Category Archives: Angola

Angola – The MPLA and the fall of Dos Santos’ dynasty

The change in the top leadership post of Angola, which started in 2017 through a sequential state ruling party leadership strategy, ended the long rule of José Eduardo dos Santos as both the head of state and the ruling party (MPLA) leader. João Lourenço succeeded Dos Santos in this unprecedented political leadership transition in the country’s post-independence and multiparty era. Along with Zimbabwe, Angola’s leadership change is somehow perceived as the beginning of a trend in which dynastic takeovers seem to no longer be acceptable in Africa.

But what do we know about leadership change in Africa and what can Angola tell us?

In overall terms, leadership change constitutes a moment of uncertainty, and it is particularly worrying in Africa. Taking power through violent means such as military coups and leaders overstaying in power are two highlighted trends in contemporary African politics. Concerning the latter trend a recent study by Denis M. Tull and Claudia Simons observes that in almost half of the cases in which an incumbent president reached the term limit, he attempted to extend his term by rewriting or reinterpreting the constitution, and the vast majority of these attempts were successful. Moreover, sitting presidents were able to win third-term elections, despite the popular protest demanding the enforcement of presidential term limits.

Dos Santos long rule spanned the years of the civil war (1975-1992; 1993-2002) and was extended resorting to an instrumental interpretation and rewriting of the constitution. The 1992 constitution established a three-term limit, but since elections never took place between 1993-2007, due to the reignition of the civil war after the first multiparty elections in 1992, Dos Santos managed to prolong his stay in power throughout this period. Ahead of the 2008 general elections, there were discussions on whether Dos Santos had already attained the limit of the presidential terms or if he would be eligble to two more mandates. The constitutional interpretation which then prevailed established that the second presidential term of Dos Santos was to start in the 2008 elections and that he would still be able to run for a third mandate in the 2012 elections. However, the new constitution approved in 2010 reinforced his presidential powers and allowed him to legally remain head of state until 2022.

The Africa Leadership Change (ALC) dataset reveals some important patterns of leadership change in the sub-Saharan region. First, there is a long list of African presidents who have managed to stay in office despite the “electoral revolution” of the early 1990s. Indeed, until 2017, Dos Santos was in the top 5 of the longest-serving presidents in Africa. Second, multiparty elections have seemed to be the most common way of replacing a leader after 1990. However, the incumbent wins in most elections, followed by an increased number of electoral succession cases (see the “no alternation” column of the figure below).

Source: Giovanni Carbone & Alessandro Pellegata (2017): To Elect or Not to Elect: Leaders, Alternation in Power and Social Welfare in Sub-Saharan Africa, The Journal of Development Studies, p. 6. DOI: 10.1080/00220388.2017.1279733.

The August 2017 elections in Angola represented a case of electoral succession in the sense that the new president comes from the same party of the outgoing president; however, it is a case of nonhereditary succession. João Lourenço was not Dos Santos’ first choice (he even tried to revert the MPLA candidates’ list for the 2017 elections) and speculation around the leadership succession pointed to his eldest son, José Filomeno dos Santos (aka Zénu).

Did the MPLA limit hereditary politics in Angola?

The hereditary succession has been a topic of concern in several authoritarian regimes. In 2007, Jason Brownlee developed an argument that emphasizes the role of ruling parties to account for differentials of hereditary succession in modern autocracies. He contends that hereditary succession depends on the precedent for leadership selection, i.e., if the party enjoyed a precedent for selection from within the ranks, as was the case in Angola, then elites will defer to the party as the recognized arbiter of succession, which is likely to be nonhereditary.

José Eduardo dos Santos was the successor of Agostinho Neto in 1979 and was selected by the MPLA. It remains unclear if Dos Santos tried to somehow impose his son in 2017. What we do know is that the continuity of Dos Santos in office or his succession was something that was deeply discussed and negotiated inside the ruling party by the political bureau. João Lourenço’s selection was also the MPLA’s response to the widespread dislike of the Dos Santos’ dynasty and, more importantly, to the ruling party’s growing crisis of legitimacy linked to Dos Santos’ rule. Thus, despite his personal rule, José Eduardo dos Santos is a case of a “ruler predated by the ruling party” in terms of leadership succession. We can also say that his grande famille has been also predated by the new leader.

The fall of Dos Santos’ dynasty

In less than a year in office, the new president began to remove members of the Dos Santos clan from Angola’s epicenter of political and economic power. João Lourenço deposed Dos Santos’ daughter and one of the richest woman in Africa, Isabel dos Santos, from the presidency of the state oil company, Sonangol. Also, her half-brother, José Filomeno dos Santos, was removed from the chairmanship of Angola’s $5 billion USD sovereign wealth fund (FSDEA). More importantly, Filomeno was detained last September and held in custody over “practices of [alleged] various crimes, including criminal associations, receipt of undue advantage, corruption, participation in unlawful business, money laundering, embezzlement, fraud among others”. Isabel dos Santos also faces corruption investigations, allegedly for having funneled oil funds into her consulting companies. Moreover, João Lourenço’s “bulldozer” also affected the privileges of two other members of the Dos Santos family, as the new executive decided to put an end to the contracts with Semba Comunicação, a media sector company founded by José Eduardo Paulino (aka Coréon Dú) with his sister and partner Welwitschia “Tchizé” dos Santos, who is also an MPLA deputy.

According to Alex Vines, these removals have been effortless, as the former president’s family neither receives the MPLA’s support nor enjoys popularity. Furthermore, João Lourenço’s actions affecting Dos Santos’ family increased his popularity levels inside and outside the ruling party and thus didn’t allow the former president to stand up for his targeted family members, as pointed out by Ismael Mateus. Indeed, it was only in November of last year that the former president reacted, claiming during an unprecedented press conference held at the headquarters of his foundation in Luanda that, contrary to the previous declarations of his successor, he did not “leave the state coffers empty.” At the same time, Isabel dos Santos posted several messages on social media criticizing João Lourenço and emphasizing the dangers of having a deep political crisis coupled with the existing economic one, and also defending her honor and work for Sonangol. Tchizé dos Santos has also been using social media to defend both the paterfamilias and her arrested half-brother. Also, she has recently expressed that the leadership transition has not been as peaceful as expected and that João Lourenço should be focusing on the true problems of Angola.

These reactions from the members of Dos Santos clan show us that this powerful political dynasty doesn’t gather support from the MPLA and from the population. On the other hand, the anti-corruption discourse gave legitimacy to João Lourenço’s power consolidation strategy and that targeting the untouchables facilitates the fall of the Dos Santos’ dynasty for now. In addition to their family members, some of the closest allies of Dos Santos were also removed from government and the MPLA political bureau, and some of them are under investigation.

Is the ruling party a gatekeeper for leadership change?

The recent processes of leadership change in Angola or in Zimbabwe highlights the importance of the ruling party in selecting new leaders and limiting hereditary successions of long-serving presidents. African politics is often characterized by personal rule or “Big Man rule”. However, the case of Angola is revealing that strong ruling parties are important gatekeepers for leadership change, and can influence the rise, persistence and fall of ruling dynasties in competitive authoritarian regimes in Africa.

Angola – A New Politics of Memory? The President and the Ruling Party’s Dark Past

This is my third post on Angola’s recent leadership transition process and the end of President José Eduardo dos Santos’s 38-year rule, in a context where some of Africa’s longest-serving presidents are also no longer in power.[1] This new analysis will continue to focus our attention on the actions of the new president, but this time it will centre on issues regarding the collective memory.

As discussed on another occasion, this unprecedented transition started in 2017, first at the state level and then at the ruling party level. The MPLA, one of the longest-ruling parties in Sub-Saharan Africa[2], won the 4th multiparty elections and, as a consequence, the party’s head-of-list candidate, João Lourenço (JLO), automatically became the 3rd president of Angola since the country’s independence in 1975. Moreover, after the ruling party’s 6th Extraordinary Congress held on 8 September 2018, JLO also became the 5th president of the MPLA since its constitution as a liberation movement during the late Portuguese colonial rule.[3]

Like his predecessor, the new Angolan leader now has a triad of powers (the state, the executive and the ruling party) and it is quite interesting to note that, among his “surprising” political actions, there is one that is particularly relevant, which has to do with unresolved historical grievances related to both a major bitter episode and the greatest taboo within the MPLA’s history: the 27th May. This revisitation of the past leads us to two broader questions: how do Africa’s longest-serving political parties deal with their own violent pasts? And how do new leaders revisit the past as a strategy of power consolidation? To put it more concretely, in what sense can JLO’s recent positioning regarding the MPLA’s violent past, whose memory has been muffled by the former leader, be considered a strategy of political survival and of a continuous boost of power?

But first, let’s make an incursion into the responses of the new president to some important historical grievances in the collective memory.

The return of the enemy’s mortal remains

Almost one year after the elections of August 2017, JLO promised to return the deceased remains of Jonas Savimbi to the main opposition party before the end of this year, which will very likely happen in 2019. According to the researcher Eugénio Costa Almeida,  JLO returning Savimbi’s remains to UNITA on the 22nd February next year would be of great significance, since this date marks the 17th anniversary of the death of the former UNITA leader, who was killed along with other generals and guerrilla soldiers in a clash with the government troops in the Moxico province during the civil war in 2002.

JLO already supported the relocation of the remains of UNITA’s historical military, General Arlindo Chenda Pena “Ben Ben” – who died in South Africa in 1998 and was buried near Pretoria – to the Bié province in Angola. Furthermore, this general was also awarded, posthumously, with the 1st Class Military Merit Medal during the last anniversary of Angola’s independence.

The current UNITA leader, Isaias Samakuva, has acknowledged the support of the new Angolan president for bringing General Ben Ben’s body back to the country in such a quick procedure, after years in which such an action would be “unthinkable”. With this declaration, the leader of the main opposition party unintentionally recognizes that JLO’s presidency marks a new era of possibilities.

Thus, these two gestures reinforce the idea of a new leadership different from the previous one in terms of national reconciliation efforts, which has an important symbolical charge, especially because Dos Santos has the epithet of the “architect of peace”. Furthermore, it also serves power consolidation purposes, as it continues to reduce the critical tone of the main opposition party during such an important phase of leadership affirmation.

The recognition of the MPLA’s first presidents and the decoration of some persona non grata

The reconciliation efforts also went to the ruling party arena and are especially noted in two important events: the 6th Extraordinary Congress of last September and the 43rd anniversary of Angola’s independence on the 11th November.

At the MPLA’s Extraordinary Congress, JLO made an opening speech with one surprising moment of “breaking the silence”:  the mention and recognition of the first two MPLA chairmen, Ilídio Machado and Mário Pinto de Andrade. Moreover, the party’s conclave approved a final resolution to honour these two historical political individuals, as well as others that were important during the genesis of the ruling party.

Following the party’s watershed congress, the new president honoured several historical figures of the MPLA’s turbulent past with special decorations, including the two first MPLA presidents and Viriato da Cruz, during the 43rd anniversary of the country’s independence. The Angolan researcher Claudio Fortuna sees in these presidential decorations an action of intraparty reconciliation, as JLO’s predecessors (Agostinho Neto and José Eduardo dos Santos) had removed these historical figures from the “vernacular imagery” of the party’s militants and of the MPLA’s history.

The intraparty reconciliation effort is also considered by some of UNITA’s cadres, such as General Paulo Armindo Lukamba “Gato”, to be an important first step on the part of JLO in the ongoing process of national reconciliation, as one can now openly talk about figures concealed from the MPLA’s own history. Therefore, perhaps it will have a positive impact on other figures outside the ruling party, such as Jonas Savimbi.    

In this year’s anniversary of Angolan independence, the new president also decorated ostracized Angolan personalities who were critics of Dos Santos’ regime by extolling their sense of patriotism.[4] These intraparty reconciliation efforts reinforce the notion that JLO is different from the increasingly unpopular Dos Santos, thus gaining the sympathy and support of party members who have been alienated from the MPLA.

Breaking a deafening silence: the 27th May

Still concerning the intraparty reconciliation process, JLO, in clear contrast to Dos Santos, has recognized an open wound within the MPLA’s dark past after independence: the so-called 27 May 1977. This violent episode occurred during the presidency of Agostinho Neto, when the group of the so-called “Revolta Activa” chaired by Nito Alves challenged and even tried to change Neto’s leadership. As a result, Nito Alves’s supporters were not only expelled from the MPLA, but also detained and subjected to torture, in addition to the arbitrary arrests of a great number of people and thousands of deaths. According to Assis Malaquias, this episode “marked the beginning of the end of the revolutionary vision of the MPLA”, which became a more exclusive and reserved organization.[5]

In the first major interview with JLO by the Angolan journalist Gustavo Costa, which was published on the 17th November, the new Angolan president recognized that the 27th May is still an open wound that should receive careful attention. Also on the same date, the justice and human rights minister, Francisco Queiroz, acknowledged that there had been an overreaction to the events which followed the “attempted coup d’état” of 27 May 1977. More importantly, Queiroz declared that those excessive actions violated human rights through arbitrary executions and arrests, and that must be remembered in order to avoid something similar happening again. The minister also opened up the possibility of repairing traumatic wounds, namely by resolving the issue of death certificates and other matters related to this tragic event.[6]

A few days later during a press conference with JLO in Lisbon the 24th November, on the occasion of his official visit to Portugal, the new Angolan president reaffirmed the excesses made by the government at that time and that his new government is open to dialogue to see how the reparation of such deep wounds can be made “in the hearts” of many grieving families.

The president’s second moment of “breaking the silence” has a symbolic meaning, but will it have practical consequences? Many victims – such as José Fragoso, former MPLA militant and vice-president of the Associação Cívica 27 de Maio – are skeptical about the practical effects. This “survivor of the 27th May” remembered that in 2001 – one year before the end of the war, when the Association made its first conference denouncing the executioners of the 27th May – the MPLA reacted by considering the victims and survivors as misunderstood patriots, instead of coupists. Nevertheless, this new executive has expressed the possibility of reparation measures, albeit it in vague terms.

Opening the box of painful moments in the MPLA’s history occurs in a context of the affirmation of JLO’s leadership; in an effort to build a consensual optimistic view around his new era and legacy, JLO is asserting himself as a strong president that is willing to revisit the past to bring back those who were alienated by former leaders and who are demanding the right to truth and their rightful place in the ruling party and in the country’s history.

Is transitional justice on the horizon?

Among his political actions as Angola’s new leader, JLO is also coping with the issue of collective memory, having to break a major silence concerning the MPLA’s violent past, namely, the purge of the 27th May[7]; however, there are no concrete measures on the table so far.

Specifically, it is not clear whether the Angolan authorities will:  1) disclose the documents and facts that clarify what really happened, including the results of the Commission of Inquiry created by President Agostinho Neto himself and chaired by José Eduardo dos Santos; 2) carry out the registration and list disclosure of all detainees and disappeared people, including the return of the victims’ deceased remains to their families; and 3) build a national monument to the victims of the 27th May, as is demanded by some representatives of those victims.

As the researcher Filipa Raimundo points out, transitional justice “refers to the process of reckoning with an authoritarian past through judicial and/or non-judicial means”, in which political elites can also adopt a strategic silence to “neither forgive and forget nor to prosecute and punish”. In Angola’s case, what we see is a new leader dealing with some historical grievances still in the collective memory through a first attempt at breaking the silence, but we must not forget that, in a context of leadership consolidation with an intrinsic challenge, the national reconciliation process also implies an intraparty reconciliation and the end of some narratives linked to power relations within the MPLA. This fact could be very sensitive to JLO’s political survival, due to the importance of the ruling party to his own power. On the other hand, the demands from several members of civil society for telling the truth and making reparations have not been echoed by the parliamentarian elites (both in the ruling party and the opposition), and silence seems to be the strategy.

For now, transitional justice is still lost on the horizon.

Notes

[1] For instance, the Gambian President Yahya Jammeh lost in the 2016 presidential elections after 22 years of power or Robert Mugabe’s resignation after 37 years as Zimbabwe’s President.

[2] Along with the CCM (Tanzania), the BPD (Botswana), the RDPC (Cameroon), the SWAPO (Namibia) and the ANC (South Africa).

[3] The year of the MPLA’s foundation is still a controversial subject, as some authors maintain that 1960 was the true foundation year, contrary to the party’s official version of 1956. See Pacheco, C. (1997). MPLA – Um Nascimento Polémico. Lisbon: Vega.

[4] For instance, the musicians Bonga or Waldemar Bastos. Worth mentioning is the surprising meeting between JLO and “hashed critics” in civil society on the 4th and 5th December, including the persecuted journalist and activist Rafael Marques, as well as the rapper and activist Luaty Beirão, who was jailed for rebellion against President Dos Santos.

[5] Malaquias, A. (2007). Rebels and Robbers: Violence in Post-colonial Angola. Uppsala: Nordiska Afrikainstitute. For more about the 27th May, see Mateus, D. & Mateus, A. (2013). Purga em Angola. Lisbon & Luanda: Texto; Milhazes, J. (2013). «Golpe Nito Alves» e outros momentos da história de Angola vistos do Kremlin. Lisbon: Alêtheia; Pawson, L. (2014). In the Name of the People: Angola’s Forgotten Massacre. London & New York: Palgrave Macmillan; Reis, J. (2018). Angola: 27 de Maio – A história por contar. Lisbon: Vega.

[6] For instance, people whose father’s names do not appear on their identity cards.

[7] The president’s wife, Ana Dias Lourenço, was also a victim, having been arrested due to a supposed connection to the nitistas.

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.

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.