Sunday, July 17, 2005

Angola thinks about wrapping up elections begun thirteen years ago

In 1992, Angolans cast their votes in the first presidential elections since independence in 1975. Jose Eduardo Dos Santos won the election, but only by a plurality. This should have forced a second round of voting, but the nation was instead plunged back into civil war when runner-up Jonas Savimbi rejected the results outright. Savimbi was killed in 2002--either in combat, or by a CIA grown tired of its erstwhile puppet's pulling a Pinocchio on them, or by agents of Angola's old colonizer, Portugal. It hardly matters, since the relative peace and quiet since his passing sure makes it look like he needed to be shown the door.

Oddly, Dos Santos' government wants to explore the feasibility of finishing the elections started thirteen years ago, now that the runner-up is a corpse. Now I'm not too familiar with Angolan politics, but this looks to me like a tricky scheme to sideline all other opposition candidates by telling them that they cannot run in the elections in 2006, since the citizens will actually be voting in a run-off and not in a general election. Santos would be pretty much guaranteed to win a run-off between him and a replacement candidate from UNITA, partly because the return to violence in 1992 hurt UNITA's support but mainly because Dos Santos has since used his power to consolidate control over the media. I suppose this could also justify Dos Santos' declaring that he's actually beginning his first term in 2006, circumventing Angola's constitution's limit of two five-year terms. And speaking of the constitution, let's look at Article 57, Section 2:
The President of the Republic shall be elected by an absolute majority of valid votes. If no candidate obtains one, there shall be a second vote in which only the two candidates who obtained the greatest number of votes in the first and who have not withdrawn may compete. [Emphasis mine.]

It seems obvious to me that dying is tantamount to withdrawing from the race, since you've effectively withdrawn from all things earthly. Dos Santos' apparent inclination to a run-off against his deceased nemesis starts to look less and less like principled adherence to rule of law.

Dos Santos at the White House last year. The question is, is he coming or going?

As Angola lurches toward freedom and democracy, there are other issues of liberation at stake as well. Dos Santos' government maintains tight-fisted control over the Cabinda Province, where a half-million people claim they are a distinct cultural and national identity screwed by Portugal and handed to Angola for the sake of oil revenues. Cabinda has accused the Dos Santos government of kidnappings, torture, and killings in the region. Human Rights Watch published a report in late 2004 backing up these assertions.

Cabinda is frequently described as being in the north of Angola, which is like saying Vancouver is in the north of the United States. Cabinda shares no border with Angola, and whether it prefers to be Luanda's Alaska or its Panama should be up to its own people, especially in light of its claim that Angola violated international law by ignoring treaties and collaborating with Chevron-Texaco to raid Cabinda's oil wealth. The Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC) wants Dos Santos' government troops out, but whether FLEC can fill the void is debatable, given that they've already got two separate governments in exile, with two leaders and two websites. Not a good sign. (Click FLEC above for one website; click here for the second.) An independent Cabinda wouldn't be the smallest nation in Africa, but it would be a tiny, potentially rich and possibly politically divided country sandwiched between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of the Congo, two much larger states that have themselves been riven by ethnic strife and civil war lately.

The question of Cabinda is just one issue that will be better resolved in a free and democratic Angola. The actions of the Dos Santos government in the lead up to the planned 2006 elections should not be overlooked by the U.S. and the European Union. Pressure should be put on Luanda to relax restrictions on the press and on freedom of assembly. This is a region that has proven all too capable of returning to civil war after periods of peace and democratic progress. Let's do our best to help Angolans make sure it doesn't happen again.


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