Angola President dos Santos May be Replaced by Oil Company Head Vicente

Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos may step down as leader of Africa’s second-biggest oil producer before or after elections next year, a spokesman for the ruling party said.

Dos Santos, 69, may be replaced by Manuel Vicente, chairman of the state-owned oil company, Sonangol EP, said Rui Falcao de Andrade, a member of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola’s political bureau.

“Any scenario is possible,” de Andrade said yesterday in a telephone interview from the capital, Luanda. “We are talking about probabilities. No formal decision by the party has been taken.”

The MPLA’s Central Committee will meet in December to lay out the party’s strategy for the 2012 elections and appoint a presidential candidate, he said, adding that “for now” dos Santos remains the party’s nominee. This is the first time the MPLA has signaled that the 32-rule of dos Santos, the second- longest in sub-Saharan Africa, may be nearing its end.

Vicente and his 45 fellow members of the MPLA’s political bureau are all possible successors to dos Santos, said de Andrade.

Mena Abrantes, a spokesman for dos Santos, didn’t answer five calls to his mobile phone seeking comment.

‘Business As Usual’

“There remains considerable uncertainty surrounding succession, whether he will indeed stand down and when,” Stephen Bailey-Smith, the London-based head of African research at Standard Bank Group Ltd, said today by phone. “The heir apparent sits within our core scenario that political power will remain within dos Santos’s inner circle. It’s business as usual.”

Economic growth in Angola, spurred by stronger oil prices and increased spending, will probably accelerate to 8 percent next year from about 5 percent this year, World Bank economist Ricardo Gazel said in an Aug. 24 interview from Maputo, Mozambique.

Angolan weekly Novo Jornal reported on Sept. 2 that dos Santos had picked Vicente as his successor, citing an unidentified person in the party.

The Luanda-based newspaper said dos Santos will step down either before next year’s general elections or a year after the vote. Vicente will quit his job as chairman of Sonangol by November and pursue a career in politics or in the private sector, Novo Jornal cited him as saying in March.

Little Change

“He doesn’t strike me as major change agent and that may be part of the appeal for dos Santos,” Philippe de Pontet, a Washington D.C.-based director of Africa for Eurasia Group, said in a telephone interview.

Little is known about Vicente’s views on issues outside the petroleum industry, which “raises some questions” about how he would try to end Angola’s reliance on oil and work on other areas of the economy that need major improvements, said de Pontet.

Oil accounts for about 50 percent of Angola’s gross domestic product, 80 percent of government revenue and more than 90 percent of export earnings, according to the World Bank economist Gazel. Angola pumped about 1.7 million barrels of crude a day in July, according to Bloomberg data.

Elections in Angola, the second since the end of an almost three-decade-long civil war in 2002, should take place in August or September next year, de Andrade said.

Election Victory

The MPLA, after winning elections in 2008 with more than 82 percent of the vote, rewrote the constitution, scrapping the presidential contest and allowing the head of the victorious party to become president.

Dos Santos, who has a degree in petroleum engineering from the former Soviet Union, came to power in 1979, four years into a civil war that began as Angola gained independence from Portugal in 1975.

De Andrade said recent protests against dos Santos’s rule by a “small group” of Angolan youths, the third this year, have done nothing to dent the popularity of the Angolan leader.

“There is no doubt in my mind that dos Santos remains popular,” he said. “If you ask the over five million MPLA militants if they want dos Santos to remain as president I’m sure they will say yes.”

Twenty-four youths were arrested by police on Sept. 3 during a demonstration by about 300 people against dos Santos’ government, power and water shortages and corruption, Radio Ecclesia reported on Sept 5.

Angola is a democracy and people are free to protest,” de Andrade said. “But a few individuals think they will become heroes by throwing stones at the police. Those people should be brought to justice.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Henrique Almeida in Lisbon at halmeida5@bloomberg.net; Candido Mendes in Luanda at cmendes6@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Angela Cullen at acullen8@bloomberg.net; Antony Sguazzin at asguazzin@bloomberg.net.

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