The dos Santos on the losing momentum in new-era Angola

Thursday October 04 2018

Angolan President Joao Lourenco. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


Former Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos last month handed over the ruling MPLA party baton, effectively ending his long political career.

He had been at the helm of both the country and the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola since September 21, 1979, having succeeded the liberation hero and first President António Agostinho Neto.

MPLA has ruled the oil-rich Angola since its independence from Portugal in 1975.

The 76-year-old dos Santos, who was one of Africa’s longest-serving heads of state, acknowledged during his farewell speech that he had made mistakes during the nearly 40 years' reign. Nevertheless, he maintained that he was exiting with his head held high.

Having made up his mind to retire, Mr dos Santos had picked his Defence minister, the 64-year-old João Lourenço, as his heir. All expectations therefore were that under Mr Lourenço's stewardship, Angolans would be treated to more of the same... no upsetting the old order.

The tumult


However, President Lourenço soon moved fast to chart his own path, a development that has continued to cause quite a stir within the old power circles. In addition to replacing several dos Santos's confidants from strategic state positions, President Lourenço has wedged an anti-corruption war that has thoroughly shaken the status quo.

Not even the veteran dos Santos himself has been spared the tumult.

"The sad end to a tyrant abandoned by his wife, without friends, hated by people and together with his children may be jailed," screamed the privately-owned O Crime newspaper recently.

The former presidential couple has not been seen together for more than a year now, even when the occasion demanded. Mr dos Santos was alone at his successor's inauguration and last August, the former first lady, Ms Ana Paula dos Santos, failed to turn up for her husband's farewell celebrations.

That Mr dos Santos has not been in a particularly good state of health, has added to his tribulations and heightened the speculation about his marriage.


Mr José Filomeno dos Santos (Zenu). FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Angolan writer José Eduardo Agualusa, in in an interview with the Portuguese news agency Lusa, said that Mr dos Santos had ended up alone, without friends and followers.

“He was only followed because he had power and not charisma,” he said, adding that, “he has no friends in Angola and abroad”.

Many of the dos Santos's loyalists have been sacked from critical and lucrative positions in the army, the police service and state-owned companies.

Among President Lourenço's first targets was Ms Isabel dos Santos, the eldest daughter of the former president, who lost her director's seat at Sonangol, the state-owned oil company. Her half-brother, Mr José Filomeno dos Santos (Zenu) has been replaced from the leadership of Angola's sovereign wealth fund.

Ms Isabel dos Santos faces several graft investigations, while Filomeno is charged with misappropriating public funds. His business associate and the founder of the Swiss firm Quantum Global, Mr Jean Claude Bastos de Morais, has also been arrested and detained by the Angola authorities.

Was arrested

Also caught up in the Lourenço dragnet is the head of the President José Eduardo dos Santos Foundation (FESA), Mr Ismael Diego. He remains in detention at the São Paulo prison in Luanda, having been arrested for alleged misappropriation of $20 million.

“Mr Ismael Diogo, José Eduardo dos Santos’ close ally, was arrested following his failure to honour the Criminal Investigation Services summon,” the Angolan spy agency confirmed.

Angolan journalist and human rights activist Rafael Marques recently published in his Maka Angola anti-corruption website that Filomeno and Mr Valter Filipe, the former National Reserve Bank head and a dos Santos ally, risked more than 20 years jail term over misappropriating public funds.

Angola's new political dispensation may be a long way from turning a full circle, but the dos Santos expansive biological and political family, was surely on the losing momentum.