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The elections in Angola will have a significant impact on America

Due to the significance of this weeks Venezuelan elections and while they received little attention from the U.S. government, why has so much coverage been given to Arles’s municipal elections?

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The general election in Angola this week may be one of the most significant in the continent for some time. So, why has the United States government paid them so little mind?

The Biden administration has been understandably preoccupied with the tense election in Kenya, but many of the same issues that have been raised in the wake of those polls — including the possibility of electoral violence, regional instability, foreign authoritarian influence, and economic considerations — are also at stake in Angola.

The People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola has ruled the country since independence, but the upcoming elections are expected to be the most close in the country’s history (MPLA). Support for the new UNITA-led opposition coalition, the United Patriotic Front (FPU), has surged, especially among younger voters who are dissatisfied with President Joo Lourenço’s handling of key issues like the economic downturn and high levels of corruption. In response, the MPLA has used its parliamentary majority to pass new electoral legislation that will severely damage confidence in the electoral process.

For the most part, no matter who wins the election, violence and instability will be a result.

What’s the US interest in this? For decades, the United States has asked Angola to help maintain peace and security in the Great Lakes area. There is an ongoing border conflict between Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Angola has been serving as a mediator between the parties involved by hosting several meetings between Rwandan President Paul Kagame and DRC President Félix Tshisekedi. Over the years, thousands of refugees from the DRC have been welcomed by the Luanda government.

Washington has been hesitant to publicly criticize the Angolan government for its missteps and treatment of opposition and democracy activists because of the country’s importance as a peacemaker in regional conflicts. However, by remaining on the sidelines in this way, the United States may unintentionally exacerbate post-election instability, diminishing Angola’s prospects for contributing positively to the region.

With longstanding ties to the MPLA, both Russia and China stand to gain from the current political unrest. “Democratic setbacks have widened openings for undue foreign influence” across the region, states the National Security Council’s Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa. China is Angola’s largest trading partner and loan provider, highlighting the importance of maintaining that relationship. Notably, Angola was one of 17 African countries that abstained from the March 2022 United Nations General Assembly vote condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine. If President Lourenço’s hold on power wanes and instability persists, the MPLA could grow closer to Russia and China than they were during the Cold War or the early 2000s.

Because Angola is the second largest oil exporter in Africa and the third largest Sub-Saharan trading partner for the United States, maintaining peace and order in that country is important to American business. An example of U.S. FDI in a strategically important country is the American-owned telecom firm Africell, which has recently expanded into the Angolan market with the help of a $100 million loan from the U.S. Development Finance Corporation. These recent economic gains and the progress made with U.S. development aid are at risk if election-related instability persists.

The United States must be ready to use its considerable influence in Angola to press the government to hold free, fair, and credible elections, and must be prepared to condemn any reports of irregularities, electoral violence, or arbitrary arrests of political opponents as Election Day approaches. The National Election Commission (CNE), the Judiciary, and Civil Society Organizations, Independent Media Outlets, and Political Parties could all benefit from increased U.S. financial and technical support for democracy and governance capacity-building programs in the long run.

Voters in Angola should feel secure in the knowledge that their ballots will be counted in this week’s election. The United States has a compelling moral and strategic interest in preventing a slide toward instability in this key ally and so must be willing to stand up for democracy in Angola.

Mike Brodo (@MikeBrodo) is a program associate for Southern Africa at the International Republican Institute, where Jenai Cox is the regional deputy director for Africa.

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