The influencers in Angola

On paper, Angola is a democratic republic where basic human rights and freedoms must be respected. In reality, power and money are concentrated around a small elite in the capital and the people's opportunities to influence are small. However, many people are working to change that.


In a tired office building without an elevator in central Luanda, Madalena Alexandre comes up the stairs smiling and slightly out of breath. She works in the organisation Forum de Mulheres Journalistas para Igualdad no Genero (FMJIG). The name can be translated to The Female Journalists' Forum for Equality. NCA has collaborated with FMJIG for several years.

The office of the organisation is situated on the 7th floor and the view is a curious mix of polished high-rise buildings and tired tin roofs, a visual reminder of the vast disparity that characterizes Angola in general and the capital Luanda in particular.

Wealth and poverty

Angola is rich in natural resources such as oil and diamonds, but large parts of the population still live in poverty. Where oil revenues in countries such as Norway have gone to build a resilient welfare state, Angola's oil wealth has primarily enriched the political elite.

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Madalena ushers us into a small office, where five workplaces and a kitchen are squeezed in. Here, FMJIG works for human rights and equality and to combat gender-based violence and the exploitation of people who work in the extraction industry. They target both decision-makers and the population at large.

"It is not enough with written laws, we also need to change attitudes in society," she says.

She describes the work as challenging. Resources are limited and it is difficult to obtain the information you need - both for journalists and organizations such as FMJIG. In addition, there is a large amount of fake news that makes it difficult to verify information if you actually get hold of it. Nevertheless, she sees some positive trends.

"There is more respect for human rights, and attitudes towards equality are better. Angola is a chauvinistic society, but women are taking up more and more space. There is a big difference".

Madalena also sees some positive signs in their work with the press and media.

"There is a small opening now. The President is talking about freedom of the press, and that is a good sign. At the same time, the editorial line of the state media is dictated by the President's cabinet. Privately owned press is freer, but the authorities control which areas they are available in. State-owned press is available everywhere," she explains.

The political party MPLA has been in power in Angola since 1975. In the period 1975-1992, the MPLA was the only permitted party in the country. In August 2017, President José Eduardo dos Santos stepped down after 38 years in power.

There was some optimism with the change of President, but the replacement João Lourenço has not yet initiated major changes in key areas such as corruption and distribution of resources.

"The partnership with NCA means a lot to us. It is the only stable financial support we have, and it also gives us support in our advocacy work. We have had good results from the collaboration, so we hope it will not end," says Alexandre.

A new consciousness

In a fenced yard on the edge of downtown Luanda we find the offices of Mosaiko. The human rights organisation was started by Dominican missionaries in 1997 and works to spread knowledge and contribute to a strong and committed civil society. The goal is for most Angolans to be able to get involved and gain greater influence.

An amphitheatre with colourful paintings has been built outside the office premises. This is used, among other things, for meetings between young people and politicians.

Veronica Pereira worked as a journalist before joining Mosaiko five years ago. She also describes a challenging existence. The relationship with the authorities is unpredictable, and it can be downright dangerous to be an activist.

"Most of the activists are in Luanda. It is difficult in other areas, but young Angolans are aware. Even if the authorities do not want change, changes are happening."

She points to social media as especially important for the new generation of activists in Angola.

"Now there are Angolans all over the world who take up issues that engage them in social media. We receive impulses from all over the world, and it is impossible for the authorities to control the flow of information in the same way as before. There are more and more activists. Something is happening," she says.

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Growing opposition

When it comes to more extensive changes to the political system in the country, she is less optimistic.

"I would like to believe that it is possible, but the question is whether it is realistic. There is so much nepotism. It is difficult to maintain hope in such a situation. I had hope before the election. The election was an anti-climax, and now we have to do the job all over again."

The MPLA won 51% of the vote in the 2022 elections. The main opposition party, UNITA, made a strong showing, ending up with 44% of the vote. Never before has there been such a small margin between the two parties, and the opposition is growing.

Independent information

In a building that shares a backyard with a church and a school we find Radio Ecclesia, a radio channel owned by the Catholic Church.

"Our main goal is to tell the truth and provide independent, neutral information to the people," says Antonio Estevao.

"Being a voice for the voiceless is fundamental for both radio and the Church. We work closely with the church within social issues, health, education, human rights, and charity. We don't just talk, we also take action," he continues enthusiastically.

Free press and local elections

Estevao says, like FMJIG, that it is difficult to get access to public sources, and that there is still a ways to go before the press in Angola is free. Radio Ecclesia is, for example, obliged to broadcast speeches by the President.

Radio Ecclesia works to ensure that the population, also outside the capital, gets the influence they deserve.

"We want local elections. It is incredibly important for development. Now it is the central authorities that have to fix the problems in the districts, and that is not happening," he says.

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NCA in Angola

NCA has been present in Angola since the early 1980's, and is working to combat inequality through political influence, strengthening democracy and civil society, as well as supporting drought-prone communities in southern Angola to become more resilient to climate change.

Photos: Norwegian Church Aid/Håvard Bjelland.