• Dos Santos's true intentions are difficult to gauge: Besseling
  • Angola's had same ruler since 1979, elections planned for 2017

Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos will retire from “active politics” in 2018, the state-run Angop news agency reported, citing a statement he made to the ruling party’s central committee.

The Russian-educated Dos Santos, 73, has ruled the southern African nation since 1979 making him the continent’s second-longest serving leader after Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who took power the same year. He won another five-year term in 2012. He’s survived in power during a 27-year conflict in which his Soviet- and Cuban-backed army battled rebels supported by South Africa’s white minority government and the U.S.

Jose Eduardo dos Santos
Jose Eduardo dos Santos
Photographer: Stephane de Sakutin/AFP/Getty Images

Dos Santos has given mixed signals over the past 18 months as to whether he will actually step down after the next elections in 2017 and his true intentions are very difficult to gauge, said Robert Besseling, the executive director of risk advisers Exx Africa.

“It’s the usual kind of confusing policy with which he divides and conquers,” Besseling said by phone from Knysna on South Africa’s south coast. “He wants to influence his own succession, mostly because he wants to protect himself, his family and his close business associates once he does eventually leave office.”

Angola has sub-Saharan Africa’s third-biggest economy. Before the oil-price decline, it relied on crude for about 95 percent of its export income. The squeeze forced the government to slash government spending and slowed almost 10 percent annual growth since the end of the civil war in 2002. It was ranked 163 out of 167 countries in Transparency International’s 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index.

While Dos Santos’s favored successor is Manuel Domingos Vicente, who has served as vice president since 2012 and is the former head of the national oil company, Sonangol, he’s not popular within the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, Besseling said.

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