Dec. 16 (Bloomberg) -- The Angolan Cabinet’s reappointment of Manuel Vicente as the head of the state oil company, Sonangol EP, appears to have thrown open the race to succeed President Jose Eduardo dos Santos.
Dos Santos, who has been president for 32 years, touted Vicente in September as his successor, according to Rui Falcao de Andrade, a spokesman for the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola. Then last month dos Santos, 69, said he’s “available” to run again in elections next year.
The Cabinet named Vicente Dec. 12 to a three-year term at the post he’s held since 1999, keeping continuity for foreign oil companies in Africa’s second-largest crude producer, while removing the leading candidate to replace dos Santos, analysts in London at IHS Global, Chatham House and the School for Oriental and African Studies said.
“Vicente was a test balloon to assess the mood for change and to get some indication of who might come out as a challenger,” Markus Weimer, an analyst at Chatham House, said in a Dec. 14 telephone interview from London. “The president has indicated strongly that he will run again and I don’t see anyone challenging that.”
Angola, a former Marxist state gripped by 27 years of civil war until 2002, aims to pump 1.8 million barrels of crude a day by the first quarter of 2012. Vicente ensures a “steady hand on the tiller” as Sonangol starts liquid natural-gas exports next year and considers more offshore licenses for companies such as ExxonMobil Corp., Chevron Corp., BP Plc and Total SA, Sebastian Boe, an analyst at IHS Global, said in a note Dec. 14.
“Vicente is very much trusted among Angola’s foreign oil partners,” Justin Pearce, a post-doctoral fellow at the School for Oriental and African Studies, said by phone from London. “He has a very good reputation for how he’s managed the external-facing side of Sonangol and made Angola an environment in which foreign oil companies are happy to do business.”
The vote will be the first time Angolans have a chance to choose a new president since 1992. The constitution was re-written to remove the presidency from direct elections. Instead, the leader of the party with the strongest result in the parliamentary elections becomes president.
The MPLA, which holds 181 of Parliament’s 220 seats, is expected to win elections late next year because of its nationwide dominance and the failure of opposition parties to present viable alternatives, Alex Vines, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in London, wrote in a July report.
Assuming dos Santos runs in the election, “the key will be who he appoints as vice president and it could be anybody,” Weimer said. “This is Kremlinology.”
Francisco Cabila, editor of weekly newspaper Continente, cited in October unnamed “elders” of the MPLA saying that Vicente lacked the proper credentials to succeed dos Santos, such as being a longtime party member. They suggested former MPLA Secretary-General Joao Lourenco and Territorial Administration Minister Bornito de Sousa.
“They’re certainly the favorite candidates from within the bulk of the MPLA political bureau,” Pearce said. “It would seem that other voices within the party have prevailed over dos Santos’ original preference for Vicente to be his successor.”
The party leadership may rethink a transition because dos Santos’ health is deteriorating and uprisings against long-term one-party rule in North Africa and the Middle East have prompted six demonstrations this year in Luanda, the capital, Boe said.
“The announcement of a handover would likely spur insistent calls for a political opening as Angolans are faced with the prospect of another open-ended presidency,” Boe said. “The events of the Arab spring have thrown a spotlight on long-serving rulers in Africa.”
Dos Santos is sub-Saharan Africa’s second longest-serving ruler after Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo.
Other possible candidates to succeed dos Santos include Carlos Maria da Silva Feijo, the president’s chief of staff, Manuel Nunes Junior, a former minister of economy, and Fernando da Piedade Dias dos Santos, the current vice president, who is a cousin of the president.
Dos Santos fired Nunes Junior from his post as economy minister in October last year. Junior is now a professor of economics at the state-run Universidade Agostinho Neto in Luanda and secretary for economic affairs in the MPLA.
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