From PEDRO AGOSTO in Luanda, Angola
LUANDA, (CAJ News) – THE man to take over from Jose Eduardo dos Santos, faces an arduous task steering the country out of the oppression and politics of patronage that have tainted the brutal reign that characterised his almost four decades at the helm of the Southern African country.
Most likely to be defence minister, João Lourenço (63), the president-elect inherits an administration presiding over an economy reeling from drought, the tumbling oil prices globally, rising inflation, unemployment and discontent among the teeming youth population.
The sharp and long-lasting decline in oil prices has derailed Angola’s economic performance. GDP growth slowed to 1,1 percent in 2016, driven by a slowdown in non-oil activity as the industrial, construction, and services sectors adjusted to cuts in private consumption and public investment
Seven million Angolans, a quarter of the population, on Wednesday went to polls to elect a new leader to succeed dos Santos, Africa’s second-longest serving president (who turns 75 years old on Monday), in power since September 1979 after the death of the first president, Agostinho Neto, from cancer in a Moscow hospital.
Having dominated the political scene since independence from Portugal in 1975, the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) was expected to remain in power but with a reduced majority.
Among his prominent legacies remains the truce in 2002, which ended a civil war with the rival National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, which ended 27 years of civil war which claimed the lives of some 500 000 civilians and displaced 1 million.
Rights activist, Deprose Muchena, said under dos Santos’ reign, Angola has been characterized by repeated attacks on the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.
“Dos Santos’ presidency is marked by his appalling human rights record. For decades, Angolans have lived in a climate of fear in which speaking out was met with intimidation, imprisonment and enforced disappearance,” said Muchena, a regional director at rights group, Amnesty International.
He said whatever the result of the poll, the new Angolan government must end the systemic abuse of the justice system and other state institutions to brutally silence dissent.
“The new administration must commit from the onset to the respect and protection of human rights for all people in Angola,” Muchena added.
“That begins by ending undue restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, while building an atmosphere in which human rights defenders and civil society can work without fear of reprisals.”
CIVICUS pointed out the president-elect inherits an administration presiding over partisan state instruments like the police, infamous for quashing dissent ahead of elections.
The judicial system, notorious for targeting critics of dos Santos, is another area that needs reform.
“The judicial persecution of journalists is one of several strategies used by the Angolan government to silence critical voices,” CIVICUS pointed out.
The global civil rights group thus called on government to stop the judicial persecution of media and respect the rights of all citizens to peacefully assemble.
Lourenco has pledged to boost economic growth and fight corruption.
However, analysts said with dos Santos remain the president of the MPLA for at least another term and his children remain in control of the country’s key institutions, Lourenco will come unstuck in fulfilling his pledges.
The president’s daughter, Isabel (44), is Africa’s wealthiest woman and was nominated as chief executive of Sonangol Group. Her brother, José Filomeno (39), is chairman of the sovereign wealth fund, Fundo Soberano de Angola.
The National Assembly in July approved legislation that would keep top security officials (the chiefs of the army, police and intelligence) in place for eight years, thereby preventing presidents from choosing the occupants of those posts at will.
“The forthcoming name changes at the helm of the Angolan government suggest that power will remain vested with the incumbent president, his family and political cronies,” stated Allan & Associates, the security risk management consultancy.
“While it is unlikely that Lourenço will become a mere puppet to dos Santos, the incumbent is likely to exert some level of influence over the next Angolan president.”
At a diplomatic level, analysts pointed out to the deteriorating situation in the Kasai region of the neighbouring Democratic republic of Congo introducing a new element into the relationship between the two countries as another test to the tenure of the incoming president.
It coincides with the worsening situation in Kasai with thousands crossing the border to seek refuge in Angola.
Stephanie Wolters, head of peace and security research programme, pointed out recently, Angolan issued “a rare public statement” on the DRC, calling on government and all political foes to end to political violence and extremist actions and commit to “serious and constructive dialogue.”
Lourenço has signed signing a bilateral military cooperation accord with the United States.
“For two decades, what’s happened in the DRC has been top of Angola’s foreign policy priorities. Everyone in the DRC knows that Angola has a key role in how the current political crisis in the DRC plays out,” Wolters stated.
Recently, at the conclusion of the 37th summit of the Southern African Development Community, incoming chairman of the regional bloc, Jacob Zuma, described dos Santos as “one of the key pillars of SADC.”
“We thus take this opportunity to thank him profoundly for his contribution to the liberation struggle in the region and his outstanding contribution to SADC. We wish him good health in his retirement,” the South African president said.
– CAJ News
From PEDRO AGOSTO in Luanda, Angola