YAOUNDÈ, Cameroon – As Angolans prepare for general elections in August, the African country’s Catholic bishops are already expressing concern over what they describe as a “dark and nefarious atmosphere” that has enveloped the country.
Angolans will vote to elect a new parliament and a new president, with current president João Lourenço seeking re-election.
He came to power in 2017 after the resignation of José Eduardo dos Santos after more than 30 years in power.
Gathered at their first ordinary general assembly of 2022 in the coastal province of Benguela – which is due to end on February 7 – the prelates spoke of the political tensions that were already boiling over, in particular between the country’s two main political parties, the MPLA and UNITY.
RELATED: Angolan bishops warn of deteriorating social situation
“There is a dangerous vacuum of dialogue between rulers and ruled, between party leaderships and between the various civic actors, further raising the levels of anxiety, radicalism, intolerance, indiscipline, physical and verbal violence, moral and psychological,” said Bishop José Imbamba, president of the Episcopal Conference of Angola and Sao Tome and Archbishop of Saurimo.
The Archbishop also accused the media of aggravating the situation, noting that state media “does not contribute in any way to social harmony, peace of minds and the culture of dialogue, democracy and Brotherhood”.
The comments echoed those of opposition leader Manuel Fernandes, who called state media “propaganda tools of the ruling party”.
“It is imperative that equal and impartial treatment be given to all potential candidates. We condemn the unequal posture that currently characterizes the posture of the public media. Negative media exercise can contribute to lying and potential electoral fraud,” Fernandes said.
RELATED: Drought keeps children out of school in Angola
Imbamba remained hopeful, saying 2022 is the year Angola needs to consolidate its “young and weak democracy”.
“A strengthened democracy undoubtedly contributes by its nature to the affirmation of human dignity, to the strengthening of justice, peace and the well-being of citizens,” the Archbishop said.
He called on political parties to respect each other during the election campaign, saying that the vote will only be truly free if the campaign “is based on mutual respect and if all recognized parties have the right and the opportunity to express their ideas “.
The prelate also called on Catholics “to avoid abstention” and “to renew their electoral cards”.
He also called on the Independent National Electoral Commission to guarantee the truth and transparency of the general elections.
“The elections will take place as we wish if they are well prepared – in truth, transparency, honesty and justice,” the Archbishop said.
Imbamba said the company was “looking forward” to the general election and called for a sense of public responsibility.
“We must invest, once again and with patience, in the civic education of citizens, education for democracy is cultivated,” he said.
He said he hoped the results of free and fair elections could begin to offer solutions to the many problems plaguing the country.
These problems include rising unemployment which, according to Imbamba, “continues to agitate social life…leading to a desperate youth.”
Official figures indicate that a third of the Angolan population is unemployed, with the youth unemployment rate as high as 59%.
“The poverty situation of many families remains appalling. We are still seeing scenarios of collecting food from dumpsters, on steps on roads adjacent to commercial outlets. The loss of purchasing power of families is a glaring fact and has been going on for many years, despite the measures that are taken here and there,” said Imbamba.
The Archbishop said that despite political tensions and economic difficulties, Angolans must still live together in love and harmony.
“We all have the right to promote these values above any political dispute, such as good coexistence, tolerance, fraternity, love of neighbor, respect for the opinion of others, permanent openness to dialogue, fraternity, peace, above all the nation, citizenship and well-being for all,” he insisted.