The Politics of Authoritarian Resilience in Angola From 1992-2017: Co-Optation, Repression, and Service Provision in Five Provinces

Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Political Science

First Advisor

Jim Butterfield, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Priscilla Lambert, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Susan Hoffman, Ph.D.

Fourth Advisor

Anne Pitcher, Ph.D.


Even though the literature argues that authoritarian regimes are fragile and short-lived, empirical observation shows otherwise. The 2018 Freedom House Report shows that the world has experienced a decline in political and civil liberties since 2006;1 the first such decline since 1974. Around 25 percent of countries worldwide are perceived as “not free” and in sub-Saharan Africa, 39 percent of its 49 countries are not considered free. While many countries have democratized since the introduction of what Professor Samuel Huntington called “third wave” of democratization, many authoritarian regimes continue to exist, and a significant number of democracies are reversing course. At 37, José Eduardo dos Santos became President of Angola, and ruled the country for 38 years without ever being democratically elected.

This dissertation seeks to understand how the African country of Angola has remained authoritarian for over four decades amid the Cold War, civil war, and the pressure to democratize. I analyze how political party, service provision, the ensuing peace, and state repression at provincial level have contributed to authoritarian resilience in Angola under the presidency of dos Santos during (1992-2002) and after the civil war (2002-2017). Using a comparative and mixed-method empirical approach incorporating elite interviews, archival data, and a household survey within public policy and political science theoretical frameworks, I found solid evidence to confirm that authoritarian resilience in Angola under dos Santos was a function of three pillars: (a) Angola’s ruling elite at provincial level used the MPLA2 ruling party to co-opt members of the opposition, civil society actors, and traditional chiefs; (b) they used a broad distribution policy to provide services to supporters, members of the opposition, civil society actors, traditional chiefs, and the masses; and (c) they invested in defense and security to strengthen the state's repressive apparatus, increasing the regime’s capacity to remain in power. However, cooptation and repression have stronger explanatory power than service provision.

Additionally, this study shows that due to lack of human and financial capital, during the war the dos Santos regime resorted to nonstate actors such as churches, NGOs, and corporations to provide social services to slum and rural dwellers under its jurisdiction to mitigate social unrest. In the post-conflict period of peace, the regime resorted to militias and traditional chiefs to implement repression on behalf of the formal state. The party-state under dos Santos pursued the development of a parallel state at the provincial level to sustain authoritarian rule.

1 Further details can be found here Freedom in the World 2018 Scores | Freedom House.

2 Movimento Popular para Libertação de Angola (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola).

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