Security forces continued to carry out serious human rights violations, including dozens of unlawful killings, using excessive and unnecessary force. The police violated the rights to freedom of expression while peaceful protesters faced arbitrary arrest and detention. Pastoral communities had their land expropriated for use by commercial farmers. The government responded inadequately to secure food and water for victims of land dispossession, drought and displacement. The embezzlement of state funds undermined the government’s ability to alleviate widespread economic hardship and address the failing health sector.
Concerns remained over the rising cost of living and Covid-19-related economic and social devastation. Public awareness of inequity, especially among the young, grew in response to the shocking contrast of images of starving people in rural areas, particularly in the southern region, and opulence in the capital, Luanda. While most Angolans faced severe food shortages, the “Operation Crab” investigation, led by the State Information and Security Services and the Criminal Investigation Service (SIC), uncovered millions in embezzled public funds in various currencies, and other assets, in the private homes of 24 senior government officials. The president was compelled to fire eight of them, most of whom were military generals and close to him, but public scepticism remained.
Security forces used excessive force to crack down on peaceful protests, killing dozens of protesters. In January, they shot and killed dozens of activists who were peacefully protesting against the high cost of living in the mining town of Cafunfo in Lunda Norte province. In addition to shooting at peaceful protesters on the streets, the security forces hunted them down in surrounding neighbourhoods and forests. While the exact numbers killed and injured remained unknown, reports emerged of bodies dumped in the nearby Cuango river.1
Although Lunda Norte province is rich in minerals, its residents lived in devastating poverty with poor education, health, transportation, water and sanitation services. To survive, many people, especially young men, practised artisanal mining of diamonds; some had been killed by diamond company security guards over many years. Suspected perpetrators of these killings enjoyed impunity for their crimes.
Arbitrary arrests and detentions
The authorities continued to arbitrarily arrest and detain peaceful protesters and community leaders. For example, following the violent repression of a peaceful protest on 8 February, the SIC arrested José Mateus Zecamutchima, the leader of the Lunda Tchokwe Protectorate Movement. They accused him of “association with evil-doers and armed rebellion” and “leading the rebellion to overthrow the government”, and transferred him from Lunda Norte to a detention centre in Luanda. He was denied contact with his lawyer and remained in detention.
On 30 May, the police in Cabinda arrested and detained several protesters after violently ending their procession and confiscating their property, including mobile phones and bags. The demonstration was part of a larger five-province protest against hunger, unemployment and the unaffordable cost of living.
Freedom of expression and assembly
Economic and social crises and human rights violations fuelled an increase in protests throughout the country. However, security forces stepped up nationwide operations to prevent them from taking place. For example, on 4 February, the police stopped members of the Contestatory Civil Society in Luanda from peacefully protesting to demand political alternatives to the 45-year rule of the government party, the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). Again, on 21 August, the police prevented civil society groups from conducting a protest in Luanda. The groups, who had organized under the consortium United Angola Movement, were peacefully protesting against human rights violations, increasing economic and social misery, and in favour of the newly announced United Patriotic Front, a union of opposition political parties set to challenge the MPLA in the 2022 general election.
On 30 August, the police prevented activists from gathering in front of parliament to protest against the new electoral law under parliamentary debate. On 25 September, they stopped hundreds of Angolan Student Movement members from peacefully protesting against fee increases in public and private secondary and post-secondary institutions.
Attacks on media freedom continued as the authorities suspended private television channels’ licences, while opposition militants prevented journalists from doing their work. On 19 April, the Ministry of Telecommunications, Information Technologies and Social Communication (MINTTICS) suspended the licences of television channels Zap Viva, Vida TV and TV Record Africa Angola, resulting in hundreds of job losses. MINTTICS alleged that these companies were operating under provisional registrations and would remain suspended until they regularized their status. The three media companies were taken aback by the suspensions, saying they had not received prior information or notification of any administrative procedure against them.2
On 11 September, National Union for the Total Independence of Angola militants prevented TV Zimbo reporters from covering their public protest in Luanda. While the reporters confirmed the incident, they preferred to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals.
Economic, social and cultural rights
Economic and social misery was intensified by the haemorrhaging of public funds into senior government officials’ personal bank accounts and their private homes. In June, the General Public Prosecutor announced the arrest of 24 senior military officials of the Office of the Head of State Security Affairs, accused of embezzling large sums of funds from state coffers. One of them was arrested at Luanda airport, as he tried to leave the country with two suitcases of cash. He reportedly owned a fleet of 15 luxury vehicles, 51 properties in Angola, Namibia and Portugal, in addition to boxes and bags found in his apartments which contained AOA 10 million, €4 million and US$1.2 million. Meanwhile, the country’s public debt exceeded 100% of the GDP.
Cunene, Huíla and Namibe provinces continued to face extreme weather conditions symptomatic of climate change. The prolonged drought resulted in food and water scarcity. Consequently, many people and their cattle died, and others sought refuge in Namibia. Diversion of traditional grazing lands by government authorities for commercial farming continued, violating domestic and international human rights standards, including by the failure of the authorities to carry out community consultations and provide adequate compensation; all these aggravated the crisis.
Right to food
Drought, alongside the unlawful occupation by commercial farmers of communal grazing land, eroded the ability of pastoral communities to produce food for themselves. Data indicated that low rainfall had caused the worst drought in 40 years and that malnutrition was at its peak due to lack of food, water and safe sanitation, with women, children and older people disproportionately affected.
The widescale death of cattle in a region which relies on such stock as the basis of its economic, social and cultural wealth, weakened the communities’ resilience. Pastoralists in Curoca, Oukwanyama and Onamakunde municipalities in Cunene province, Quipungo and Gambos municipalities in Huila province, and Virei and Bibala municipalities in Namibe province, lacked access to food, and dozens of them were dying of hunger and malnutrition, particularly older people and children.
Throughout the country, people living in poverty and in marginalized communities became severely food insecure and many turned to foraging amongst rubbish for food to feed themselves and their families.
Right to water
Extreme water shortages in the southern provinces, regions which are home to most pastoral communities, particularly affected women and girls who travelled long distances and spent extended periods searching for water. The communities competed with domestic and wild animals for unsafe muddy water, collected from naturally occurring holes and ponds.
In addition, water shortages created the conditions for hygiene-related diseases. Children, in particular, displayed signs of scabies and skin damage due to lack of regular bathing. Consequently, they scratched their skin day and night, often using rocks, until they bled, to experience momentary relief from itchiness.
Right to health
Covid-19 and its associated restrictions aggravated the effects of decades of underfunded services. This was most visible in the health sector, which was on the brink of collapse. A public outcry from the Angola Doctors Union went unanswered. On average, dozens of people died each day in Luanda hospitals alone. According to the union, despite the Covid-19 pandemic, the most common causes of death were malaria, malnutrition, acute diarrhoeal diseases, lack of medicines and, among health workers, overwork. The pandemic’s economic and social impact caused an exponential increase in the large numbers of sick people using hospitals that were unable to meet demand.