Angola: Deconcentration – Local government is the way forward

The situation in Angola is complex. The younger generation has shown the depth of their dissatisfaction with the lack of educational or employment opportunities. Young Angolans see nothing to help them in the talk of politicians and technocrats about the economy and they are desperate to change their lives for the better.

That is why, in the election that just took place, the younger generation overwhelmingly voted for change, and they did so in an unprecedented peaceful and orderly manner. No good end could be served by creating a situation in which peace and tranquility are abandoned for conflict and violence. Destructive behavior is not going to create jobs or put food on the table. There must be a political response that responds to the aspirations of the younger generation, that alleviates the pain of a demographic group that has shown that it wants a radical change in politics, government and the economy, and it wants this change now.

Why waste the excellent example of democratic and civic responsibility given by Angolans in the August 24 elections? UNITA is well within its legitimate right to challenge the results announced so far and demand a recount. There is a fair and proper way to do this, through existing official channels, and that is exactly what UNITA is doing. The National Electoral Commission (CNE) must respond within the letter and spirit of the law, review all signed tallies and compare them to ensure the correct results were recorded and this process must be transparent.

You cannot achieve this by subjugating the national sovereignty and independence of Angola to a foreign organization. Angola neither wants nor needs to take orders from Portugal or any other foreign or multinational body. Unusual attempts to bypass or sweep the system may seem like a practical short-term solution, but they will set an anarchic and disastrous precedent.

The people of Angola, and especially those under 30, need answers. And they deserve to have a complete picture that can allay their fears and suspicions. Whatever the final numbers, there could (and should) be an immediate political response to popular demand for a change in attitude and behavior on the part of government. One aspect of the change they need to see should include stronger checks and balances on the powers of the presidency and government, including a requirement for oversight by the National Assembly, giving the opposition a greater role in the audit of government activities. The government needs to move quickly to make some of the necessary changes it envisioned, to show the electorate that it is listening to them and acting on their wishes. In particular, the government must act urgently to set a date for provincial and local elections, ideally in 2023.

People in all provinces must be able to directly elect their local governments, so that people in these positions are not imposed by the national government but selected from their communities, with the local knowledge and contacts to identify and prioritize issues of most importance to their fields. Devolving powers to provinces and local authorities would show voters that the national government has heard what they want and is acting accordingly. This allows the electorate to be sure that they can elect people they know and hold them to account directly. This act alone would alleviate some of the anger and tension felt across the country.

People suspect the MPLA of being reluctant to cede the reins of power for fear that UNITA has no experience in the complex tasks of government and may worsen a difficult economic situation. Provincial and local elections will certainly devolve powers to UNITA in many places and gaining experience in direct control over local affairs can serve as essential preparation for the larger task of governing at the national level.

In addition, the devolution of administrative powers to provincial and local governments allows people outside the national capital to develop these skills and will create the capacity for a separation of powers between political parties that can form governments and an independent public administration and non-partisan.

Change is inevitable. The older generation has a duty to help the younger generation acquire the necessary knowledge and skills so that they can, when the time comes, take over. The August 24 election made it clear that Angolans are ready for alternância – for political parties to alternate in government, as happens in all established democratic systems. It seems obvious that the outgoing government should now focus its efforts on restoring reconciliation and civic harmony, and on creating the conditions necessary for future transfers of power, thus eliminating any possibility that external and predatory forces could again seize a moment of disunity for their benefit. Attitudes must change, so that instead of immediate electoral gain, parties are able to consider what can guarantee medium to long-term progress, leading to incremental but effective improvements in the lives of the many, and not just a few. Experts agree that moving quickly to organize local elections, ensuring rapid decentralization of governance to the local level, is certain to achieve a better balance of power between the MPLA (which ruled unopposed at all levels for 47 years) and the main opposition party. UNITY. The establishment of directly elected local governments will usher in a new era in which local decisions are made in the best interests of everyone in the community, and multi-party democracy has real meaning and impact.