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Oil-Rich Angola’s Ruling Party Split Over Succession

Oil-Rich Angola’s Ruling Party Split Over Dos Santos Succession
People walk in front of a large portrait of Angola's President Jose Eduardo de Santos with text reading "The Architect of Peace", in the streets of Luanda. Photographer: Estelle Maussion/AFP/Getty Images

Angola’s ruling party is gripped by a struggle over who should succeed President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, amid public rallies calling for the leader of Africa’s second-largest crude producer to quit after 32 years in power.

As the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola gears up for an election due by Sept. 5, dos Santos, wants Manuel Domingos Vicente, the former head of state oil company Sonangol EP, to be his deputy. Other party leaders favor the political experience of Vice President Fernando da Piedade Dias dos Santos, said analysts such as Justin Pearce, a doctoral candidate at London’s School for African and Oriental Studies.

“Vicente’s succession to the presidency would leave the structure of political and commercial power and influence fundamentally unchanged,” Pearce said May 3 in an e-mailed response to questions. “That is the most comfortable option for dos Santos as he contemplates retirement.”

Angola, a former Marxist state wracked by a 27-year civil war that ended in 2002, produced about 1.8 million barrels of crude a day, pumped mainly by companies such as Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp., BP Plc and Total SA. Angola supplied 2.6 percent of U.S. oil imports in February, according to Department of Energy data. China imported 15 percent of its crude from the southern African country in March, data compiled by Bloomberg showed.

Vicente is “seen as someone who’s popular with the oil companies because he was effective and good to do business with,” said Diarmid O’Sullivan, a researcher for Global Witness, a London-based advocacy group. “But Angola’s economy and Angola’s future prosperity is based on oil and their record for using that oil for the benefit of the people is terrible.”

‘Reliable Source’

Transparency International ranked Angola at 168 of 182 countries in its 2011 corruption index.

“Angola is among the most reliable sources of supply in Africa, presenting neither the chronic instability of Nigeria nor the political uncertainties under way further north in the aftermath of the Arab Spring,” Philippe de Pontet, an analyst for the Eurasia Group based in Washington D.C., said in an e-mailed response to questions. “Most changes are incremental.”

David G. Eglinton, a spokesman for Houston-based Exxon, declined to comment on the election process or Vicente’s move from Sonangol to the government. Chevron and BP didn’t immediately respond to e-mails seeking comment.

Crude for June delivery fell as much as $1.84 to $95.17 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange and was at $96.08 at 3:54 p.m. London time. Brent for June settlement was at $112.06 a barrel, down 0.6 percent, on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange.

Vicente’s Oil Role

“The greatest issue of uncertainty is the succession of dos Santos in Angolan politics,” Alex Vines, head of the Africa program at Chatham House in London, said in a telephone interview. “That is the one thing we don’t know.”

The MPLA’s policy-making central committee will choose candidates after a meeting of its political bureau, party spokesman Rui Falcao said in an interview on April 28. Neither meeting has been scheduled, he said.

Dos Santos, 69, appointed Vicente, 55, as minister of economic coordination on Jan. 30 and may choose to resign after the election before his term ends, Sebastian Boe, an analyst at IHS Global Insight in London, said by e-mail. Nando, 62, may appeal to an older segment of the MPLA because of his age and roots within the party, he said.

“Vicente faces a lot of internal criticism for not being a long-time member of the MPLA and having relatively little experience in those circles or the military,” Boe said.

Jobs and Development

The election campaign will focus on jobs and incomes, with the MPLA saying continuity and experience are needed to maintain development, Pearce said. The government forecast growth of 12.8 percent this year for an economy that expanded 3.4 percent in 2011, according to the International Monetary Fund. That compares to an expected 5.4 percent this year for sub-Saharan Africa, up from 5.1 percent in 2011, according to the IMF.

About half a dozen anti-government rallies, inspired by the Arab Spring and sometimes including sons and daughters of MPLA members, have been held in Luanda, the capital, and other cities over the past year, sparking clashes with police.

“I am very concerned with the human rights situation and the problem of corruption of authorities who don’t respect the law,” said Former Prime Minister Marcolino Moco, a member of the ruling party. “Demonstrators have been tortured in broad daylight.”

Divided Opposition

The MPLA’s adversary in the civil war and the main opposition group, the Union for the Total Independence of Angola, suffered a split when its former parliamentary chief, Abel Chivukuvuku, 54, broke with Unita leader Isaias Samakuva and set up his own party in March.

Chivukuvuku’s Ample Convergence for the Salvation of Angola, or Casa, is trying to tap into dissatisfaction with the two main political parties, particularly among the youth, who compose more than 60 percent of Angola’s 19 million people. Several hundred students attended the party’s April 3 convention.

The split will help the MPLA maintain its majority in the 220-member parliament where it holds 181 seats compared with Unita’s 16.

‘Degree of Dissatisfaction’

The MPLA increased its power vis-à-vis the president after the constitution was changed in January 2010 to end direct elections, said Markus Weimer, an analyst at Chatham House. Instead, the leader of the party with the most votes is declared president. The party hasn’t fulfilled three promises since December to name its list of candidates.

“The long delay indicates there is indeed some degree of dissatisfaction with the party-list choice and in particular the No. 2 spot,” said Weimer. “It would seem that the party holds some real power.”

Dos Santos may be delaying a list of MPLA candidates to work out a compromise with party leaders and to avoid street protests against his rule, Africa’s second-longest after Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo. Both came to power in 1979.

Moco, who was fired as premier in 1996 after saying he wanted to run for president, said dos Santos remains the country’s dominant political force.

“The regime is completely for the president,” he told reporters last month in Johannesburg. “Angola’s not a one-party state; it’s a one-person state.”

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