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Here’s Why Oil-Rich Angola is Ripe for Political Change

Joao Lourenco

Joao Lourenco

Photographer: Carlos Costa/AFP/Getty Images

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Despite its oil riches, Angola is a miserable place for many to live. The country churns out 1.2 million barrels of crude a day, making it Africa’s second-biggest producer after Nigeria, yet about half of its 33 million people live on less than $2 a day. Graft is rife and most government services are shoddy or non-existent. Responsibility rests with the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, or MPLA, which has ruled for almost half a century and channeled much of the nation’s wealth into the hands of a tiny, politically connected elite. Opposition parties are capitalizing on disgruntlement with the status quo and soaring food prices, and elections scheduled for Aug. 24 are shaping up to be the most hotly contested since a 27-year civil war ended in 2002. 

The MPLA has been credited with ending the war and presiding over an economic expansion that saw gross domestic product expand every year between 2003 and 2015 -- when the end of an oil boom heralded the onset of a five-year slump. Angola also became a byword for nepotism and corruption, with former President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos’s family and his inner circle among the primary beneficiaries. President Joao Lourenco, 68, who succeeded Dos Santos in 2017 and is vying for a second term, has turned on his one-time allies and tried to recover billions of dollars they stashed abroad. He’s also instituted a series of other reforms to shore up Angola’s finances, diversify the economy and attract foreign investment. While he’s won plaudits internationally, his selective anti-graft drive and the slow progress made in addressing rampant poverty and unemployment have eroded his domestic support, particularly among the youth. Lourenco has pleaded with his countrymen for patience, saying it’s a matter of time before his policies translate into better living conditions.