After a 13-year colonial war, followed by 27 years of civil war, peace “broke out” in Angola in 2002. At about the same time, the economy began to grow like never before, driven by a historically powerful oil boom. But there were also continuities: The vast majority of Angolans gained peace, but continued to live in poverty. The governing body was characterized by the MPLA ruling party continuing in power, and above all the increasing concentration of power around President José Eduardo dos Santos. After 38 years in power, dos Santos resigned in September 2017, and João Lourenço became President.
The final phase of the war and the end of the one-party state
The civil war in Angola was linked to both internal conflicts and international interference. The first phase of the civil war between the MPLA and UNITA government troops (1975-1991) was marked by international interference. After an unsuccessful peace and reconciliation process, the fighting broke out again with renewed vigor after the unfinished election in October 1992. The second phase of the war (1992-2002) was with less foreign intervention. It nevertheless played a role that the government and the MPLA won ever-increasing international diplomatic support, while benefiting from the revenues from rising oil production. UNITA’s forces had revenue from diamonds, but had difficulty translating diamonds into enough weapons and supplies.
The second phase of the war can be divided into three periods: From the end of 1992 to the beginning of 1994 there were intense fighting, especially around the cities inland – such as Huambo, Kuito and Malanje – and many were completely destroyed. Between 1994 and 1998, there were minor fighting actions. During this period, some of UNITA’s politicians took their seats in parliament, and in 1997 President dos Santos formed a unifying government that also included UNITA and FNLA politicians. This led to divisions in UNITA. UNITA President and Chief of Staff for 38 years, Jonas Savimbi, remained inland and UNITA continued to occupy large parts of the country. In 1998, government forces launched an offensive that lasted until Savimbi was killed Feb. 22, 2002, in a desolate area of eastern Moxico province. The matches were canceled shortly after.
The MPLA regime adapted to the changes that spread internationally in the 1990s. The one-party state was formally dissolved, the MPLA abandoned Marxism-Leninism, the party lost its formal role in the state, and the country was to move from planning economy to market economy. At the same time, there was freedom of speech and organization and open to a critical press. During the 1990s, a number of party-independent organizations and media emerged, but largely concentrated in the capital.
Peace “breaks out” after 40 years
On April 4, 2002, the parties signed a peace agreement in Luena, the provincial capital of Moxico, and the agreement has since been referred to as the Luena Agreement. This time, the demobilization of UNITA’s over 100,000 soldiers succeeded. UNITA’s party leadership traveled to Luanda and took up a role as an opposition party in parliament.
It was implicit in the agreement that no settlement would occur after the war. No Angolans, on any of the sides, have therefore been prosecuted for the many war crimes committed during the war. The peace was also characterized by President dos Santos’ policy of protecting UNITA leaders. They remained without significant political power, but most were provided with housing and good financial conditions for themselves and their families.
In the northern Cabinda province, fighting between the government forces and the separatist guerrilla FLEC continued even after 2002. This conflict had causes other than the war between UNITA and MPLA, and also took place on a much smaller scale.
Angola becomes an oil state
It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of oil for the development of modern Angola. Throughout the 2000s, oil accounted for more than 90 percent of the country’s exports, and in 2016 it accounted for 96 percent. In particular, during the oil boom in 2003-2014, the oil sector accounted for more than half of the gross domestic product for long periods. Control of the oil industry and oil revenues has therefore been crucial for the country’s political economy both before, but especially after the peace agreement.
From oil production started offshore in 1968 to 1982, oil production was relatively stable at less than 200,000 barrels per day, mostly in shallow water off the coast of Cabinda. In 1976, right after independence, the colonial oil production company in Angola, ANGOL, was nationalized. The company that was formed, with the state as sole owner, was named Sonangol, and took over several of the foreign companies’ infrastructures and employees. Sonangol continues to play a crucial role in the country’s oil industry, both as a commercial company, operator and industry regulator.
From 1982, production increased rapidly, reaching around 800,000 barrels per day in the year 2000. But as early as 1996, it became clear that Angola was facing a new oil age when French company Elf found deep-water oil 140 km offshore. In the following years, many international oil companies were involved in exploration and constantly new discoveries. From 2004, oil production increased dramatically, and from 2012 it reached a historic high of nearly 1.9 million barrels of oil a day, with Angola competing with Nigeria to be Africa’s largest oil producer. The effect on Angola’s government finances of increased production was greatly exacerbated by the fact that oil prices underwent a historic increase during the same period; In 2002, a barrel of oil cost around US $ 20, while between 2008 and 2010 it averaged around US $ 100 barrel.
From the 1990s, Norwegian Saga Petroleum, Norsk Hydro and later Statoil began investing massively in Angola’s oil sector. In 2007, Angola joined the oil cartel OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.
High growth and increased inequality after 2000
The oil boom combined with the peace deal led to Angola’s economy being among the fastest growing in the world. From 2002 to 2008, GDP grew on average by over ten per cent a year.
Like many other oil states, Angola’s economy was concentrated around state consumption. Particular attention was paid to infrastructure development, such as roads, airports, ports, and various public and private prestige buildings. Among other things, the 1300 km-long Benguela Railway was rehabilitated by Chinese loans and companies.
Peace and great economic growth led to many Angolans getting better living conditions after the turn of the century, but for the vast majority, living conditions improvements were relatively small and fragile. By contrast, an elite of very wealthy Angolans grew up near the president, party leadership and military.
The large consumption of oil money was mainly channeled through government institutions and Sonangol. It followed that state power, that is, political power, also became crucial to accessing economic opportunities such as subsidies, grants, grants and jobs. In practice, this meant two paths to economic progress: loyalty to the MPLA (for most), and good contacts in the president’s circles.
MPLA consolidates party state
Although the one-party period was formally ended in 1991, the ruling party MPLA retained power and its dominant position in the state apparatus even after the peace peace in 2002. The country remained one of the most centralized in Africa. Most of the state budget was spent in the capital Luanda, and the entire local administrative apparatus is directly designated by the central government; Local elections are not held. From 1997 to 2008, there was formally a coalition government (GURN) consisting of several parties, but in practice the president and MPLA had full control over all government posts of importance. MPLA membership continued to be critical to accessing public resources and positions, such as a regular teaching position.
The first peacetime election was the 2008 parliamentary elections, in which the MPLA won 82 percent of the vote so that they could control the National Assembly without paying special attention to the opposition. A presidential election, and / or local election, was expected to be held the following year, but none of the sections were conducted.
Instead, in 2010, the MPLA majority passed a new constitution that abolished presidential elections. The new constitution established an unusual electoral scheme: The list top of the party that gets the most votes becomes the president of the republic. Under this scheme, elections were held in 2012, where José Eduardo dos Santos was listed as MPLA. The party won 72 percent of the vote, and dos Santos got five new years as president. The opposition objected to the conduct of the elections and the results, but international observers approved them. A split in opposition led to the formation of the CASA-CE coalition, which became a real electoral competitor to UNITA in the 2012 election. UNITA and CASA-CE received 19 and six percent of the votes respectively.
Concentration of power around dos Santos
Another trend of the 1990s was José Eduardo dos Santos’ increasing personal power, also over the party. When dos Santos took over as president of both the party and the republic in 1979, the party had several powerful people and wings. Dos Santos was only 37 years old and without his own power base. But he was diplomatic and appeared as a compromise candidate. Towards the end of the 1990s he was the undisputed leader. State broadcasts and newspapers used most occasions to utter dos Santo’s name, and ministers always took care to mention the president in their speeches, so much so that at times it took the form of a personal cult.
From being a poor country at war, with a centralized power structure, in 2002 Angola became a country of peace that stood before the longest oil boom of all time – but still with a centralized power structure. As a pragmatic and somewhat ideological, but power-conscious leader, dos Santos mastered the major changes the 1990s brought. By the end of the war he was able to obtain, and approve, the nickname “the architect of peace.” What strengthened his power more than anything else was the increase in oil production and the relationship with the major international oil companies. Personal control over the Sonangol system was crucial.
With the peace and the era of neoliberalism followed a wave of privatization and the creation of private companies. These too were largely politically controlled by the president. Dos Santos ensured that family members and close associates gained interest in much of the country’s financial and business life. He also provided personal and direct control over the country’s intelligence and security forces, and held a presidential guard of many thousands of soldiers. In the 2000s, the presidential staff surpassed the importance of ministers and ministries. One indication of this was that in the years 2012-2014, the state budget allocated almost twice as much to the president’s staff and his security services as to the ministries of health and education. Angola experts referred to the concentration of power as the president’s “parallel state”.
From 2004 it became an important feature that new capital-rich countries such as China and Brazil offered large favorable loan agreements. Key people in the “parallel state”, such as General Kopelipa (Security Manager) and Manuel Vicente (Sonangol Chief and later Vice President), were given major powers to negotiate business and loan agreements with these. Large investment decisions could thus completely bypass the state budget and parliament’s transparency.
Angola’s new constitution from 2010 gave the President further powers of attorney, as head of state, head of government and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. He / she personally appoints a large number of people to the civil administration and the judiciary. Parliament has relatively little influence, and in 2013 a decree from the Constitutional Court stated that Parliament cannot hold government members accountable.
The importance of Isabel and the dos Santos family
From 2010, dos Santos’ children began taking on larger roles, primarily his oldest daughter, Isabel dos Santos – known as Africa’s richest woman. In 2012, he appointed his son, José Filomeno, to head the country’s “Oil Fund” (Fundo Soberano de Angola), with a starting capital of US $ 5 billion. In 2016, he appointed Isabel as head of state oil company Sonangol, Angola’s foremost revenue contributor. His daughter Tchizé dos Santos got a seat in the National Assembly and in the MPLA’s Central Committee. Dos Santos’ sister and a host of other family members also had strategic ownership interests in important companies.
Economic and social crisis, growing protests
The fall in oil prices in 2014 had a dramatic impact on Angola’s economy and society. This led to a halving of state revenues in one year. In addition, the fall in prices revealed that Angola’s economy had not been able to stimulate business in other sectors. Instead, the country was completely dependent on importing most consumer goods. Government debt increased dramatically, and in 2017 as much as 1/3 of the state budget was set aside for debt payment. In 2016, inflation in Angola was among the highest in the world when it rose to 40 percent, while the value of the currency was halved. The savings measures led to currency shortages, wage cuts and stops in transfers to provinces and districts, and import restrictions led to a shortage of goods.
The economic crisis also showed how vulnerable the population is. In 2016, several dangerous epidemics such as yellow fever and tuberculosis accelerated. In 2017, Angola took the world peak for infant mortality, according to the UN.
Until March 7, 2011, there had never been oppositional street demonstrations in Angola. Then a small group of young people based in Luanda’s rap environment demonstrated as “The Revolutionary Movement”. In the next few years they made many attempts to demonstrate against the government’s policy and dos Santos’s long-standing power, but the police hit them hard every time. This happened just after the Arab Spring, and the authorities obviously feared mass mobilization against the regime. Nevertheless, the movement gained momentum in social media and emerged as a new type of opposition – outside UNITA and the other established opposition parties. In 2015, 17 of the leaders of the revolutionary movement were brought to justice. After initially being charged with conspiracy against the president, they were sentenced to lengthy prison sentences for rioting. A few months later, everyone was pardoned by dos Santos.
The Santos era is ending
Although in 2017 Angola was still dominated by the “old guard” of MPLA politicians who participated in the liberation war, the country faced the most important change since the peace peace in 2002: dos Santos’ departure as president.
From 2015, it was clear that 73-year-old dos Santos’ health was significantly impaired. Nevertheless, at the MPLA’s 7th congress in August 2016, he was re-elected as party president, in an atmosphere where the congress appeared as a long and uncritical tribute to dos Santos. At the same time, long-time party leader and Minister of Defense João Lourenço was elected Vice-President of the party. In February 2017, it became clear that dos Santos would not run for re-election, and João Lourenço was elected as the party’s list leader and thus presidential candidate.
On August 23, 2017, the third peacetime election was held. After great controversy surrounding the implementation and counting, it was announced that the MPLA received 61 percent of the vote. UNITA gained 27 percent, CASA-CE gained 9 percent, while FNLA was down 1 percent. The opposition had thus strengthened support, but due to the electoral system, MPLA nevertheless gained a 2/3 majority in parliament. João Lourenço was sworn in as President on September 26. Thus Angola had the first change of power between two living presidents.
Many expressed amazement that dos Santos went down at all, which has proven to be a long way off for long-time African heads of state. As Luaty Beirão, one of the front figures of the Revolutionary movement, put it: He may not go voluntarily, but he walked on his own.
Already in November 2017, it was clear that the change of power would not be conflict-free, and that a violent power struggle took place in the scenes. President João Lourenço immediately initiated a series of measures and appointments that challenged the power of his predecessor, but still his party president, José Eduardo dos Santos. The contradictions became apparent when Lourenço laid off Isabel dos Santos in November 2017 as chief of Sonangol. Angola thus faced the most difficult economic and social situation since the war, at the same time as the political change of power was to take place and the warning of political unrest.