20 November 2006

Angola: Voter Registration Kicks Off Country's Electoral Process

When President Eduardo dos Santos raised his newly-issued multicoloured voter registration card to journalists and his party supporters on 15 November, it signalled the official start of a process that could lead to Angola holding its first elections in 15 years as early as by the end of 2007.

Dos Santos, who has ruled Africa's second largest oil producer since 1979, was the first person to register as voter registration kick-started a long-awaited journey towards elections.

The last polls were in 1992 when dos Santos defeated late former rebel leader, Jonas Savimbi.

The voter registration booths will remain open between 15 November 2006 and 15 June 2007, according to the National Electoral Commission (NEC).

About 7.5 million Angolans are eligible to vote out of an estimated population of 13.5 million people. Voter registration is mandatory.

There will be a 30-day break in the registration process during the festive season. In the first phase, to be held until next December 15, one million Angolans are expected to be registered.

The registration process will be conducted by 295 registration brigades scattered around the country.

A total of 61 registration brigades, involving about 600 people, will operate in the capital, Luanda, while the districts of Cacuaco, Rangel, Maianga and Ingombota will have six brigades each. Kilamba Kiaxi and Sambizanga will have eight registration teams each.

Authorities plan a ballot by the end of next year, but say logistical snags in a nation devastated by a protracted civil war prevent them from setting a date.

It is also still unclear whether the elections will be legislative, presidential, or both, and whether dos Santos will run.

The chairperson of the NEC, Caetano de Sousa, said any Angolan above 18 years was eligible to register. This includes those who lost their identity documents during the country's 27-year war who are expected to bring witnesses to prove they are bona-fide Angolan citizens.

To register voters have to produce identity cards or passports (even expired), driving licences, residence certificates, Angolan Armed Forces identification cards or credentials passed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Millions of Angolans were displaced during the war and forced to flee to Southern African Development Community (SADC) neighbours such as Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Another challenge during the voter registration period is the problem of uncleared mine fields, which make some parts of the country inaccessible.

The exact number of landmines scattered across Angola is not known, but the country is believed to be one of the world's most heavily mined.

The mines problem has also hindered the return and reintegration of potential voters who are living in other countries as refugees.

According to the UNHCR and International Organisation for Migration, some 370,000 Angolans have returned home from refugee camps spread across neighbouring Zambia and other African countries since a 2002 ceasefire agreement ended almost three decades of war that killed hundreds of thousands, displaced millions and destroyed Angola's infrastructure.

Angola is sub-Saharan Africa's second-largest oil producer after Nigeria, and an important supplier to the United States and China.

The country has dislodged Saudi Arabia as China's main supplier of crude oil. Current output stands at 1.4-million barrels per day, 100 000 daily barrels more than initially anticipated. Most of the oil is pumped from offshore rigs operated by foreign companies.

Angola also produces around US$1 billion worth of diamonds annually.

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