Angolan Leader to Bow Out at Last, But Not Completely


Jose Eduardo Dos Santos

Photographer: Alain Jocard/AFP via Getty Images

Angola, Africa’s second-biggest oil producer, holds elections Wednesday in a vote to bring about the first leadership change in the nation in almost four decades. Jose Eduardo dos Santos, 74, who led Angola through a civil war, an oil-fueled boom and a bust, is stepping down. Joao Lourenco, the defense minister, is the presidential candidate for the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola. The party is expected to win the vote against an underfunded opposition, which has threatened to hold street protests if the election is seen as unfair. The winner will face the challenge of escaping an economic crisis, fighting corruption, and contending with his predecessor, who intends to maintain considerable power.

1. What has Lourenco promised to do differently?

“JLo,” as he is known on the streets of the capital, Luanda, made the fight against corruption and poverty the centerpiece of his campaign. His other promises include doing more to diversify Angola’s oil-dependent economy by investing in industries such as farming, fishing and tourism. He has also called on Angolans with money abroad to invest it at home. Having served as defense minister, Lourenco, 63, has strong ties to the army.

2. What are Dos Santos’s plans?

Having been Africa’s second-longest serving ruler (Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang is first), he’s not planning to fade into obscurity. Dos Santos, a former Marxist who came to power in 1979, will remain the president of the party, known as the MPLA, an acronym for its name in Portuguese. His eldest daughter, Isabel, is Africa’s richest woman and leads the state-owned oil company, Sonangol, while her brother is in charge of Angola’s sovereign-wealth fund.

3. Will the election be fair?

Officials from opposition parties Unita, Casa-CE and smaller groups have questioned the independence of the National Electoral Commission, accusing it of favoring the MPLA and not doing enough to prevent electoral fraud. They’ve accused state media of giving too much airtime to the ruling party, criticized the geographic allocation of polling stations and complained of difficulties registering opposition officials to monitor the vote. Unita, which fought and lost a 27-year civil war against the MPLA, has rejected a return to armed conflict but has threatened to hold street protests if it considers the vote unfair. The European Union canceled plans to observe the elections after it failed to reach an agreement with Angola on a package of conditions that included access to all parts of the country.

4. What’s the ruling party’s record?

The outgoing president and his party are credited with bringing peace to the country and presiding over an economic expansion fueled by oil production. The economy posted uninterrupted growth from 2003 through the end of 2015. At the same time, Angola became a byword for nepotism and corruption, with Dos Santos’s family and allies accumulating massive fortunes while a third of the population of 27 million people languished in poverty. Transparency International has ranked Angola among the world’s 20 most-corrupt nations for the past three years. The Angolan economy, sub-Saharan Africa’s third-largest, has been crippled by oil prices that have halved since mid-2014 and led to zero growth for 2016, an inflation rate of 30 percent and a shortage of dollars needed to import products.

5. How does the election work?

Six parties will compete for 220 seats in parliament. The person heading the list of the party that wins the most seats becomes president. Every Angolan citizen over the age of 18 can register to vote. Final results are expected to be announced about two weeks after voting day.

6. What happened in the last election?

In the last national election, in August 2012, the MPLA secured 72 percent of the vote, winning 175 parliamentary seats. Unita won 18.7 percent, while Casa-CE secured 6 percent. African Union observers found the election to be fair.

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