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Angola under Joao Lourenco: Dos Santos loses grip as Lourenco takes charge

15.06.2019
Article from AFRIC Editorial
After the fall in oil prices in 2014, Dos Santos, former Angolan president was forced to step down in 2016 after close to 38 years in power. In the August 2017 elections, he was succeeded by João Lourenço. Unfortunately, Lourenço took over a devastating economy which was at the fringe of collapse. Two years in power, Lourenco has made efforts in trimming the influence of Dos Santos and introduced reforms which are expected to revive the country. But the general fear is how long his commitment to the country will last before he takes the footstep of his predecessor.

The inability of Dos Santos to stabilize the economy and save the country from taking a downward turn triggered a massive call for him to step down. After failing to position his son as his successor, Dos Santos tried securing his influence over the affairs of the country by giving full support to João Lourenço, who later took over him as president. Unfortunately, Dos Santos could not hold his grip on the country for too long. After he took over power, Lourenço maintained Dos Santos as the head of the ruling People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola, MPLA before and ousted him one year later to consolidate his authority in the country.

João Manuel Gonçalves Lourenço is a politician who formerly served as the Minister of Defence from 2014 to 2017. He became Angola’s president in August 2017 and in September 2018 he officially became the Chairman of the MPLA. He was Secretary-General of the party from 1998 to 2003 as well as the Secretary for Information from 1992 to 1997 and President of the MPLA Parliamentary Group in the National Assembly from 1993 to 1998.

Angola suffers a breakdown in 2012

Angola once enjoyed a buoyant economy in 2002 after the state took control of oil resources. This led to an economic boom as Angolans with some degree of professional training were exposed to job opportunities and the state as well could finance developmental projects.

Unfortunately, this rapid growth and development were short-lived with the coming of the oil crisis.  The 2014 fall in oil prices led to the collapse of the state and forced the government to take measures to redress the situation due to the it’s inability to generate revenue. The country was badly affected since Angola depended on oil for 75 percent of its government revenue and 90 percent of its exports. Angola during this period witnessed a reversal of fortune and gradually returned to the situation faced during the years of war.

The situation sparked the demand for the departure of Dos Santos coordinated by a group of young activists. They organized protests which were brutally quelled by the police. The arrest of some of these civil society activists brought about the intervention of the international community. Faced with the pressure, Dos Santos announced in December 2016 he will not seek reelection.

Lourenço’s reign: Has Angola regained track?

Lourenço inherited a fragile country from Dos Santos, which meant that urgent and drastic decisions and reforms were needed to revive the country. Due to the poor turn out of things with Sonangol, the company that oversees petroleum and natural gas production in Angola, foreign companies operating in the sector threatened to cut down their activities. Isabel Dos Santos, who was appointed head of the company by her father, had plunged the company into serious debt worth close to 3 billion dollars. Sonangol was also dragged to the International Chamber of Commerce by Cobalt for an outstanding 2-billion-dollar debt.

Lourenço had to take charge of the messy situation in the country which was far worse than he had envisaged and also find ways of attracting investors once again into the country.

Though he had closed links to Dos Santos, he implemented measures which were very displeasing to the former president.  Lourenço quickly trimmed links with individuals loyal to the Dos Santos family who were part of the Angolan government and appointed a body of technocrats in senior positions in the government and public companies.

He went further to replace Isabel dos Santos with Carlos Saturnino as the head Sonangol, thereby taking control of the major source of revenue of the country. He is also making strides in stamping out corruption, prosecuting officials and recovering millions of dollars of stolen state funds. Lourenco’s has also received assistance from the World Bank to support his program to revitalize the agricultural sector.

When he took over, there was acute shortages of foreign currency, especially the U.S. dollar, and the devaluation of the Kwanza which continued right into 2018 when the currency depreciated 40 % against the dollar. Lourenço succeeded in detaching the kwanza from the dollar to relieve pressure on foreign reserves. He ordered the central bank to auction dollars to all instead of reserving them for a few and finally tightened up regulation of the banks which prioritised the interests of Dos Santos and his cohorts.

Angolans skeptical about Lourenço’s reign

Despite the efforts Lourenço has made to revive the Angolan economy, some critics are skeptical about his reforms. Some are of the opinion that just like other African leaders, he is trying to get rid of his enemies on corruption charges.

It can be noted that Lourenço still has to show his ability in implementing new governance and policy-making practices. At the moment, it is still not clear whether his policies are aimed at consolidating his political authority or at bringing real change in Angola.

According to The Economist, Lourenço is not much of a political reformer. The paper indicated that he rejected calls to change the constitution to limit his powers, and he placed loyalists rather than independent minds in key army and security services positions.

There is a growing wave of nepotism and conflicts of interest infiltrating his administration. In April 2018, he promoted his brother, General Sequeira João Lourenço, as deputy head of the President’s Intelligence Bureau, which oversees the military, the police and, the intelligence services. It is also alleged that he sold a state-owned aircraft to his brother’s aviation company, SJL Aeronáutica, without a public tender and at an undisclosed price.

Lourenço has been noted for being extravagant after he chartered a Boeing 787 to Belgium, France and, Spain, which cost about $74,000 per hour. These factors have raised concerns regarding the intensions of the president as fears are rife that he may likely follow the footsteps of Dos Santos.

All in all, despite the fact that Lourenço seems to be on the right track, he can only succeed if Angola ceases to be an oil state. Since Angola is still trapped in Chinese debt, most of its oil revenues are being used to refund such debt. Hence, there is a need to diversify the Angolan economy.

Article from AFRIC Editorial

Credit image : google image/illustration

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