and local level, to act rapidly to defuse this climate of anger and fear and reassure all Angolans that due process must be respected. The people of Angola have signalled the need for change. They now need to see a transparent process of validating the election result, and be reassured that all the party leaders accept and abide by the eventual result, otherwise the scene is set for further confrontation and the likelihood that the personal freedoms so recently won, may again be curtailed.