Angolan Government

Angola was a Portuguese colony until 1975. Upon receiving their independence, the Angolans fought a twenty-seven years long civil war. The two parties were the Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). The MPLA was funded by crude oil revenues and received Soviet and Cuban aid and UNITA was funded by black market diamond sales and was supported by South Africa, China, and (secretly) the CIA. The stakes were raised in 1990 when new oil was found off the coast of Angola. Peace only came to the country after the leader of UNITA died and they surrendered to the MPLA.
The Angolan government functions like a gang because its members consolidate power and money and control the people through a combination of extreme poverty and fear. Angola is technically a multiparty presidential republic which has been led by President Jose Eduardo dos Santos of the MPLA party for the past thirty-eight years.

The other political party is UNITA, but only 17% of voters identify with this party because it is very dangerous to disagree with the MPLA. Angola is not a police state, but critics and protestors of MPLA have been jailed, beaten, tortured, and executed. People are afraid to talk on the phone because the government may be listening. Although the Angolan constitution promises many of the same freedoms given to Americans, very few of these freedoms are actually awarded and the planes of government opponents go down, people disappear, and activists are ambushed. In 2012, two activists disappeared after an anti-government protest and after a year the attorney general admitted that they had been kidnapped and probably killed.
When it was founded, the MPLA was a communist party, but they adopted a form of “crony capitalism” in the 1990s. The generals, well-placed officials, and the president and his family took personal ownership of the country’s riches, creating a huge income gap between government workers and the general Angolans. Approximately 43% of Angolans live on $1.25 per day or less, but living in the capital of Angola, Luanda is more expensive than living in Tokyo or Singapore. Despite the millions of starving people, the country does not accept any foreign aid. This means that the government is completely self-sufficient and isn’t obligated to conform to the international community’s human rights standards.

Angola is Africa’s second largest oil producer after Nigeria, and they rely on oil for about 98% of their exports and about 75% of their total income. The state’s oil company is called Sonangol and is led by Isabel dos Santos, the daughter of the president. Sonangol’s profits rival those of Coca Cola and Amazon and it is involved in nearly all sectors of the Angolan economy including property, healthcare, banking, aviation, and even football. The oil company often acts like a finance ministry or national bank because it can invest public funds and it regulates the entire Angolan oil sector.
In early July, 2016 Angola entered into discussions with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) because dropping oil prices had severely impacted the economy. The IMF visited Angola and made an offer of $4.5 billion in aid, but Angola decided to cut off talks at the end of the month. Many economists are criticizing Angola because they rely very heavily on their oil revenues. Inflation was nearly 30% in May, the highest level since 2005 and the kwanza has lost about 35% of its value against the dollar. The government needs to find a bail out soon, either from China or the IMF, or they will face grave economic consequences.

Corruption is widespread in Angola. Deals and contracts are often awarded to the friends and family of government officials rather than the most efficient or effective company. The government is ostensibly working with the World Bank to face corruption, but this effort does not extend to Sonangol or the president despite about $32 billion disappearing between 2007 and 2010 only to be found in secret Sonangol spending. Angola has frequently acknowledged their corruption problem, but they seem uninterested in making the economy and government fair and accessible to all their citizens.
The Angolan government functions like a gang because they keep all of the money and power within a small circle of officials. Oil drives the economy and only those connected to it can survive in Angola’s fierce capitalistic society. There are extreme rates of corruption and critics of the status quo are brutally punished. The consolidation of power in Angola has pushed the general people to the periphery of society, but the government’s attitude may change as oil prices drop and the economy needs to develop and rely on other sectors.

Mugabe’s Military Might

The southern African country of Zimbabwe is home to one of the world’s longest-serving elected leaders, Robert Mugabe. At 92 and quickly approaching the end of his “president for life” term, Mugabe was elected prime minister in 1980 and has managed to hold on to power to this day. Such a long tenure, however, does not come without some figurative bumps in the road. Mugabe has used Zimbabwe’s military as a means of enforcing his rule since his first bloody years as head of state, and he has found use for them as recently as last year. Such extreme use of a military group with an aim to preserve and embellish the existing government seems gang-like, and the main reason that Mugabe has maintained power for so long.

When the British colony of Rhodesia declared its independence in 1970, the party in power represented the country’s white minority, a minuscule fraction of the 98% black African population. Two major opposition parties came to the fore, one (the Zimbabwe African National Union) led by Robert Mugabe. Mugabe won in an overall landslide, but was still concerned with his party’s natural rivalry with the other opposition party, the Zimbabwe African People’s Union. Much of Mugabe’s support had come from his own Shona-speaking north, while ZAPU’s leader, Joshua Nkomo, hailed from the Ndebele-speaking south. To stifle any possible dissent, Mugabe dispatched an elite, North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade which massacred as many as 20,000 members of the Ndebele community and viciously fought any resistance that cropped up in the region from 1983 to 1987. This large-scale atrocity occurred in order to enforce Mugabe’s new power and ensure that nothing stood in his way of government control. The Fifth Brigade, which answered directly to Mugabe, served as a personal military group—much like a gang—to ruthlessly ensure superiority.

In more recent times, the military’s presence in government affairs indicates how heavily Mugabe relies on it for his personal gain. In 2008, due to Zimbabwe’s disastrous economic situation, analysts estimated that Mugabe would face great difficulty in securing himself another term. His opponent, Morgan Tsvangirai, won the first round of voting, 49% to 42%. After these statistics were released to the public, things got violent. Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party threatened to kill supporters of Tsvangirai and viciously beat thousands through the use of Zimbabwe’s military, forcing Tsvangirai to step out of the second round of voting. Further, during the time when it seemed that Tsvangirai could possibly have been the new president, a small group of military officers loyal to Mugabe briefly took control over the country. The message Mugabe sent to his country’s citizens was clear: vote ZANU-PF or die. This brutality, which led to thousands being forcibly removed from their homes, is further evidence of behavior common in gangs. In the 2008 elections, Mugabe used violence and incited fear to force the common people to do his bidding.

Since Robert Mugabe was first elected, he has exercised his power in Zimbabwe with an iron fist through its military. His first years in office, defined by the massacre of a rival ethnic group, served as prime example of what a leader can  do given enough control over the military. He becomes a sort of gang leader, ordering an organized group of violent cronies to do his bidding and to ensure the stability of his power. The 92 year old Mugabe’s reign finally nears its an end, as his health continues to decline and more and more individuals voice their opposition to him and their hope for a bright future of Zimbabwe. At this point, Mugabe’s iron grip seems to be loosening, as military officials are starting to join with his opponents. This can only come with knowledge of his approaching death, however, and does not detract from the fact that Mugabe has ruthlessly ruled Zimbabwe with a gang that has served its leader well.

The Lord’s Resistance Army: A Small, Volatile Guerrilla Group Desperate for Survival

Joseph Kony has evaded the spotlight of international governments for decades: sometimes literally hiding in the dense forests of Central Africa, other times skirting around African leaders’ radars of what constitutes a “threat.” His guerrilla group, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), may be a small, dwindling force at the present, but their sporadic tactics demonstrate that they should not be underestimated.

The LRA originated in northern Uganda in 1986 as a result of a conflict against the Ugandan government headed by President Yoweri Museveni. At the time, Kony had high hopes of seizing the territory of northern Uganda and creating a Christian theocracy, supposedly instructed by the Holy Spirit. His interpretation of Christianity would be the rule of the land. Kony’s initial political aspirations, however, were cut short when the Ugandan armed forces finally managed to stamp the LRA out of their country by 2006.

Perhaps the glare of publicity from the proceeding Juba peace talks between the LRA and the Ugandan government incited volatility in Kony: after a two-year peace process, he turned down the final agreement. Some think Kony used this time to allow his forces to recuperate in secrecy, while others believe the International Criminal Court (ICC) warrants placed on top LRA leaders (including Kony himself) thwarted any prospect of surrender by the erratic guerrilla.

Since the start of the Juba peace talks, the LRA has no longer operated in Uganda. Instead, they have been scattered throughout the border regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Central African Republic (CAR), and present-day South Sudan. In doing so, the LRA split up into smaller groups, originally still under the strict command of Kony, as they pillaged and terrorized villages to survive and assert their dominance. After being forced out of Uganda, the LRA—rather than suffering—thrived in the power vacuum of the forested areas comprising the border regions of these three Central African nations. In this sense, the LRA was able to fulfill its role as a guerrilla group, taking over remote places with poor governmental security.

While the international community, including the US and the UN, worked to create effective armed forces to eradicate the LRA (such as through “Operation Lightning Thunder”), Uganda’s President Museveni stopped seeing the now-peripatetic guerrilla group as a threat and pulled out a large portion of his LRA search force in mid-2010. The Ugandan Foreign Minister, Oryem Henry Okello, even claimed that the guerrillas are “not a force to be reckoned with, they are very far away… and they are no longer a threat to the people of Uganda.” Similarly, the CAR, the DRC, and South Sudan saw the LRA as a distant, isolated danger. Moreover, the DRC, due to unfavorable relations with Uganda after troops crossed into the DRC earlier in the fight against the LRA, is more concerned about the “hazard” of Ugandan forces in Congo than the risks posed by the LRA. In 2011, the DRC decided to forbid Ugandan forces from operating on their soil. Ultimately, separate political issues and a lack of worry and urgency among some of the LRA-afflicted countries have impeded cooperation to finally oust the group.

Even with some of these intergovernmental issues, the LRA’s forces, spread out over large areas, declined. Internal cohesion became difficult for Kony to uphold, especially under pressure—both military action and defection persuasion—from international forces and agencies. Uganda, for example, put forth an Amnesty Act in 2000 and renewed it in 2015, and upwards of 27,000 former LRA rebels have left the group via this option. This is just one example of the successful effort to encourage LRA combatants to defect: US forces, NGOs, and a UN team have actively broadcast announcements urging Ugandan members of the LRA to “Come Home.”


The external pressure is a backdrop to severe internal strife within Kony’s ranks. In order to maintain control over the LRA, Kony has had to resort to punishment of disobedient officers. In 2013 alone, Kony likely prescribed the execution of five leading members whom he deemed unruly. Out of disagreement with Kony’s tactics, numerous LRA leaders have severed ties with the group’s founder within the past couple of years. In this recent declining phase, the LRA takes on some qualities of a predatory gang with corrupt infighting, no political goal, and a focus on survival. They are still alive, however: they continue to ravage villages and abduct civilians, and Uganda recently withdrew troops from CAR due to a perceived lack of commitment from the international community to finish off the group. The splintered factions that remain are but a shadow of the strong guerrilla group that once was; their demise, nonetheless, is waiting to materialize.