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  • Angola to replace Kwanza to Dollar currency peg with exchange rate band

    By Robyn | January 17, 2018

    Angola’s central bank have announced plans to ditch the pegging of the Kwanza with the US dollar.  At the close of 2017 the formal exchange rate of Kwanza to US Dollar was pegged at 166:1, however the parallel market rate was nearly triple this this at 495:1. The central bank cited worsening shortages of foreign currency reserves and the imbalance between supply and demand amongst the reasons for the change in policy. Foreign currency reserves have rapidly depleted in recent years, hit hard by the crash in oil prices in 2014 which provided a key source of foreign currency.  Reserves are thought to have halved since 2013 to approximately $14 billion. The currency peg is to be replaced by a trading band which will maintain the value of the Kwanza within a set range. The parameters of the trading band were yet to be announced at the time of printing.

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    Dos Santos family under fire in Angola’s big business: A new path for Angola?

    By Robyn | January 12, 2018

    Since taking presidency in September 2017 President João Lourenço has made several high-level dismissals at a number of state-owned businesses. The most high profile of these saw the removal of his predecessor’s daughter, Isabel dos Santos, from her position as head of state owned oil company Sonangol in November. Ms dos Santos had been at the helm of the state owned oil company since June 2016, after being appointed to the role by presidential decree by her father. The dismissal came as a surprise to many, seemingly including Dos Santos herself as she stated to UK newspaper the Financial Terms that she intended to see out her five year term as President of the board at Sonangol less than a month earlier. She has been replaced by Carlos Saturnino, former Secretary of State for Oil. Dos Santos is regularly cited as the richest woman in Africa, but is generally unpopular in Angola, seen to have gained wealth via her father’s nepotism. Critics of the Dos Santos family’s extensive sphere of influence have praised the move as a bold indication that Mr Lourenço plans to carve out his own path as President. Indeed, her removal was not the only dismissal to effect the former president’s circle of familial influence.

    Lourenço also closed down government communications department GRECIMA, which held lucrative contracts with an enterprise co-owned by Welwitschia dos Santos, another of the former president’s daughters. The business interests of Jose Filomeno dos Santos have similarly come under fire, as the new administration suspended a contract with food testing laboratory Bromangol, a business associated with the eldest dos Santos son. At present Jose Filomeno dos Santos remains head of Angola’s sovereign wealth fund, although Mr Lourenço has suggested this may be subject to change pending the results of an external enquiry into the fund’s performance and governance.

    Given that President Lourenço was seemingly chosen and anointed by his predecessor some critics posited the Dos Santos dynasty would remain untouched by the new President. Consequently the unexpected redistribution of power has been welcomed by many Angolans, and is seen to represent a commitment to campaign promises to tackle corruption and cronyism. However, others are sceptical about the reshuffling of power positions, suggesting this is simply the prelude to the establishment of new patronage networks.  Only time will tell to what extent Lourenço’s actions signal commitment to development or an exercise to consolidate power.

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    Angola swears in first new president in 38 years

    By Robyn | September 28, 2017

    On Tuesday 26th September 2017 Angola swore in new president Joao Lourenco. Lourenco succeeds Jose Eduardo dos Santos who has been Angola’s head of state for 38 years. Both men are of the Movimiento Popular de Libertação de Angola (MPLA), the party which has ruled the nation since independence in 1975, with Dos Santos taking the helm in 1979.

    The inauguration follows last month’s elections, in which the MPLA won with 61 percent of the vote. A result notably lower than in previous elections. The outcome has been fervently contested by opposition party UNITA who boycotted the inauguration. However, UNITA’s insistence that the elections were marred by unfair media coverage and queries over vote-counting does not seem to have tainted the inauguration in the eyes of regional powers. President Jacob Zuma of South Africa was one of several African leaders to attend the inauguration.

    Prior to his leadership bid Lourenco was most recently Angola’s defence minister, and prior to this served as the party’s secretary-general for a number of years. He campaigned on the platform of guaranteeing the nation’s development and progress, creating job opportunities and improving health and school systems. He has also vowed to tackle corruption within the MPLA, a promise met with some scepticism by the MPLA’s critics.

    It remains to be seen to what extent Lourenco will be able to carve out a new path as president out of the shadow of Dos Santos. As previously reported in ACTSA’s Angola Monitor, despite stepping down as leader of the country Dos Santos remains leader of the MPLA, and with his two children occupying key positions of strategic and economic power in the nation many believe he will continue to hold considerable influence.

    If you would like to keep in touch with developments in Angola ensure you are signed up to receive the Angola Monitor, published quarterly by ACTSA. 

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    The Future of Demining in Angola: Women Lead the Way

    By Robyn | September 22, 2017

    UK based NGO The HALO Trust earlier this year launched a new project ‘100 Women in Demining in Angola’. The project hopes to train and employ 100 women in Angola as deminers, medics, drivers and mechanics, empowering women and boosting mine clearance in the country. In June HALO began  recruiting the first 20 female deminers from the province of Benguela in Western Angola. The women trained outside of Huambo and following completion of the rigorous training will return to Benguela to begin clearing live minefields and building a future for their home communities.

    The landmines are the dangerous remnants of the protracted civil war which ended in 2002, having consumed the country since independence in 1975. In the aftermath of the conflict it was estimated that 982 square kilometres of land were contaminated, in all 18 of Angola’s provinces. These landmines, laid on roads and tracks, around villages and buildings, have rendered large swathes of land inaccessible, massively impacting the livelihoods and security of the population. 15 years on some progress has been made with an estimated third of the country cleared of mines, but there remains a long way to go.

    Land mine clearance has historically been a male dominated industry in the nation, but HALO are looking to diversify their team and offer training and employment for women in an otherwise hostile climate. It is hoped that the scheme will provide employment and a source of income whilst empowering the women in their communities. Through incorporating the women into demining operations as skilled agents and an integral part of the process, the project repositions women as central to conversations on the future of their communities; thus recasting the limitations that birth and economic status has imposed upon them. Furthermore, looking to the future it is planned the women will be able to take the skills learnt in this role to contribute to the development of Angola in other ways.

    The first cohort of deminers were deployed in their home province of Benguela in August, where, according to HALO there are more than 80 known minefields. Since then the team have found 133 anti-personnel mines and cleared almost 8000 square metres of land. The second round of recruitment will be taking place this month and an additional 20 women will be trained in October.  HALO hope the project will lead the way for land mine clearance in the area, kick-starting both government led and local programmes.

    As ACTSA reported earlier this year,  funding cuts have seen many mine-clearance projects paused in Angola. The UK ceased bilateral aid to Angola in 2011 but with the recent commitment of £100million to mine action globally, Angola might possibly receive funding from this allocation.

    Read more on 100 Women in Demining in Angola at www.halotrust.org/100women

    To keep in touch with developments in Angola ensure you are signed up to receive the Angola Monitor, published quarterly by ACTSA. 

     

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    Angolan Elections: Angola will change the question is how much?

    By Tony | August 23, 2017

    Angolans are voting today, 23rd August in national elections. Whoever wins one thing is certain Angola will have a new president for the first time in 38 years. José Eduardo dos Santos is stepping down as President of the country but remaining the leader of his party, the MPLA.

    The person most expected to be the next president is the current Minister of Defence João Manuel Gonçalves Lourenço who is the MPLA’s candidate for President.

    While the focus is on the president – who is elected by the national assembly not directly – there will also be a focus on the turnout and the strengths of the various competing parties. Will the MPLA retain its commanding majority? (The MPLA received 72% at the last election), or could their majority drop to below 66%? If it does it will be unable to change the constitution.

    There have been concerns about the fairness of the electoral process and whether it has been significantly skewed in favour of the MPLA who have all the advantages of being the ruling party since independence in 1975. The EU is not sending an election observer team as they say they were not guaranteed access to all polling stations, in all parts of the country. However despite this they have sent some experts.

    Whatever the outcome of the election, with a new head of state, oil at around half its 2013 price and not expected to get anywhere near the 2013 level in the foreseeable future Angola will undeniably see some change. The question is how much and of what nature. Will it be very much a change of some key people, perhaps a change of style but no real substantial change? Or could the change be more far reaching than many currently anticipate?

    Angola suffered from a long and bloody war that left the country devastated. Much has been done to improve Angola’s infrastructure but the wealth and potential of Angola has so far not been used to significantly reduce poverty and inequality, nor improve health and education. All of which are key areas that many Angolans, whoever they vote for, are keen to see addressed. Thus there will certainly be change, but it remains to be seen if this change will lead to substantial and lasting improvement in the lives of the average Angolan.

    To keep in touch with developments in Angola ensure you are signed up to receive the Angola Monitor, published quarterly by ACTSA.

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    Angola Election: Observer missions invited but possibly no EU team

    By Robyn | August 3, 2017

    Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos has invited a number of organisational and individual observers to witness the forthcoming election. Amongst them are the African Union (AU), the European Union (EU) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) as well as former Presidents from Ghana, East Timor and Mozambique amongst others. Opposition party, the União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola (UNITA) have appealed to the US government and international community to closely follow the electoral process. However it is uncertain if the EU will send an observer mission. It is understood the EU have requested unfettered access to polling stations which the Angolans are said to have refused. Negotiations as to whether the EU will send an election observer mission were continuing in mid-July.

    The SADC Electoral Advisory Council (SEAC) and African Union (AU) delegations are already in the country evaluating preparations for the elections. Interior minister Eugenio Laborinho spoke following meetings with delegations from both parties, stating that learnings from previous elections had been made and security provisions safeguarded.

    There have been calls from all parties to avoid anti-democratic means, however some critics have questioned their commitment after protests for transparent elections in May were met with the arrest of 7 activists. Angola’s general election will take place on 23rd August 2017.  The largest opposition party UNITA have expressed some concern about the support in the state media for the ruling Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (MPLA).

    If you would like to hear more on Angola, ACTSA publishes the Angola Monitor, a quarterly publication covering the latest human rights, aid & development, economic and politics news from Angola.  Sign-up here.

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    Angola has a long way to go on human rights

    By ACTSA | December 12, 2016

    10 December was Human Rights Day. ACTSA’s Senior Campaigns Officer Sunit Bagree argues that Angola has a long way to go to improve human rights in the country.

    According to this year’s Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG), Angola has improved in terms of participation and human rights over the past decade. Despite this, however, only Swaziland performs worse than Angola among Southern African nations. Indeed, there’s still a great deal to be concerned about when considering civil and political rights in Angola. If one also assesses economic and social rights in the oil-rich country, the picture doesn’t improve.

    When it comes to human rights, much of the international attention this year has focused on the 17 youth activists who, in June 2015, attended a meeting to discuss politics and governance concerns only to be arrested and charged with preparatory acts of rebellion and criminal conspiracy. In a trial that attracted widespread criticism both domestically and internationally, these activists were sentenced in March to terms of between two and eight-and-a-half years. Three months later they were released from prison into house arrest, and in September they were granted amnesty by the Supreme Court. However, all but one of the 17 activists reject the amnesty, saying that they want their convictions overturned.

    But this case, while undoubtedly important, is only one example of repression in Angola. For instance, this year has witnessed allegations of a wave of extra-judicial killings in the capital, Luanda, by state organisations, in particular the Criminal Investigation Service (SIC). One report, by the journalist and human rights defender Rafael Marques de Morais, claims that over 100 extra-judicial shootings took place from April to September alone. According to de Morais, government sources have said that this is the direct result of pressure from the Interior Minister on the SIC to crack down on crime.

    There are also real fears that five new laws relating to the media, known as the Social Communication Legislative Package, will seriously restrict the right to freedom of expression. Human Rights Watch has argued that the laws provide ‘the government and ruling party expansive power to interfere with the work of journalists, and potentially to prevent reporting on corruption or human rights abuses’. The new laws, which were rushed through the National Assembly in November, give officials the power to raid the home or office of any person or organisation suspected of publishing information, even if this information is only published online (e.g. a social media post). Many journalists already engage in self-censorship, and this is only likely to increase as a consequence of the new laws.

    As for economic and social rights, drastic budget cuts (due to the sharp fall in the price of oil) over the past 15 months have resulted in outbreaks of diseases, shortages of essential medicines and huge increases in the price of basic food items. More broadly, the country’s leadership has largely failed to diversify the economy, and at the same time it has allowed corruption to thrive. Thus the strong economic growth experienced by Angola since the end of the war in 2002 hasn’t had a significant impact on the living standards of the vast majority of its citizens. Poverty and unemployment remained stubbornly high in the boom years. And some social indicators have been simply shocking for a long period of time, such as the country’s under-five mortality rate, which is actually now the worst in the world.

    In March, President José Eduardo dos Santos announced that he will step down from public office in 2018 after almost four decades in power. Some believe the President will not do this, especially if he thinks his interests will not be protected should he retire from public life. Others believe that his advancing age (he will turn 76 in 2018) and recent manoeuvring of close family members into key positions (two of his sons are on the central committee of the ruling MPLA and his daughter heads the state oil firm Sonangol) suggest that he will finally step down.

    Angola will hold national elections in 2017. Most expect the ruling Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (MPLA) to win. It won the last election in 2012 with 72% of the vote. If President dos Santos is re-elected as President by the National Assembly (the President is not directly elected) will he step down in 2018? If so, his successor’s commitment to inclusive institutions and the full spectrum of human rights will go a long way in determining whether all Angolans can be genuinely free and achieve their potential.

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    Angola Monitor: Oil price crash, yellow fever outbreak and much more

    By ACTSA | October 20, 2016

    The Angola Monitor is our quarterly look at the politics, economics, development and human rights issues in Angola. Each issue is produced in English and Read the rest of this entry »

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    Angola: President names his billionaire daughter as head of state oil company

    By ACTSA | June 3, 2016

    President dos Santos has appointed his daughter Isabel, who according to Forbes magazine is worth an estimated Read the rest of this entry »

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    Angola: activist ends hunger strike after 36 days

    By ACTSA | October 30, 2015

    Luaty Beirão ended his hunger strike on 27 October after 36 days with increasing fears for his health. Luaty Beirao was one of the 15 activists/dissidents arrested in June. The authorities accuse them of plotting rebellion. Amnesty International regards them as prisoners of conscience imprisoned  for their political opinions and for exercising their freedom of expression and association.

    Read more

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