Many in Angola hoped that the Aug. 24 election could transform the reality in the African country, which has been governed by the same party since 1975.
The results, however, confirmed that the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), the once Communist party which fought Portugal and ended its colonial rule in the country in 1974, will remain in power for five more years under President João Lourenço.
The main oppositional force, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), has been claiming victory and claiming there were several irregularities in the electoral process. But the Constitutional Court rejected UNITA’s petition for a recount on September 8.
Throughout the country, which is facing a broad economic crisis – almost half of the Angolans live in extreme poverty – there is an atmosphere of frustration, especially among the younger generation.
“Young people were eager for change and now seem to be hopeless. This can produce social unrest in the future,” said Father Jacinto Pio Wacussanga, who has worked in the southern part of Angola for years.
Wacussanga said that MPLA has established “several mechanisms in order to keep control of the country,” something that makes hard to believe in any transformation through elections.
“The people want change, but it will only happen through the combination of several elements that could weaken the regime,” he said.
Before the election, several observers said the process was being distorted by the ruling party.
“The electoral commission changed the rules shortly before the election in order to exclude from the scrutiny center – where votes are counted – delegates from the parties of the opposition,” said Albino Pakisi, a former priest and a political commentator at Radio Ecclesia, a church-run radio station.
Pakisi added that the head of the Constitutional Court used to be a militant of the MPLA.
“Those denouncements are important to show to society what is happening in the country, but we do not have any hope that something concrete can be done to revert that situation,” he said.
Father Celestino Epalanga, a member of the bishops’ conference’s justice and peace commission, said that the role of the church, especially that of his commission, is to “keep putting pressure on the government and advocating changes that can benefit the poor and the young.”
“There is a great wish for change and MPLA will have to deal with it. It had a bittersweet victory. It was never so close to being defeated,” he told Crux.
Epalanga said that the bad electoral results may “awaken MPLA’s leaders and lead them to the creation of programs to provide housing and jobs for the people.”
“If the government keeps making the same mistakes from the past and fails to promote changes, it will be a total disaster,” he argued.
According to economist Carlos Rosado de Carvalho, the “Angolans sent a clear message to MPLA: they want change, and they want a separation between the party and the State.”
“Since independence, the government and the MPLA have been the same thing. For the first time now, the elections showed that the Angolans do not want it anymore. MPLA still has the majority in Congress, but with less members now, it will have to negotiate with the other parties in order to run the country,” he told Crux.
“Until now, MPLA has said that demonstrations against the government were organized by a handful of frustrated young men and women. Now, the youth appeared as the great catalyst of change. They are here to stay,” he added.
The church has already said in the past that the government should cease to be “arrogant and should listen to the people,” said Pakisi, and “now some clergy members will certainly continue to denounce the social problems and the government’s mistakes.”
“The MPLA will face a difficult scenario in the next few years,” he added.
One of those voices has been Wacussanga, who heads two non-governmental organizations that work with displaced peasants and members of traditional populations on the border with Namibia.
For years, he has been speaking to the international press about the devastating effects of an extended drought in the region which has been causing starvation, migration, and death.
President João Lourenço’s administration, however, has claimed that there is no mass starvation in Angola.
“Unfortunately, the government structured an educational system that does not contribute to open the people’s eyes. It also controls the means of communication. We need to work for the critical education of the people in order to liberate them. The pressure against the government has already begun,” Wacussanga said.