Professor Bender, the Open Society Institute's Raphael Marques, and Angolan Embassy official Evaristo José, offered three different views of Angolan political, economic, and social evolution.
Bender began the program by outlining the positive aspects of today's Angola: the absence of ethnically based conflict, a multi-party government, the return of many internally displaced persons and their increasing work in the agricultural sector, relatively low HIV/AIDS indices, and slow progress towards transparency. On the negative side, Bender observed that Angola has had no real peace dividend and, because of war-related debt obligations, would be seriously constrained financially until the year 2009. He also stressed Angola's public works problems and salary deficiencies in the policing of Angolan cities. Most importantly, according to Bender, President Dos Santos' postponement of elections is of particular concern to Angolans. He added that there is also a large disparity between MPLA and UNITA campaign funds and media exposure. To conclude, Bender foresaw Angola's short-term future as bleak, lacking in transparency and foreign investment. However, Bender's long-term predictions were more positive: oil construction yielding to a future surplus, an eventual change from the MPLA government to new leadership, and a significantly more transparent Angola.
Marques stressed the importance of the current violence in Cabinda, arguing that it is a gauge of all that remains to be done in Angola. With vivid descriptions of crimes against the people of Cabinda, Marques said that political intolerance reigns and that the citizens of Angola are "hostages" of the MPLA. He cited examples of clashes between police and civilians at demonstrations and the stripping of titles of officials who were suspected to have met with members of the opposing political party. Marques asked how Angola could move forward, given the absence of peace in Cabinda, the lack of respect for the constitution of Angola, and the recent "false" promises of jobs to Angolans. Marques described a new initiative by several opposition parties and civil society organizations called the Campaign for a Democratic Angola. Its purpose is to "carve out a process that may generate more dialogue and foster a concrete agenda of democratization leading up to elections." Marques called upon the United States to cease indiscriminant support of the government of Angola and to begin to support democracy and human rights protection in Angola. "It ought to send a strong and public message to such a brutal regime to either embrace democracy or lose its support," said Marques.
José reviewed the progress that the Angolan government has made and is continuing to make since Jonas Savimbi's death two years ago. He emphasized that peace was consolidated with (1) the cease-fire and comprehensive peace agreement that was signed in 2002, (2) the following demobilization of the combatant forces and the creation of a unified army, and (3) the unification of UNITA into a legal political party. Differing with Bender's analysis of Angola's peace dividend or lack thereof, José reported that the Angolan government is doing what it can to capitalize on the peace dividend. According to José, the dividend is being used in three ways to improve Angolan society. First, José argued, the dividend is being used in political reforms to hold national party conferences, draft a new constitution, and improve human rights conditions. Second, José stated, social reforms are underway to refine the poverty reduction strategy, increase social spending to 33%, and launch a new national education program with UNICEF. Third, economic reforms are being implemented to encourage foreign investment and to lower inflation; in addition, a new petroleum law is being drafted. Concluding his presentation, José outlined the challenges the government now faces. He cited the need to implement an identity card program to facilitate voter registration and make possible the holding of elections; the need to diversify the economy, to improve the agricultural sector and to reduce unemployment; and the need to eradicate land mines, to complete the reintegration process, to improve public works, and to address the health needs of the population.
During the question and answer section of the program, panelists addressed several aspects of their presentations in depth. José responded to the concern that Dos Santos continues to postpone the date of elections because he is waiting for prime conditions for an MPLA win. José said that the government is simply waiting for an environment that will allow free, fair, and just elections. In terms of the date of the elections, José estimated that the president would set a date after the new constitution is approved; he forecast that elections would occur sometime during the second half of the year 2006.
On the issue of Cabinda, José reported that negotiations have begun and the MPLA is now looking for partners to help to solve the Cabinda problem. Change in Cabinda, José said, needs to come from Cabindans. Secession, he added, is not an option that the government is willing to consider. Bender, in answering a question regarding the real impact Cabinda can have on the elections, said the population of Cabinda is too small to have a strong impact on elections. However, he said that the government must offer Cabinda a larger share of oil wealth to avoid continuing conflict.
Nicole Rumeau, Program Associate, 691 4097
Howard Wolpe, Director