Angola’s Lourenço faces reelection contest without edge of ‘newness’

Thursday February 24 2022
Joao Lourenço’s supporters.

Joao Lourenço’s supporters carry posters in Luanda in 2017 during a campaign rally. President Lourenço is widely expected to recapture his seat this August. PHOTO | AFP


President João Lourenço of Angola is often seen as a man who broke the country’s monotony of one leader for decades, even though he himself had been close to the top echelons of power for some time.

Now, the man who replaced José Eduardo dos Santos, who had ruled for 38 years, is coming up to face a reelection contest. When the polls are held this August, Lourenço will no longer enjoy the gift of newness. His critics say he faces old questions of his predecessor.

Dos Santos reign saw his closest allies including family members enriched as the country struggled with many bone-poor people, in spite of being southern Africa’s biggest oil producer.

In 2017, President Lourenço took over from dos Santos as Angola and ruling People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) leader following the general election, the first time the country had seen a peaceful transfer of power.

Some 20 days after his inauguration, President Lourenço promised, during his first State of the Nation address in parliament, to create more jobs and diversify the economy away from oil dependency. He also promised to fight against corruption and nepotism.

“President Lourenço would have done very well if, from what he gave us as light and hope, he would have promoted democracy for the country. He had that capacity, and has that capacity, but now it is a little late,” said Archbishop Zacarias Kamwenho in a talk show with Rádio Ecclseia last week.


“Liberty and democracy have not yet arrived,” the cleric told the station in a popular show.

Just one year after his election President Lourenço started implementing measures seen as radical, by the country’s civil society.

He sacked José Filomeno dos Santos Zenú as the head of the Strategic Sovereign Fund, and fired Isabel dos Santos as the chair of the board of the state-owned oil firm Sonangol. These are the former President’s children.

Looted state wealth

Welwitschia dos Santos Tchizé, another of his predecessor’s daughter, lost her Parliamentary seat over absenteeism. She later claimed all the moves against her family were politically motivated.

In 2017, Angola ranked Angola 125th in Democracy Index compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit, out of 167 countries surveyed where indicators included free and fair electoral process, pluralism, functional government, political participation and free political culture and civil liberties.

The years that followed saw Angola improve in its democracy index according to the same analysis.

The Economist Intelligence Unit ranked the southern Africa country 123rd in 2018, 119th in 2019, 117th in 2020 and also 117th in 2021 showing that some improvements were made.

“In fact President Lourenço started with a lot of faith, hope and Angolans believed in him a lot. He was courageous and fearless,” João Vumbi, a lecturer at Angola’s Medodista University told The EastAfrican on Monday.

President Lourenço’s fight against corruption and nepotism has not only targeted his predecessor’s family members, it has also ensnared closest allies.

In 2019, President Lourenço’s government issued a 180-day ultimatum to all its nationals to repatriate their money stashed in foreign accounts, a deadline published in the official government gazette. According to Angolan presidency, the past regime had looted state wealth, some $2 billion, and stashed abroad.

“Initially, he practised what he preached and there was coherence between his [President Lourenço] words and what we saw,” Mr Vumbi said in an interview. But now, his opponents or those too powerful to control have become his political enemies, he argued.

Adalberto Costa Júnior, leader of the country’s biggest opposition party, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita), told CNN Portugal that the democratic state and the rule of law have been undermined so far.

Despite criticism, things seem to be going well within President Lourenço’s ruling MPLA. In December, he was appointed the MPLA candidate for the August general polls, eliminating any early fall-out over the presidential ticket.

The Washington-based Africa Centre for Strategies Studies said no surprises might come out of the polls in August.