The August 23 parliamentary polls in Angola, and the subsequent inauguration of a new president on September 23, the oil-rich Southern African country could as well be a turning point in the country’s march to progress. However, Analysts believe that the vote which formally ends the 37-year rule of President Jose Eduardo dos Santos may still translate to his continuity by proxy as much of the political and economic structures of the country appear to be under his firm control.
President dos Santos, the independence leader of the Angola since 1979 announced to countrymen about a year ago he would step down from power to allow for a younger generation of leadership. His decision led to the election of the Minister of Defence, Joao Lourenco as his successor as leader of the ruling-Movement for the Popular Liberation of Angola(MPLA). Under the Angolan constitution, the leader of the party automatically becomes the president of the country if the party won the parliamentary elections. Since Lourenco emerged new leader of the ruling party, there was no doubt he would become the country’s next leader given the commanding control of the MPLA in Angola’s politics since independence. And with results pouring in after the August 23 ballot in favour of MPLA, it was a kind of affirmation that Lourenco has become the new leader of Angola.
For nearly four decades, the fate of Angola was somewhat tied to the performance of dos Santos. He successfully ended the nation’s many years of bloody civil war which provided a fertile ground for ideological muscle flexing during the cold war era. For this feat alone, Angolans hold him in very high esteem. After the war, he led the reconstruction initiatives and tried to stabilize the nation’s democracy through regular conduct of elections which he always won with a landslide. His presidency also saw to the discovery of oil in the country and the exploitation of same, thus launching Angola into the club of oil exporting countries in Africa.
While the boom in oil prices lasted, Angola also experienced unprecedented prosperity becoming one of the preferred destinations for consumer goods produced from the industrialized countries of the West. However, the boom in crude oil sales hardly translated to real economic development as investments in the other sectors remained abysmal leading to poor quality of life. The country’s double digit growth rate has been pummeled by the dwindling oil prices, crashing to miserly 3 per cent. Inflation has risen to as high as 29 per cent with the country’s national currency, Kwanza taking a nosedive against international currencies. The situation does not look healthier in the nearest future with instability in international prices of crude which like Nigeria, accounts for much of the country’s foreign exchange earnings.
Control of Angolan Economy
While majority of Angolans wallow in poverty with poor infrastructure especially in the rural areas, a new class of nouveau riche sprang up thriving on corruption and nepotism in government circles. These emergency business people, among them members of the president’s family are likely to continue to have strong hold on the economy of Angola at least in the immediate future.
Prior to his exit from power, dos Santos made controversial appointments in the country, which Analysts believed were designed to maintain his hold on the economy. He appointed his billionaire daughter, Isabel dos Santos last year to head the state oil corporation, Sonangol. Isabel had her hands in virtually every pile with business interests spreading from oil sector to supermarkets, real estate and others. Similarly, the president named his son Jose Filomeno, Head of the Angolan Sovereign Wealth Fund which has at least $5billion in its kitty for investment activities. These appointments and a few others by his acolytes mean that though out of office, dos Santos does have a good measure of influence on the Angolan economy.
A grip on Angolan Politics
On the political side, dos Santos may still be out there but his shadow will continue to loom large placing him in a position to pull the strings and determine to a large extent the direction of the country’s politics. Although an ex-president, he remains an influential member of the MPLA given his many years of leadership of the party. In deed, most of the top notches of the MPLA owe their ascendancy or political relevance to his influence and magnanimity. What this means is that Lourenco will be the President while dos Santos will be the leader.
The country’s political stability will however depend much on how long the relationship blossoms between the new leader and his mentor, dos Santos as a crack in their relationship might open a window of opportunity for the opposition party.
Already, there is an emerging circle of young elites desiring to break the dominance of the MPLA who see the opposition UNITA as a platform to advance their political ambition. This segment of the population might become emboldened should the current difficulties in the economy persist. How much influence they wield on the political system will depend on the performance of Lourenco, the retired military General in his first term of office.
It is a big credit to dos Santos that he is retiring as Africa’s longest serving leader in the class of Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe (1980) and and a month less than the tenure of Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea and handing over power voluntarily at 74, without being pushed out by the opposition, violent protest or war as has been the experience in a few African countries. His exit should serve as a lesson to Mugabe who at 94, has announced he would seek re-election even with reports of deteriorating health, with the hope to stay in power at the age of 99 when his next tenure would have come to an end.