After almost 40 years with one man yielding absolute power, it is difficult for most Angolans to envision a life without him.
Luaty Beirao knows the story of the Angolan Jose Eduardo dos Santos all too well. In 2015, Beirao and 16 others were arrested for “Acts of Rebellion” after attending a book club meeting where they discussed Gene Sharp’s From Dictatorship to Democracy, a book about non-violent resistance to repressive regimes. After a lengthy trial, the 17 Angolans were sentenced to between two and eight years in prison. They were then pardoned in September 2016 but not before they had experienced the horrors at dos Santos’ hands. Naturally, Beirao said he was satisfied to see the man who has led Angola for almost four decades leave office.
Speaking to Lusa, a Portuguese news agency, Luaty said, “Angola is the hostage of his decisions and whims and, fortunately, he has decided on his own that this was enough.” The rapper and passionate critic of dos Santos’ government also spoke to New York Times and said, “Our President is omnipresent. He is on our money. He is on our IDs. He is in our heads. He is everywhere.”
Now he will also be in the country’s past!
Jose dos Santos chose the Defence Minister Joao Manuel Goncalves Lourenco to be his successor but there are concerns that the successor will be nothing but the predecessor’s alter-ego. Santos wields too much power in the economy of Angola and he even consolidated his family’s position by appointing his daughter head of the national oil company Sonangol. His son, Jose Filomeno dos Santos is chair of the country’s $5 billion wealth fund. African Arguments says he recently acquired 49% of Standard Bank Angola. The country’s first lady is also a shareholder of Banco Sol while the other children have interests all over the economy.
After dos Santos leaves office, the incoming leader is obviously not expected to shake things up to the level of threatening these Santos interests. It is naïve to expect Joao Lourenco to go on a drive to cleanse the filth in the Angolan economy because his predecessor is the kingpin of shady dealings. For his part, Lourenco claimed he will go after the corrupt in an interview with the Washington Post. He had been asked how his government would be different from that of dos Santos and he said, “We are going to make every effort to have a transparent administration. We are going to combat corruption, and we are going to underscore the fact that we want the private investors to be a major part of our future economy.”
It is highly unlikely that a shrewd Jose dos Santos could have shot himself in the foot by picking a leader who would betray his interests once in office. The current government has been unforgiving to people who expose underhand dealings as seen in the arrest of journalists Rafael Marques de Morais and Mariano Bras Lourenco who published an article about an alleged illegal land acquisition involving Angola’s attorney general. It is difficult to imagine the new leader (if he wins elections) turning against his appointer and fellow compatriots in his party. After all, the incumbent, dos Santos will remain ruling party boss for some time which gives him enough power to retain control over the country.
Dos Santos’ legacy though tainted by an almost despotic grip on power is bolstered by how he brought back peace to the country. Martin Plaut, African analyst and fellow of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies told AFP, “In some ways, he did bring stability to his country and he is viewed as an ‘eminence grise’ by some other African leaders. But he ruled with an iron rod.”
After almost 40 years with one man yielding absolute power, it is difficult for most Angolans to envision a life without him. What will happen to the billboards, framed photographs in offices and the Identification cards with his face on them? Life as Angolans know it is about to change but Santos is expected to still call the shots in a less public role. The country goes to polls on the 23rd of August with the ruling MPLA expected to win albeit by a less than impressive margin.
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