ANGOLA’S second election in 20 years will test the popularity of President Jose Eduardo dos Santos after a decade of peace brought fabulous wealth for some in a country rich in oil and diamonds, but left more than a third of its citizens mired in abject poverty.
The 70-year-old dos Santos, who has never been directly elected in 32 years in power, is widely expected to stay in the presidency in the legislative elections today that will also determine who gets to lead the former Portuguese colony.
Still, his opponents have grown outspoken, like thousands of young people who appeared at an opposition protest last weekend to demand that the elections be free and fair. Many of the protesters were unemployed, and angry that so many Angolans have not benefitted from the country’s resurgence after decades of war.
“Where does all our wealth go? Angola is rich, but Angolans suffer!” said Adriano Luca.
Jose Pex do Rio said he was protesting even though he belongs to dos Santos’ ruling party.
“This government needs to change,” he declared, adding, “Not all of us protesting against electoral fraud belong to Unita,” the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola and the biggest opposition party.
Among objections are alleged errors on the list of registered voters. “Even the dead will vote during these elections!” exclaimed Pedro Diogo.
Some 9,7 million people, about half the population, are registered to vote for nine contending parties and coalitions. The National Elections Commission rejected 18 opposition coalitions, along with a raft of complaints. Ascertaining voters’ identities could be a problem since, according to the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, only 5,7% of Angolans have any kind of legal document.
The scoreboard is mixed in the southern African nation which was a Cold War battlefield for 27 years, with dos Santos’ Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, or MPLA, backed by Cuban soldiers and a Soviet war chest, pitted against Jonas Savimbi’s Unita, which was backed by apartheid South Africa and the United States. Half a million people died in the war, more than four million — a third of the population — was displaced and much infrastructure was destroyed.
Since the war ended soon after Savimbi’s death in a clash with government troops, Angola has dominated the list of the world’s fastest growing economies and is sub-Saharan Africa’s second-largest oil producer, after Nigeria. Oil-backed credit lines from China — Angola is China’s number one oil supplier — have fueled a building boom of houses, hospitals, schools, roads and bridges. Average life expectancy went up from 45 in 2002 to 51 in 2011, and the average Angolan now has nine years of schooling compared to five in 2000. –– Reuters.