Anglosan elections

2008-09-12 00:00

Angolans have waited a very long time to exercise their democratic right at the ballot box. The last chance 16 years ago led to the resumption of civil war. The recent election marked a symbolic end to one of Africa’s worst post-colonial conflicts — all the more striking because the MPLA and Unita have now traded ballots instead of bullets. But how far does the peace dividend extend?

Superficially the poll has delivered a strong endorsement of President José Eduardo dos Santos and the ruling MPLA, which received over 80% of the vote. The strongest criticism of the polling process concerned chaotic organisation, but European Community observers refused to declare the elections free and fair. In the run-up they noted state funding of the MPLA and domination of the electoral commission by party functionaries and controlled media.

Regardless of elections, the president continues to exercise extraordinary control over ministers, legislation and the budget. Corruption is rife and seven of the 10 richest Angolans are government officials.

Dos Santos, a Communist-trained engineer, has used his position to become the third wealthiest man in Brazil with extensive holdings in Portugal. His fellow citizens joke that MPLA stands for Movement for the Presidential Looting of Angola.

Massive oil revenues mean that Angola is no longer beholden to multilateral lenders who insist on fiscal discipline and strict budgetary management: one quarter of national revenue simply disappears. Having become the largest petroleum producer in Africa, Angola is achieving astonishing rates of economic growth. But the benefits are failing to reach the masses: most socio-economic indicators such as child and infant mortality, literacy levels and health provision fall woefully short. Extreme poverty is endemic and most Angolans live on less than $2 a day.

This was no triumph for democracy. The elections were a double façade for the continuation of a monopoly of power — economic as well as political — by the ruling elite. In terms of the globalised economy, Angola is a success story. But while its people may have voted, fundamentals of the African Renaissance such as real democracy, human rights and good governance remain elusive.

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