Tag Archives: Angola

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).


“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.


[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.