Angola’s Recent History
Located in the West coast of Southern Africa, Angola was under Portuguese colonial rule until November 11, 1975 when it became an independent nation. Quite symbolically the first Constitutional Law of Angola is dated 10th November 1975.
In 1976, the United Nations’ General Assembly admitted Angola as a member of the United Nations, thereby recognizing the MPLA – Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola – government as legitimate.
In 1990 UNITA recognized José Eduardo dos Santos from MPLA as the President of Angola and in 1991 a new constitution and a new law, allowing the creation of new political parties, were approved (Law 12/91, of 6th May 1991 approving changes to the Constitution and Law 15/91, of 11th May 1991).
In the end of May of 1991, the Angolan government and UNITA entered into the General Peace Agreement (Acordo Geral de Paz – Acordo de Bicesse), to put an end to 16 years of war and elections were scheduled for 1992. The MPLA won the elections but UNITA did not recognize the elections’ results hence the country plummeted into war.
In the aftermath of the democratic election’s results Angola’s National Assembly approved the 1992 amendments to the constitution to change the single party political system into a multiparty system and to integrate several economic reforms legislation. It aimed as well to implement some of the terms and conditions of the General Peace Agreement entered into by the Angolan government and UNITA at Bicesse (Portugal) in the same year. The constitutional law as amended in 1992 is still in force and has not been amended since.
In 1994 the Lusaka Protocol tried again to bring peace to the country. Unfortunately to no avail as UNITA kept on expanding its presence throughout the country and reinforcing its military force. The 1992 constitution is now under revision to implement some terms agreed to between the Government and UNITA in the Lusaka Protocol.
The war only ended in 2002, with the death of UNITA’s leader, Jonas Savimbi and the celebration of the Luena Memorandum of Understanding, having UNITA become a non-armed political party.
Angola is a member of the United Nations, Southern African Development Community (SADC), the African Union (AU), the Economic Community of Central African States (CEEAC) and the Community of Portuguese speaking countries (CPLP).
Overview of Angola’s Legal System
During colonial times Angola was under Portuguese Law, although the traditional customary law was in many cases tolerated or tacitly accepted.
When independence arrived, Angola abolished the old colonial system and its laws and rulings. However, in order to prevent a legal void the first constitutional law of Angola guaranteed that the laws and regulations of the Portuguese legal system in force in Angola would remain applicable until revoked or amended and insofar they did not go against the new Angolan Constitution and the Angolan revolutionary process in course.
Understandably, the Angolan legislator took the Portuguese legal system as a model when structuring its own. This was the natural option due to the previous colonial tie and the sharing of a common language and legal education.
Angola’s legal system can be considered civil law based (at least the formal legal system) and legislation is the primary source of law. Courts base their rulings on legislation and there is no binding precedent as understood in common law systems.
As to secondary sources, books are in reduced number (both in English and Portuguese) but there are a considerably large number of journal articles and studies (mostly in English), which can be found online.
The text of the Constitution of the Republic of Angola currently in force was adopted by Law 12/91 of 6th May 1991 and was further amended by Law 23/92 of 25th August 1992. The 1991 Constitution aims at reflecting the “prevailing reality” resulting from the important social, political and economical changes occurred in Angola in the turning of the 80’s to the 90’s and to foster and regulate those changes. The 1992 revision was made following the first multiparty elections and it intends to clarify “the political system, the separation of powers and the interdependence of sovereign bodies” outlining the essential principles of the political system so that the newly elected sovereign bodies could build a democratic state based on the rule of law.
The Constitution declares Angola as a multiparty democracy with a semi-presidential system.
According to the Constitution, the sovereign bodies in Angola are the President, the National Assembly, the Government and the Courts, which are separated but interdependent.
The current Constitution states that the President is both Chief of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. The President is elected by universal ballot for a five-year term and may be eligible for a second consecutive or discontinuous term.
The President has a consultative body called Conselho da República (Council of the Republic) to which he presides. This body advises the President in very specific situations such as the dissolution of the National Assembly, discharging the Government, declaration of war, etc.
The President also presides to the Council of Ministers and signs and promulgates laws approved by the National Assembly and Decrees approved by the Government.
The Government’s structure, composition and activities result from the Constitution and presently also from Law 16/02 of 1 December 2002 (and its amendments).
The Government is composed by the President of Angola, the Vice-President and the Ministers. Besides having executive powers the Government has legislative powers, either in areas of its own competency or through delegation of the National Assembly.
National Assembly & Government
The Assembleia Nacional (National Assembly) is a unicameral National Assembly with 220 seats, and its members are elected to serve five-year terms.
The National Assembly is Angola’s main legislative body, having the power to approve laws on all matters (except those reserved by the Constitution to the Government).
National Assembly members, Parliamentary Groups or the Government hold the power to put forward all draft-legislation. The Constitution determines the areas in which only the Assembly can pass legislation and all other areas in which the Assembly can delegate its legislative powers to the Government.
The National Assembly also approves international treaties on matters within its exclusive legislative powers, as well as peace treaties, Angola’s participation in international organizations, the rectification of borders, friendship, defense, military matters and any other matters put forward by the Government.
The Government also has legislative powers. These are directly and specifically set in the Constitution or may result from delegation by the National Assembly.
The President promulgates laws approved by the Assembly and signs Government Decrees.
The current constitution of Angola devotes an entire section to the court structure. The courts are independent sovereign bodies that administer justice on behalf of the people. They guarantee and ensure compliance with the Constitutional Law, laws and other legal provisions in force; protect the rights and legitimate interest of citizens and institutions; and shall decide on the legality of administrative acts.
The Angolan court structure is comprised by the following courts:
- Constitutional Court (Tribunal Constitucional)
Created in 2008 and has mainly decided about elections matters.
- Supreme Court (Supremo Tribunal)
It has national jurisdiction and works as 1st level court in a number of matters; as court of appeals for all provincial court decisions and as court of appeals for the municipal court decisions in criminal matters.
- Provincial Courts (Tribunais Provinciais)
There are 19 courts (one per province, except Benguela that has two) each with different divisions called “salas” for civil and administrative, family, labour, maritime, children & minors and criminal matters. Appeals from the decisions of the Provincial Courts go directly to the Supreme Court.
- Municipal Courts (Tribunais Municipais)
They have limited jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters in the municipal areas. Appeals from decisions of these courts go to the Provincial Courts in civil matters and to the Supreme Court in criminal matters.
Both the Commercial and Criminal Code were from the 19th century (the Portuguese ones). Just like in Portugal most of the Commercial Code is no longer in force and has been replaced by a number of un-codified/loose acts in corporate and commercial matters (some can be found in the Ministry of Commerce website).
Draft laws produced by the members of the National Assembly, Parliamentary Groups or the Government are sent to the President of the National Assembly, together with a detailed motivation.
The President of the National Assembly sends them to the relevant parliamentary commission for an opinion. As soon as this opinion is released the draft laws are included in the National Assembly’s agenda to be discussed, possibly amended and finally approved (or rejected) in the next plenary meeting.
Government decrees resulting from an authorization of the National Assembly can still be scrutinized by the later for amendments or ratification. These Government decrees are automatically ratified in case the National Assembly does not call for them.
After being signed or ratified, laws and decrees are sent for signing and promulgation by the President.
After signing and promulgation by the President all acts are published in Series I of the Official Gazette. The types of acts published are:
- Constitutional Laws
- Laws and Resolutions enacted by the National Assembly
- Presidential Decrees and Dispatches
- Decree-Laws, Decrees and Resolutions of the Council of Ministers
- Executive Decrees and Ministerial Dispatches, when of legislative nature
The date of the Acts is the date of publication in the Official Gazette (Diário da República de Angola) and is only in force after that date. In case the law does not expressly state a start date it is understood that laws enter into force in Luanda Province 4 days after publication, in other Provinces 15 days after publication and abroad 30 days after publication.