Angola President Lourenco skips national day to meet the Pope

Tuesday November 12 2019

Pope Francis (C), Angola's President Joao

Pope Francis (C), Angola's President Joao Lourenco (L) and his wife Ana Dias Lourenco (R) exchange gifts during a private audience at the Vatican on November 12, 2019. President Lourenco skipped his country's 44th independence anniversary for the visit to the Vatican at the Pope's invitation. PHOTO | ALBERTO LINGRIA | AFP 

ARNALDO VIEIRA
By ARNALDO VIEIRA
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Angola President Joao Lourenco on Monday breached a global unwritten norm on national days when he skipped his country's independence day fete for a state visit to Italy and the Vatican.

National days are revered the world over and heads of states and governments usually plan their diaries around them; missing them only in the most pressing of emergencies.

And so it was for President Lourenco whose invitation by Pope Francis for a private audience on November 12 almost perfectly clashed with the country's 44th independence day anniversary.

The Presidency said President Lourenco's was absent from the celebrations presided over by his Deputy, Bornito de Sousa because he was away on a state visit.

The President travelled to Italy on the day of the celebrations, November 11, for a two-day visit to the Vatican starting Tuesday.

He was expected to meet Pope Francis and finalise on agreements signed with the Holy See last month.

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The presidency said President Lourenco would on Wednesday sign several bilateral accords at the Angolan embassy in Rome.

A scion of the former first family Isabella dos Santos appeared to accuse President Lourenco of disrespecting the occasion.

"Today is Angola's Independence Day! Our homeland. This is not something we take for granted. Angola's independence is invaluable to me.

It represents the effort of our people and great heroes in the fight for self determination and freedom," she said in a tweet on November 11.

The family of Eduardo dos Santos, who led Angola for 37 years since 1979, has been at loggerheads with his handpicked successor over his war on corruption which it argues targets his relatives and close allies.

Isabella and her sister, Welwitschia dos Santos TchizéTwho recently lost her Parliamentary seat over absenteeism, are on self-imposed exile in Europe after they accused President Lourenco of persecuting them and alleged death threats.

Away from the no-shows, de Sousa said the country's economy was under control despite a biting drought and erratic commodity prizes that have exacerbated the country's debt situation.

Debt

He said the ruling People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola would pay closer attention to the 164 municipalities in a bid to uplift the livelihoods of the country's 30 million people.

It would also channel more resources to education and health where 17,500 more personnel will be hired in January 2020 when the fiscal year begins compared to 39,180 hired this year.

Angola's wriggling room in directing spending is, however, limited by debt service taking a substantial share of resources.

“In 2020 more than 60 per cent of the General Budget will pay contracted debts,” de Sousa said during the national day celebrations in Quibala municipality of Cuanza Sul province.

In June, President Lourenço launched the $2 billion Municipal Intervention Integrated Programme (PIIM) which prioritises education, health, water, sanitation, energy and communication infrastructure.

The funding of the project has been fronted as a success of the President Lourenco's war on corruption after the government said it was recovered from money looted from the country's sovereign fund.

The fund was led by dos Santos son, José Filomeno Zenú, who was sacked in January 2018, thrown into custody at the São Paulo Prison in Luanda in September of that year and later released in March 2019.

Commodity prices

He was accused of illegally moving $500 million from the Fund's Angolan Reserve Bank account to Credit Suisse Bank in the UK.

In Independence Day awards last Thursday journalist and human rights activist Rafael Marques who had a run in with Eduardo dos Santos for his scathing attacks on corruption was among 70 people honoured.

President Lourenco has denied targeting the former first family in his corruption purge.

In activities related to the national day, President Lourenço pledged to control the rise in commodity prices that have surged since October following the introduction of Value Added Tax.

The tax was one of the measures agreed with the IMF to stabilise the economy.
“The government has implemented measures to reduce prices which have risen after the introduction of VAT,” President Lourenco said when he laid a wreath of flowers at the statue of the country’s first head of state Antonio Agostino Neto.

President Neto ruled Angola for four years after independence from Portugal in 1975.

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