By Dong Maraya
On April 4 the National Peace Day of Angola is celebrated. We take this opportunity to greet all Angolans for this momentous day.
The Republic of Angola is a country in Southern Africa. Luanda is its capital city. Angola as a Portuguese colony encompassing the present territory was not established before the end of the 19th century. Independence was achieved in 1975, after a protracted liberation war. After independence, Angola was the scene of an intense civil war from 1975 to 2002. The executive branch of the government is composed of the President, the Vice-Presidents and the Council of Ministers. For decades, political power has been concentrated in the Presidency.
José Eduardo dos Santos is an Angolan politician who has been President of Angola since 1979. As President, José Eduardo dos Santos is also the commander in chief of the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA) and president of the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), the party that has ruled Angola since it gained independence in 1975. He was born on 28 August 1942. At the age of 19 he joined the MPLA’s guerrilla army fighting for independence from Portugal.
After the death of Angola’s first president, Agostinho Neto on 10 September 1979, José Eduardo dos Santos was elected as President of the MPLA on 20 September 1979, and he took office as President of Angola, President of the MPLA, and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces on 21 September. He was also elected as President of the People’s Assembly on 9 November 1980.
In power for 33 years, despite having never been formally elected, Angola’s President Jose Eduardo dos Santos is Africa’s second-longest serving head of state – trailing Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo by just one month.
On 29 and 30 September 1992, elections were held in Angola. José Eduardo dos Santos won the election. In 2001, dos Santos announced that he would step down at the next presidential election. However, in December 2003 he was reelected as head of the MPLA and no further presidential election took place, despite these being announced for 2006, then 2007 and finally announced that the next presidential election would be held in 2009. After legislative election in 2008 in which the ruling MPLA won a landslide victory, the party started working on a new constitution that was introduced early in 2010. In terms of the new constitution, the leader of the party with the most seats in Parliament automatically becomes the president of the country.
In the 2012 general election, his party, the MPLA, won more than 2/3 of the votes. As dos Santos had been the top candidate of the party, he automatically became the President of the Republic, in line with the constitution adopted in 2010, and therefore found himself for the first time in the position of a legally elected President.
The 70 year old is never criticized by the country’s state media organs, and the remaining few private newspapers that have not been bought up by government ministers and which dare challenge his actions are hit with lawsuits.
He is now hoping to win a new five-year mandate when his country holds parliamentary elections under a new constitution that elects the president from the top of the winning party list. Analysts say, the election is as much a referendum on Mr. dos Santos, who celebrated his birthday on the campaign trail, and his record as president as it is about appointing a new National Assembly.
Under his leadership Angola has risen from the ashes of war to become sub-Saharan Africa’s third-largest economy, after South Africa and Nigeria, and a magnet for foreign investment.
Mr. dos Santos’s long stay in office represents stability to his trading partners, one of the largest of which is now China. Against all odds, he has remained in power since 1979, overcoming challenges of war, elections and at the same time displaying a highly refined political craftsmanship. Analysts say Mr dos Santos’ avoidance of the limelight is key to his success because he has been able to keep his enemies guessing and he has carefully kept internal rivals at bay. While criticism of Mr. dos Santos is growing among small sections of urban Angolans, who are increasingly turning to the internet and social media as an alternative to the heavily censored mainstream media, he still has plenty of support.
After the end of the Civil War, the regime came under pressure from within as well as from the international environment, to become more democratic and less authoritarian. Its reaction was to operate a number of changes without substantially changing its character. The new constitution, adopted in 2010, further sharpened the authoritarian character of the regime. In the future, there will be no presidential elections: the president and the vice-president of the political party which comes out strongest in the parliamentary elections become automatically president and vice-president of Angola.
Angola has a rich subsoil heritage, from diamonds, oil, gold, copper, and a rich wildlife, forest, and fossils. Since independence, oil and diamonds have been the most important economic resource. Smallholder and plantation agriculture have dramatically dropped because of the Angolan Civil War, but have begun to recover after 2002. The transformation industry that had come into existence in the late colonial period collapsed at independence, because of the exodus of most of the ethnic Portuguese population, but has begun to reemerge, partly because of the influx of new Portuguese entrepreneurs.
Angola’s economy has undergone a period of transformation in recent years, moving from the disarray caused by a quarter century of civil war to being the fastest growing economy in Africa and one of the fastest in the world. In 2004, China’s Eximbank approved a $2 billion line of credit to Angola. The loan is being used to rebuild Angola’s infrastructure, and has also limited the influence of the International Monetary Fund in the country.
The country has vast mineral and petroleum reserves, and its economy has on average grown at a double-digit pace since the 1990s, especially since the end of the civil war. In spite of this, standards of living remain low for the majority of the population, and life expectancy and infant mortality rates in Angola are among the worst in the world. Angola is considered to be economically disparate, with the majority of the nation’s wealth concentrated in a disproportionately small sector of the population.
In 2002, the country’s economy has developed significantly since achieving political stability, but still Angola faces huge social and economic problems. These are in part a result of the almost continual state of conflict from 1961 onwards, although the highest level of destruction and socio-economic damage took place after the 1975 independence, during the long years of civil war.
Although by law education in Angola is compulsory and free for eight years, the government reports that a percentage of students are not attending due to a lack of school buildings and teachers. Students are often responsible for paying additional school-related expenses, including fees for books and supplies. The Ministry of Education hired 20,000 new teachers in 2005 and continued to implement teacher trainings. Teachers tend to be underpaid, inadequately trained, and overworked. Although budgetary allocations for education were increased in 2004, the education system in Angola continues to be extremely under-funded.
Angola is gradually rebuilding its infrastructure, retrieving weapons from its heavily-armed civilian population and resettling tens of thousands of refugees who fled the fighting. Landmines and impassable roads have cut off large parts of the country. But oil exports and foreign loans have spurred economic growth and have fuelled a reconstruction boom.