Angola’s President Dos Santos to Retain Hold on Power After Retiring

LUADAN (Capital Markets in Africa) – Jose Eduardo dos Santos is set to maintain control from behind the scenes when he steps down as Angola’s president next month after almost four decades in office.

Dos Santos will until at least 2018 still be leader of the Movement for the Liberation of Angola, or MPLA, the party that has ruled the southern African nation since its independence from Portugal in 1975. And, this month the government pushed a law through parliament that may enable his appointees to remain in charge of the security services.

“Dos Santos has no intention of giving up power,” Gary van Staden, an analyst at NKC African Economics in Paarl, outside Cape Town, said by phone. “He intends to keep the levers that serve his interests firmly in place. He is making sure all his security buddies stay in their posts and he will be protected.”

Dos Santos, 74, said last year he will quit active politics in 2018. His likely successor as president is Defense Minister Joao Manuel Goncalves Lourenco, who is the MPLA’s presidential candidate in August 23 elections. The ruling party is expected to win with 61 percent of the vote, according to a poll.

During his 38-year rule, Dos Santos steered the country through a protracted civil war and oversaw an expansion of oil output that turned Angola into Africa’s second-biggest producer after Nigeria. At the same time, Angola became a byword for nepotism and corruption, with Dos Santos’s family and allies accumulating massive fortunes while more than half of the population of 27 million continued to languish in poverty. Transparency International has ranked Angola among the world’s 20 most-corrupt nations for the past three years.

Intelligence Services
With an estimated net wealth of $2.3 billion, the president’s eldest daughter, Isabel, is Africa’s richest woman, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. She was appointed chairwoman of the state oil company Sonangol last year and has business interests ranging from banking to cable television. His son, Jose Filomeno dos Santos, has run Angola’s sovereign wealth fund since 2013.

Dos Santos is unlikely to be brought to book for any alleged wrongdoing. On June 28, lawmakers granted him a seat on the Council of the Republic, a body whose members advise the president and enjoy immunity from prosecution. Should civil charges ever be filed against Dos Santos, the case would have to be heard by Angola’s Supreme Court, which is stacked with his appointees, according to Manuel Pinheiro, a lawyer based in Angola’s capital, Luanda.

On July 21, parliament approved a law that extends the terms of office for the heads of the military, police and intelligence services to eight years, from six, and allows them to be dismissed only if they are found guilty of “grave disciplinary or criminal conduct.” Several top-ranking security chiefs are nearing the end of their contracts and the main opposition party, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, or Unita, expects Dos Santos to announce their replacements before he vacates office.

“It’s strange that this law is rushed to parliament one month before the end of the legislative term,” Adalberto da Costa Junior, a senior lawmaker for Unita, said by phone. “It doesn’t seem correct to approve a law that will have strategic implications for the country” just as the government is set to change, he said.

Declining Health
Antonio Luvualu de Carvalho, Dos Santos’s special envoy for political issues, said he wasn’t familiar with the new law and unable to comment. The presidential press office declined to comment.

The main threat to Dos Santos’s grip on power isn’t the opposition — the MPLA holds 175 of the 220 seats in parliament — but his health. He spent May in Spain receiving medical treatment, and returned there again this month for what his office said was “a private visit.” The president’s condition has worsened significantly and is being treated as a state secret, the Portuguese newspaper Expresso reported last week, without saying where it got the information.

As the MPLA’s deputy leader, Lourenco, will automatically get the top job should the incumbent die or retire, but until that happens he’ll be beholden to Dos Santos, said Robert Besseling, the executive director of risk advisers EXX Africa.

“He lacks political capital and will struggle to establish his authority as Dos Santos family members will retain influence,” Besseling said.

Source: Bloomberg Business News


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