A Difficult Goodbye
After nearly 40 years in power, ailing Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos has announced that he will finally leave office and hand over the reins of power to his 62-year-old defense minister, João Manuel Gonçalves Lourenço.
The decision came shortly before dos Santos went to Spain for medical reasons. He has since returned, but the signs say the 74-year-old is trying to prepare for his departure from public life.
Dos Santos, Africa’s second-longest-serving head of state, has been an “omnipresent” force in the country during his tenure, which has spanned generations, the New York Times reported.
His face adorns the country’s currency, every citizen’s identity card and myriad billboards throughout the country that boast results of his party garnering 99.6 percent of the vote in the last elections – a number all should greet with skepticism.
Dos Santos and his family gained firm control over state-run oil riches after the country’s three-decade civil war in 2002, turning Angola into one of Africa’s most stable and fastest-growing economies, which further helped the president consolidate his power.
His handpicked successor, Lourenço, is a popular figure both at home and abroad. He’s respected among military and party elites for his part in fighting piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.
“He will continue to represent the same group that shares the same fundamental interests, people who fear an open democracy and won’t let control over the media and the wealth slip away,” said Marcolino Moco, who served as dos Santos’s prime minister in the 1990s.
But even with a well-known successor in place and elections slated for late August, guarantees of stability are fleeting in tumultuous southern Africa.
Tensions are bubbling over in both public and elite spheres in Angola.
While the government continues to squash popular calls for freedom of expression, elites could be plotting against Lourenço’s ascension to power.
The dos Santos family still wields control over the state-run oil company, Sonangol, which could lead to a parallel state and two centers of power after Lourenço assumes the presidency.
Meanwhile, Angola is dealing with tens of thousands of refugees flooding over the border from neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. Violence in that country, coupled with turmoil stemming from President Joseph Kabila’s resistance to relinquishing power, displaced almost 1 million people last year – more than any conflict around the globe, Quartz reported.
In this area of the world, even in the region’s bastion of stability, an uneventful transition of power is difficult.