Tag Archives: Angola

Angola – The ruling party’s “exemplary transition”: the MPLA’s winds of change and continuity

On the 8th September, Angola experienced a true watershed moment since the end of the civil war in 2002: the VI Extraordinary Congress of the MPLA – the party which has ruled the country since its independence in 1975 – ended the last bastion of power of the long-serving ruler José Eduardo dos Santos, i.e. the ruling party’s presidency.

This Extraordinary Congress had a single point on its agenda: the conclusion of the so-called “process of political transition” at the party leadership level. Thus, the current President of the Republic and the MPLA’s vice-president, João Lourenço, was elected as the MPLA’s new chairman with 98.5% of the votes from 2,448 delegates.[1] The Congress and the vote for the party’s first new president since 1979 were broadcasted by the Angola Public Television (TPA). More than a party event, it was a national event charged with unprecedented political meaning.

As discussed in a previous post, Angola’s presidential system comprises two main sources of power: 1) the president, who is no longer directly elected but rather is the number one name on the party or coalition’s winning list for the parliamentary elections, and 2) the ruling party. Very importantly, the President of the Republic as the head of the executive is subordinate to the party leadership.

For a political culture based on a hegemonic logic of power, as is the case in Angola, it is only natural to say that these two sources of power must be controlled by a single person. However, the country’s recent political transition started first at the state level and then at the ruling party level. This caused a major novelty after the legislative elections of August 2017: a dual power situation, as João Lourenço was the new president of Angola but Dos Santos was still the MPLA’s president. The ruling party’s Extraordinary Congress put an end to this unique power situation. As a result the MPLA, as the ultimate source of power, guaranteed the “unconditional support” of the party militants for Lourenço and, consequently, for his presidential power. Moreover, the MPLA’s game of thrones became very clear in this Congress, especially in two aspects detailed below: the new leadership discourse and the post-Congress intraparty balance of power.

João Lourenço’s discourse: Intraparty reconciliation and anti-corruption within the MPLA

The new president’s discourse was received with great enthusiasm by the Congress delegates. First of all, João Lourenço surprised everyone by presenting himself as the 5th president of the MPLA. Despite the film screening before his discourse on the party’s “exemplary transition” in which the history of the MPLA started only with Agostinho Neto (the MPLA’s 3rd president), Lourenço did not fail to mention the first two leaders who preceded Neto (Ilídio Machado and Mário Pinto de Andrade). Moreover, he asked for a big round of applause for all four party leaders before him. It was an important gesture, as the MPLA still lacks intraparty reconciliation with its dark history of violent episodes of dissent and member persecution within the party.[2] Nevertheless, this break of silence regarding the party’s leadership in the past could just be a non-pioneering strategy for gaining broad sympathy and support, including from members who had been alienated by the party during the Neto and Dos Santos presidencies.[3]

Second was the reiteration of the anti-corruption discourse; Lourenço incited the MPLA to lead the fight (almost a crusade) against corruption, nepotism, flattery and impunity as the main public enemies. More importantly, this fight should take place even if it means that the first ones “to overthrow are militants or even high-ranking party leaders, who have committed crimes or who by their social behavior are tarnishing the party’s image.” This anti-corruption push within the party received an effusive round of applause among the delegates, which is a sign that the emphasis on “anti-corruption” continues to feed the new leader’s popularity.

But this discourse against corruption took another tone when several governmental and party officials linked to Dos Santos began to be removed and, even more striking, brought to justice. More recently, Dos Santos’ son, José Filomeno dos Santos, and his business partner, Jean-Claude Bastos de Morais, were placed in preventive detention and charged with fraud over an alleged illegal transfer of $500m while Filomeno dos Santos was in charge of the country’s sovereign wealth fund, together with former Central Bank Governor Valter Filipe da Silva. Also, the Angolan authorities charged and arrested Norberto Garcia (former MPLA spokesman and director of the Technical Unit for Private Investment – UTIP), and Augusto Tomás (former Transport Minister) over corruption allegations. Both were removed from the MPLA’s Political Bureau.

Regardless of the next developments in justice, we can say that these events are beneficial to Lourenço’s image in two ways: 1) the new leader is somehow honoring his promises of fighting corruption and impunity, leaving the opposition parties somewhat perplexed and the citizens optimistic about the “winds of change” and 2) the promotion of the notion that the untouchables are no longer untouchables; however, perhaps this only means a new configuration of the chessboard for the sake of Lourenço’s power. Moreover, these detentions are also a sign that the Judiciary is still not independent from the presidency.

The party chessboard: a new balance of intraparty power

Following the Congress, the 5th Extraordinary Session of the Central Committee was chaired by the new party leader and elected the party vice president, general secretary and members of the Political Bureau (PB), the permanent governing body of the party. In other words, a new balance of power within the MPLA is in place that will support João Lourenço’s presidency.

Under this new balance, we’ve seen the exit of almost half of the members of the former PB, including figures from the Dos Santos entourage, historical members, influential generals and provincial governors. It is worth mentioning that these provincial governors were also removed from office. Also, the new party vice president, Luísa Damião, a former journalist and MPLA MP since 2012, is the first woman to assume this important party position, which was well received by a predominantly female population.

So, what we see is a strategy of “cleaning the house” and bringing allies into the PB, which is such an important MPLA body that it is responsible for the party and government programs, for the approval of the executive team and the party’s candidates for the presidency and national assembly, and for the ratification of the list of candidates for local government bodies.[4]

Is the MPLA’s case a trend for political change in African ruling parties?

As is happening in other African liberation movements-turned governments, the Angolan historical ruling party has also been on a path of moral decay and deficit of democracy.[5] Some authors have discussed a wave of political change in some African ruling parties marked by some internal reforms and by a discourse of their leaders against corruption (including inside their own parties) for power re-consolidation purposes. The MPLA is no exception.

Indeed, the anti-corruption discourse and its concrete punishment measures led by João Lourenço serve both internal and external purposes. Internally, it helps to reinforce the new president’s popularity levels and support by society, and it somehow empties the critical discourse from the opposition parties. Externally, it helps the country gain confidence and more credibility in order to receive investment from the west. We must not forget that Lourenço mentioned in his Congress discourse that corruption has caused “many damages” to the Angolan economy and has affected “the confidence of investors,” as it undermines “the reputation and credibility of the country.” Also, the new Angolan executive asked the IMF for assistance, in a time when this international institution seems to have made a comeback in Africa. The new leader with dual power is seeking dollars and loans to fulfill his major goal and it is a test to his presidency and legacy: the “economic miracle,” which is still based on the liberalization and competitiveness of the Angolan economy.

The VI Extraordinary Congress of the MPLA ended the long and increasingly unpopular cycle of rule of Dos Santos. Although it was not an example of intraparty democracy, due to its single candidate election and the fact that the party still encourages the cult of the leader and the centralization of the decision and policy-making by a small clique, it also represented a strategy for refreshing the bases of the party, especially when its new leader’s fight against corruption has been received with such overall enthusiasm.[6]

When the MPLA emphasizes its “exemplary transition,” it fundamentally means a narrative of “peaceful” continuity mired in a violent past and the need to promote the idea of party cohesion around the new leader. The winds of continuity blow in the same strategy of changing the configuration of intraparty power to break with the former leader and his followers’ influence, using the popular anti-corruption and accountability discourse to consolidate, internally and externally, the power of the new presidency. In one year, Lourenço removed more than 200 people from state office (including governors, public business administrators and senior military leaders), and now he has been able to remove important members from the party office. But will Dos Santos and his followers stay quiet and still?

Notes

[1] 38.24% of them women and 36.05% youth.

[2] See Mabeko Tali, Jean-Michel (2018). Guerrilhas e Lutas Sociais. O MPLA perante Si Próprio (1960-1977). Lisbon: Mercado de Letras Editores. Concerning the national reconciliation process, João Lourenço also promised to return the deceased remains of Jonas Savimbi, the former UNITA leader killed during the civil war in 2002, to the main opposition party before the end of the year.

[3] The strategy of reunification of the “MPLA’s large family” was also used by Dos Santos, for instance during the electoral campaign of 1992.

[4] See article 80º of the MPLA statutes.

[5] See also Bereketeab, Redie (ed.) (2017). National Liberation Movements as Government in Africa. London: Routledge; Southall, Roger (2013). Liberation Movements in Power: Party & State in Southern Africa. Woodbridge, Suffolk: James Currey; Scottsville, South Africa: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press.

[6] Also, the first local elections are expected to be held in 2020; however, which form they should take is still under discussion.

Claudia Generoso de Almeida and Benja Satula – Only one man for two jobs: the leadership transition in Angola

This is a guest post by Claudia Generoso de Almeida – Researcher at the Center for International Studies of the University Institute of Lisbon (CEI-IUL) – and Benja Satula – Law Professor and Coordinator of the Center for Research in Law at the
Catholic University of Angola (UCAN)

Since the legislative elections on 23 August 2017, Angola has been experiencing a new political era. Power transferred from the incumbent President José Eduardo dos Santos (JES), the second-longest serving president in Africa, to Joao Lourenço (JLO), the former defense minister.

For the first time since independence, the two sources of power – the presidency and the MPLA party – are not controlled by the same person, as JES still holds the ruling party leadership. This watershed moment in the country’s political history has stimulated the debate on the so-called dual power (poder bicéfalo) and on the cohabitation of these two strong men. However, this “two strong men” situation will not last long. JES will no longer be the MPLA leader after the party’s Extraordinary Congress, which is already scheduled for September of this year. The process of leadership transition in Angola shows us the puzzling relationship between strong presidents and strong parties in presidential and dominant party systems in Africa.

Angola’s two sources of power: the party and the presidency

Angola is ruled by the MPLA, a former liberation movement which has been shaping the political trajectory of this oil-rich country since its independence in 1975. The MPLA was able to consolidate its hegemonic power with “uncompromising mastery” and with a close symbiosis between the party and the state, despite the long civil war (1975-1991; 1993-2002).[1] Today, the country has a dominant party system, as the MPLA has won every election since the end of civil war in 2002 with more than 60% of the votes.[2]

The country not only has historically dominant party, but also a president with reinforced powers. Until 2017, the two leaderships (party and presidency) have only known two names: Agostinho Neto and, after his death in 1979, JES. The end of the war through MPLA’s military victory combined with an economic boom based on oil prices allowed JES to create a parallel neopatrimonial state gravitating around his presidency and Sonangol, the state-own oil company. This gave the president the power to control and distribute state resources and revenues to his entourage, in particular his family members. Nevertheless, this Big Manruler still needed the party to ensure and strengthen his power, which happened in 2010.

The presidential power boost: the 2010 constitution

 On 21 January 2010 the National Assembly, which was dominated by the MPLA,[3] passed – with the boycott of the main opposition party (UNITA) and subject to severe criticisms – a new constitution, which extended the president’s formal powers. Angola no longer has a semi-presidential system, but rather a presidential one. The president is now not only the head of state and the commander-in-chief of the Angolan Armed Forces, but also the head of the executive, as the post of prime minister was abolished.[4]Moreover, this constitution allowed JES to legally remain head of state until 2022.

One of the great changes within this constitution is that the president is no longer directly elected. Instead, the person that heads the list of the party or coalition of parties that receives the most votes in the general election will automatically become president.[5]Although the president “controls everything“, there is one very important detail to keep in mind: the president depends on the support of the majority party which selects him as the head of the party list, and consequently owes obedience to the party and to the party’s leader. In short, the party leadership is very important to the state leadership.

The presidency plus the party:  the superpower formula or the only way to govern?

Under the current MPLA statutes, the party has a great influence on the executive. In fact, it is the party that establishes and is responsible for guiding and monitoring the government programme.[6] Also, the composition of the president’s executive team and the appointment to other positions in the state administration need the endorsement of the party’s Political Bureau, which is chaired by the party’s president.[7]

As the MPLA has itself acknowledged, the party is experiencing an unprecedented and historic moment: a leadership transition while the current party president is still alive. According to some anonymous sources, this transition has been anything but smooth: 1) JLO was not JES’ first choice as a successor[8], 2) JES attempted to revert to the MPLA candidates’ list for the 2017 elections, 3) JES was almost absent during JLO’s electoral campaign, 4) JES’ last acts of governance, in particular to control the security sector[9], 5) JES tried to interfere with the composition of the new executive team and with the appointment of provincial governors by the new president, and finally 6)  JES intended to postpone the Extraordinary Congress to April 2019 to supposedly supervise the preparation of the local elections, which caused discomfort within the party.

All of these aspects consolidated the fear of a dual power (Bicefalia), which would hamper JLO’s governance, and there was a need to remove JES from the party presidency as soon as possible in order to reconfigure the party chessboard in favor of the new president and to empower his capacity of action. However, this removal has been helped by JES’ own promise and with the MPLA’s insistence that the president keep his word. In March 2016, JES publicly announced his intention to leave active political life in 2018. This announcement was made during a period of a severe economic crisis, low popularity levels of both the president and the MPLA, and with a president who was distant from the party.

Surprisingly, JLO, as the new MPLA head-of-list candidate for the 2017 elections, was enthusiastically received by the population, especially thanks to his speeches against corruption. This enthusiasm increased as soon as the new president started to govern. Indeed, the so-called JLO “bulldozer” made a great deal of changes in several strategic areas, affecting JES’ close circle.[10]

“The September Spring”, but still a dangerous hegemonic logic of power

The leadership transition started with the 2017 elections and will culminate in September of this year with the consecration of the MPLA Vice President JLO as the new MPLA president during the VI Extraordinary Congress, as announced on the 25th of May at the end of the 2nd Extraordinary Session of the MPLA Central Committee. In this Extraordinary Congress, there will be no competition, only a leadership succession.

However, this unique moment in the political history of Angola shows us the primacy of a dangerous hegemonic logic of power – only one man for two jobs (presidency and party) – and the lack of checks and balances. Contrary to several cases such as in the ANC (South Africa), in the MPLA as well in the FRELIMO (Mozambique), the leadership transition started first at the state level and then culminated at the party level. This reminds us of the importance of controlling the dominant party, which in turn has a symbiotic relationship with the state.

The “September Spring” is awaited with great expectations by both MPLA militants and Angolan society: will it constitute a real change, or will it be the same old thing? Will JLO restore semi-presidentialism and/or promote intraparty democracy? Well, for now, JLO seems to need the power that is provided by the state and party leaderships to govern with minimum constraints for two mandates and leave a legacy.

Notes

[1]See Christine Messiant, 2007, “The Mutation of Hegemonic Domination: Multiparty Politics without Democracy,” in Angola, the Weight of History, edited by Patrick Chabal and Nuno Vidal, 93-123, London: Hurst, and Ricardo Soares de Oliveira, 2015, Magnificent and Beggar Land: Angola since the civil war, London: Hurst.

[2]2008, 2012, and 2017 elections.

[3]The MPLA had 191 of a total of 220 parliamentary seats.

[4]Art. 108 of the constitution. The president also appoints the judges of the Constitutional Court, Supreme Court and the Court Audit (art. 119).

[5]Art. 109 of the constitution.

[6]Art. 86 (3) (k) of the MPLA statutes (2017).

[7]Art. 86 (3) (b) of the MPLA statutes (2017).

[8] JLO was the MPLA’s general secretary between 1998 and 2003, and he was removed from office due to his public declarations on JES’ announcement in 2001 of his non re-election to the presidency in the second multiparty elections. JLO then declared that JES should keep his word and leave power voluntarily.

[9]The presidential decree of 11 September 2018 determined on that same date the beginning of the term of office of the commander general of the National Police and the chief of intelligence service and military security until 2025.

[10]In Angola’s central bank; in the diamond sector (Endiama); in the oil sector, removing JES’ daughter Isabel dos Santos from presidency of the state oil company Sonangol; in the police and security sector, replacing the chiefof police and the headof the intelligence service; and in the media sector (TPA, RNA, Edições Novembro, and Angop), putting end to the contracts with Semba Comunicação, a company whose partners are both sons of José Eduardo dos Santos. Also, José Filomeno dos Santos, JES’ son who has been head of the national sovereign wealth fund since 2013, is accused of the looting of US $500 million from Angola’s central bank.

Continuity and Change: Presidential Succession in Southern Africa

At the risk of using a tired cliché, it would appear that the winds of change are blowing across Southern Africa. On Wednesday 14 February 2018, South Africans awoke to the news that there had been a dawn raid on the Saxonwold compound – derisorily referred to as the ‘Saxonwold Shebeen’ – owned by the Gupta family, close friends of President Jacob Zuma. It was the clearest sign yet that the president’s powers had faltered and his time was drawing to a rapid close. Having lost the succession battle at the ANC’s elective congress in December 2017, speculation had been brewing that he would soon be removed by the ruling party. With most of his friends and allies having shifted positions to the new sheriff in town – newly-elected ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa – Zuma’s days in the presidential residence seemed to be numbered. On 13 February, after more than a week of negotiations between Zuma and Ramaphosa, the ANC National Executive Committee formally requested that Zuma resign the presidency, in an apparent repeat of Zuma’s 2008 removal of former President Thabo Mbeki. They gave him until midnight on 14 February to do so. In a late-night address, Zuma resigned on Valentine’s day; Ramaphosa was sworn in less than 20 hours later.

On South Africa’s northern border, events in Zimbabwe have also heralded spectacular changes. Following the November ‘soft coup’ that removed Robert Mugabe from power after 37 years at the helm, new President Emerson Mnangagwa has spent three months on a major marketing drive, trying to convince the region and the world at large that he is setting Zimbabwe on a new course. The UK has been eager to re-engage, with several high-profile visits to Harare, and moves suggesting that the country will soon re-join the Commonwealth. But having been burnt before by promises and intransigence on the part of the ruling party, all eyes are on the general elections to be held later this year. The full normalisation of relations with Harare is largely contingent on the holding of a ‘fair’ and peaceful election. But the same day that Jacob Zuma was facing down a recall by his party, 65-year old Zimbabwean opposition veteran Morgan Tsvangirai passed away in a Johannesburg hospital. Despite his two-year battle with colon cancer, Tsvangirai had been tipped as the presidential candidate for the opposition’s 7-party coalition, due to fight the upcoming elections in less than six months’ time. The week prior to his death was marred by a very public succession battle between the MDC-T’s three vice presidents – something that will no doubt hurt the party and the coalition’s electoral prospects. The Zimbabwean opposition’s prospects look dire – Tsvangirai’s unmatched public profile and failure to pick a successor has left the coalition rudderless, while changes instituted by Mnangagwa have taken the bite out of the opposition’s ‘change’ mantra. It’s unclear whether the fractious opposition can regroup, rebrand, paper over their squabbles and develop a positive messaging platform in the months before the looming polls.

Meanwhile, change is also afoot in the rest of the region. Botswanan President Ian Khama announced that he will be handing over power in April 2018. Khama, the son of Botswana’s independence President Seretse Khama, is stepping down after ten years at the helm. When he steps down, the Vice President, Mokgweetsi Masisi, will automatically succeed him until the 2019 general elections. But Masisi won’t necessarily be the ruling party’s candidate for those elections as the party will go to a special elective congress in 2019 where several high profile government leaders have thrown their hat in the ring to succeed him. In Angola – Southern Africa’s largest oil producing nation – President José Eduardo dos Santos handed over power in 2017 after 38 years at the head of the country’s ruling MPLA, after anointing his successor, João Lourenço. When Lourenço won the August elections, few predicted that he would follow through on his promises to clean up the MPLA and the state. However, in a shock move, he removed the former president’s daughter – Isabel dos Santos – from her position at the head of the state-owned oil producer Sonangol. Lourenço also removed the heads of police and intelligence, governor of the Central Bank, head of the country’s diamond company and the boards of all three state-owned media companies, as well as dos Santos’ son who was head of the country’s sovereign wealth fund.

However, despite all the apparently positive changes across the region and some significant reasons for optimism, there is a need to maintain a cautious stance. In Angola, many remain sceptical of Lourenço’s moves, arguing that it resembles a “dança das cadeiras” – a ‘dance of chairs’ or little more than a reshuffling of the political deck. Whispers in Gabarone suggest that Ian Khama is hoping to position his brother, Tshekedi Khama, to take up the presidency. Having tried to anoint his brother in 2014 (after making him a Cabinet minister in 2012), but facing outright revolt from the ruling party, Khama backtracked. But he has one more chance to secure the dynasty in the ruling party’s special congress next year. If he is successful, three of five of independent Botswana’s presidents would be from the Khama family. In Zimbabwe, following the possible collapse of meaningful opposition in the wake of Tsvangirai’s death, Mnangagwa may feel little pressure to make substantial changes to the state, and will instead continue along the well-worn path that ZANU-PF has tread for nearly four decades.

As for Ramaphosa, he is riding high on a wave of public optimism and international goodwill, but he will need to prove that he is serious about rooting out corruption in the state by removing Zuma’s key backers through whom public finances were so wantonly squandered and misappropriated. But over the longer term, serious questions remain over whether Ramaphosa’s business- and market-friendly approach will be sufficiently flexible to make the necessary policy changes to tackle the country’s burgeoning inequality and mass joblessness. With the possibility of a Congolese election (or mass uprising in the absence of an election) at the end of 2018, what is certain is that the Southern African region will look very different at the end of 2018 to how it looked just more than a year before. But it remains to be seen whether these changes will be thoroughgoing, or if it will be little more than a dança das cadeiras.

Gustavo Plácido dos Santos – The 2017 presidential elections in Angola: clinging to the status quo?

This is a guest post by Gustavo Plácido dos Santos from the Portuguese Institute of International Relations and Security (IPRIS).

Gustavo

“I have taken the decision to quit political life in 2018,” President José Eduardo dos Santos said to the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) Central Committee, on 11 March 2016.

His words may lead us to think that he is willing to retire, after 37 years in power. The reality, however, is more complicated than that, as he did not clarify whether he was running for the 2017 presidential elections and it does not make much sense to “quit political life in 2018” with presidential elections scheduled for 2017.

In power since 1979, José Eduardo dos Santos will be 80 years old by the time his eventual new mandate ends in 2022. Irrespective of his age and possible intention to retire, it is only logical that President dos Santos is giving a deeper thought on ways to protect his interests and those of his family and close circle. Moreover, he is certainly seeking to ensure that a new political leadership won´t target him and his circle with criminal charges.

How likely is a post-José Eduardo dos Santos scenario?

In a speech given to the MPLA Central Committee, on 2 July 2015, José Eduardo dos Santos said that “[i]n certain restricted circles it was almost an established fact that the president wouldn’t carry out his mandate until the end, but it’s evident that it’s not wise to consider that option under the current circumstances.” The president added that “we should study very seriously how to build that transition.”

This said, and considering the worsening of “the current circumstances”, it would be hardly surprising that José Eduardo dos Santos decides to stay in power for as long as he is physically and mentally capable. In this setting, his announcement becomes nothing more than mere rhetoric, possibly aimed at testing his popularity within the party, assure a peaceful nomination and disarm internal contestation.

With this in mind, the President faces two options: end the presidential term prematurely or complete it. Both scenarios, however, ultimately require ensuring the protection of his interests and those of his close circle in the long-term. This is both a necessity and a priority, and implies naming an individual of his trust to be his number two in the elections, in view of succeeding him further ahead.

Given that the MPLA historical leadership looks with suspicion at the nomination of someone from José Eduardo dos Santos’s close circle, it is likely that he may seek a compromise solution.[1] Conversely, the President´s announcement also suggest that he may be aiming at increasing his room of maneuver to further consolidate control over strategic sectors before an electoral process and eventual succession.

The Constitution specifies how a power transition might be effected, although it leaves room for interpretation. As per the 2010 constitutional revision, the President is no longer directly voted into office. Instead, “[t]he individual heading the national list of the political party or coalition of political parties which receives the most votes in general elections” becomes Head of the Executive. Considering that José Eduardo dos Santos candidacy for the party’s presidency has been approved by the Central Committee, the current leader is poised to become the ruling party’s candidate.

Furthermore, the MPLA’s presidency allows him to actively influence the party and choose his number two, i.e. the Vice-President. In light of this, it is worth noting that Article 116 of the Constitution establishes that “[t]he President of the Republic may relinquish office”[2] and when the office “becomes vacant, the duties shall be performed by the Vice-President, who shall complete the term of office with full powers.” Therefore, the power transfer can be made in a legitimate manner and in accordance with the Constitution, thus not giving the opposition many legal arguments against it.

There is, however, one third option: to postpone the 2017 elections, such as in 1999.[3] This time now, with peace consolidated, it can possibly be argued that the country needs to address “current circumstances”, i.e. economic and financial challenges, before elections can be held.

 Who are his contenders?

Although there is still time left before the submission period of candidacies for the party’s presidency – between 15 June and 15 July –, it is highly unlikely that an internal candidate is willing to challenge José Eduardo dos Santos’ rule. Even if that would happen, any other candidacy faces a major challenge. According to MPLA Electoral Rules, “the competent body to verify the proposed candidacies, validate and organize them for the electoral act (…) is coordinated by the party’s high officials.” As such, José Eduardo dos Santos and his close circle can easily impede a challenging bid.

Regarding the political opposition, given that the person heading the list of candidates of the most voted party becomes President, the leaders of major opposition forces in parliament, Isaías Samakuva (UNITA) and Abel Chivukuvu (CASA-CE), are poised to be José Eduardo dos Santos’ main challengers. These two candidates, however, are highly unlikely to pose a significant challenge.

The opposition is divided amongst several political parties, hindering any chance of establishing a united opposition, while the President has the MPLA’s well-oiled electoral machine and state resources at his disposal to promote the campaign across the country.

Coupled with these factors, the government´s strategy of “divide and rule” and the ease with which opposition politicians and militants take political, economic and financial ´donations´, establishing a considerable challenge to the status quo becomes a near impossible task.

In addition, security forces and intelligence services embed a feeling of fear among any movement willing to stage an anti-government demonstration. Also relevant is the fact that the military leadership is deeply integrated in the country’s political and economic spectrum.[4]

The status quo will remain unchanged

Given that President will do its utmost to ensure a substantial degree of continuity, there will hardly be any major changes in government policy.  The same applies in an eventual post-José Eduardo dos Santos scenario, due to the intricate network of economic and political interests amongst the Angolan elite.

The powerful elite is so intertwined and accommodated to the perks associated with being close to power, that it is improbable they would challenge or change the status quo and risk losing those benefits by promoting a new, more democratic and transparent order. Therefore, this privileged sector of the Angolan society will certainly be the main opponent of any significant change to the political order, and its main preserver.

Of course, that is also the case with the elite’s response to the introduction of measures and reforms aimed at tackling the difficult economic and financial context. Although those initiatives might be favourable to the diversification of the elite’s sources of revenue beyond oil and a limited number of sectors, it is highly unlikely that Angola’s economic policy will change in a substantial manner. In fact, any alteration will certainly be limited to the strictly necessary, since an abrupt one would primarily hit the privileged sectors of the society that benefited the most from the status quo.

The same applies to foreign donors. The April 2016 “formal request” made by Angolan authorities to the IMF “to initiate discussions on an economic program,” is, at least in theory, what Angola needs. However, negotiations will certainly be long and difficult, especially if the IMF´s demands collide with electoral interests[5] and the elite’s stakes.

That is probably why the government has, since the start of this year, been charming Asian emerging powers, such as China and India, to open lines of credit and support project development. The aim is likely to be to diversify financing sources away from an undesired overly dependence on the IMF and benefit from external support that require a lesser degree of preconditions, hence better safeguarding the interests of the Angolan elite.

On the other hand, with external financing from emerging economies pouring into state coffers and project development, the government acquires tools to ensure that the elite and the rising middle-class continue to have access to the goods and services they became accustomed to. Additionally, the government has greater leeway to appease potentially dangerous social grievances linked to rising living costs and budget cuts in public investment.

Notes

[1] The Minister of Defence, João Lourenço, and the Minister of Territory Administration, Bornito de Sousa, stand as appropriate candidates in this context.

[2] By means of a message addressed to the National Assembly, also notifying the Constitutional Court. Article 130 establishes that, besides “Resignation from office, under the terms of Article 116,” other circumstances are valid: “Death”, “Removal from office”, “Permanent physical or mental incapacity”, and “Abandonment of duties”.

[3] When the National Assembly voted to do so, due to the renewal of conflict.

[4] Through positions in government, state companies, participation in private ventures and access to national wealth.

[5] There are rumours that an IMF assistance programme may lead to the introduction of a consumption tax, salary cuts and rationalization of public investment.

Gustavo Plácido dos Santos is a Senior Researcher at the Portuguese Institute of International Relations and Security (IPRIS). He holds a Bachelor degree in international relations from Universidade Católica Portuguesa in Lisbon and a Master degree in international conflict from Kingston University in the United Kingdom. His work focuses on Africa-related political, defence and security issues, with a focus on sub-Saharan Africa, Lusophone countries and maritime security. He tweets as @PlacidoGustavo and is the founder of the blog Africa Defence & Security.

Angola – When the president governs alone

President José Eduardo dos Santos, one of the world’s longest serving leaders, has been in power since 1979. Under his leadership, the president and his party, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), have successfully consolidated power. In 2010 the MPLA used its two-thirds parliamentary majority to approve a new constitution, which further concentrated power in the hands of the president.

On 21 January 2010, Angola’s parliament passed the constitution with 186 votes in the 220-seat parliament. The main opposition party, the National Union for the Total Liberation of Angola (UNITA), boycotted the final vote, accusing the government of trying to destroy democracy. The new constitution was drafted by a group of parliamentarians, following advice by experts and a public consultation period, but UNITA claimed the process was flawed because the vast majority of the drafters were from the MPLA. The MPLA had won a large majority in the 2008 parliamentary elections. The final text, currently in force, was promulgated by president Dos Santos on 5 February 2010.

The 2010 constitution replaced the 1992 constitution, which defined Angola as multiparty democracy based on a semi-presidential (president-parliamentary) system. The 2010 constitution abolishes the direct election of the president and the post of prime minister. Instead the person that heads the list of the party that gains the most votes in the parliamentary proportional representation election automatically becomes president. The president is empowered to appoint a vice-president to assist with governance. Although parliament can call for the president to be removed from office such a motion must be referred to the Supreme Court, whose members – along with all other courts – are appointed by the president.

With the 2010 constitution and the de facto attempt to circumvent parliament’s ability to check and audit the executive, the president has consolidated his grip on Angola’s politics. In the 2012 parliamentary elections the MPLA won 71 per cent of the vote (down from 82 per cent in 2008) and 175 seats in the 220-seat national assembly. On 26 September 2012 President Dos Santos was formally installed as head of state.

The Angolan parliament as a law-making body is practically dormant. According to the 2013 Freedom House report, 90 per cent of all legislation originates in the executive branch. Since January 2013 the president has issued 112 presidential decrees. Moreover, the parliament’s other function, namely to control the executive branch has been further curtailed. In October this year, the Constitutional Court ruled that Law 13/12 of 2 May 2013, which allows parliament to scrutinize the executive is unconstitutional. According to the Court’s ruling, the constitution does not grant the National Assembly the power to raise questions and inquire into the acts of government, nor does it have the right to call upon the ministers, ask them questions or hold hearings.

Despite the MPLA’s electoral success, tensions are rising in Angola. Inspired by the Arab Spring, a series of non-violent youth protests have called for the president to step down. Strengthened by youth protests, war veterans have protested against the long overdue payment of pensions. Opposition parties, which were initially cautious in voicing their support for the demands of the protesters, now openly call on the president to resign.

In the heightened political atmosphere, the succession of the president, long a taboo issue, has started to be openly discussed. The president favours Manuel Vicente, former CEO of state oil company Sonangol. Following his 2012 election victory, the president appointed Vicente to vice-presidency. Yet, a handover to Vicente is unlikely to appease protesters or the opposition, and will exacerbate rifts within the MPLA.