The Case of Angola: Draft Law on Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)
In May 2023, the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), the ruling party in Angola, introduced a draft Law on Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in the National Assembly. This draft bill was approved in general terms on May 25, 2023, without any prior consultation with Angola’s civil society organizations (CSOs).
The immediate reaction from CSOs was one of condemnation. CSO members began issuing statements, publishing videos and op-eds in newspapers, and hosting roundtable discussions on radio stations. All these efforts aimed to shed light on the potential dangers this draft bill posed to Angola’s young democracy, which emerged following the dissolution of the former U.S.S.R. on December 31, 1991.
The outrage among CSOs and pro-democracy activists quickly escalated as they mobilized to raise awareness about the draconian and repressive nature of this proposed law, which threatened to undo Angola’s significant progress towards democracy. Many viewed this draft bill as a direct assault on the freedom of association that Angola has embraced since 1992.
Local Impact of Angola’s Draft Law on NGOs
The American Bar Association (ABA) analyzed the draft bill and concluded that it was introduced under the pretext of compliance with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) Recommendation 8, which aims to address terrorism and money laundering risks. However, the law, in its current form, fails to address these concerns and instead imposes excessively harsh regulatory, supervisory, and disciplinary measures, including the power to suspend and terminate NGOs, that would severely curtail the independence and autonomy of Angolan CSOs.
At the local level, the draft bill sparked the emergence of a new movement led by CSOs, uniting organizations across Angola against the draft bill. Notably, no single organization welcomed the bill. This marked a historic moment in Angola, demonstrating the power of CSOs when they unite.
The Grupo de Trabalho de Monitoria dos Direitos Humanos – GTMDH (Human Rights Monitoring Working Group – HRMWG), a coalition of several CSOs in Angola, including the MUDEI movement and the international NGO Friends of Angola, held a press conference on May 30, 2023, to denounce the draft bill that had been approved in general terms by the ruling party in the National Assembly.
The message from HRMWG was clear: “[We] are holding this press conference to express our unequivocal position on the President of the Republic of Angola’s intention to restrict and manipulate the right to freedom of association as provided for in Article 48 of the Constitution of the Republic of Angola.”
Regional Impact of Angola’s Draft Law on NGOs
Angola’s experience is not unique. When Friends of Angola (FOA) reached out to the American Bar Association (ABA) to raise awareness about the draft bill in Angola, it became apparent that this was not an isolated issue in the region. Several governments on the African continent have used repressive legislation to suppress and restrict freedom of association. Countries such as Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Zambia were among the most recent examples where laws were being enacted or considered to curtail the activities of NGOs and civil society groups.
On August 29, 2023, the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteurs on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, and the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms While Countering Terrorism sent a joint letter to Angola’s President, João Manuel Gonçalves Lourenço, expressing their concerns about the draft bill on NGOs. They noted that if the bill passed in its current form, it would impose overly stringent regulations and grant unwarranted government control over the operations of NGOs.
The Decline of Democracy and Civic Space in Angola
CIVICUS, a global alliance of civil society organizations monitoring civic space, rated Angola as a repressed state with restricted civic space in March 2023. This rating followed a tense electoral period in August 2022, where the ruling MPLA secured a slight majority, and President João Lourenço won a second term. The MPLA had remained in power since Angola’s independence in 1975. Some argue that the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association are more restricted in Angola today than during the governance of former President Jose Eduardo dos Santos.
It is worth noting that this is not the first time an Angolan president has attempted to implement such a draconian and repressive law. In 2015, former President dos Santos issued Presidential Decree no. 74/15 for the Regulation of Non-Governmental Organizations, which was later declared null and void by the Constitutional Court due to unconstitutional passage.
Civil society groups remain united in their opposition to this draft bill. However, neither the ruling party nor President Lourenço has addressed the concerns raised by CSOs and the United Nations Special Rapporteurs regarding this repressive legislation. The draft bill currently awaits review in a specialty committee in the National Assembly, where the MPLA holds the majority and can initiate and approve bills. If it is approved, it will become law upon the President’s signature. Such a development would not only force several domestic and international NGOs to close their offices but also represent a setback for the democratic progress Angola has made since 1992.
Civil society groups have a strong legal and moral argument to prevent this draft bill from becoming law. Angola is a party to various international human rights standards, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR), all of which protect the right to freedom of association (in Articles 20, 22, and 10 respectively). These standards should serve as a strong foundation for rejecting the draft bill and upholding democratic values in Angola.
Florindo Chivucute is the founder and Executive Director of Friends of Angola (FOA), and an activist with 10 years of experience as a Project Manager. Florindo earned his Master’s degree in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from George Mason University and has over 10 years of experience working in non-profit organizations and international development.