LILONGWE (Malawi NewsNow)—London based Malawian James Woods-Nkhutabasa, a good governance specialist himself and a regular African Affairs Analyst on London based Arise TV, was this week dissecting the affairs in Angola.
Angola’s President. José Eduardo dos Santos, who is Africa’s second longest serving president, recently announced that he will be stepping down from politics in 2017.
Woods speaking on Arise TV was weighing in as to whether this announcement will hold ground or not as in the past, dos Santos has made similar statements but still ran for election.
President dos Santos has been in power since 1979. On Friday 2nd December 2016, an MPLA spokesperson mentioned that João Lourenço, Defence Minister and a party loyalist will be their top candidate to take over the leadership and contest in the elections.
According to Woods, Lourenço is seen as a safe choice claiming he has the backing of the military and has worked his way up the governance ladder without family ties in high positions.
Other candidates mentioned in the past have included Jose Filomeno (son to dos Santos) who manages the $5 billion Angolan Sovereign Wealth Fund but his nomination would be contentious and would face heavy criticism of nepotism and inheritance; Manuel Vicente the current vice president of Angola and right hand man to Mr dos Santos.
Vicente has a strong resume and a former head of Sonangol (the national oil company) but the challenge with his nomination would be his reputation which is highly connected with the oil industry at a time when Angola needs to diversify its economy due to plummeting crude oil prices and most importantly he was recently embroiled in a corruption scandal of attempted bribery of a Portuguese prosecutor who was looking into his assets.
Why announce now that he is stepping down?
Woods notes that Angola is in a deep economic crisis, facing a shortage of US dollars due to crude oil price slump. The local currency, Kwanza fell as low as 39% against the US dollar impacting the consumer purchasing power and inflation rates are ridiculously high. Angola ranks quite badly on the World Bank ease of doing business report, coming in at 182/189; on the corruption perception index 163/167 and has the world’s highest child-mortality. The average Angolan lives on $2 a day. In the last 12 months, MPLA repression against political opponents and human right activists have intensified adding to criticism of the governance structures. Some quarters have argued that by announcing his retirement from active politics may just be a ploy to distract people from the numerous challenges the Southern African nation is facing.
Despite these challenges, it is worth noting that Angola is currently the third largest economy in Africa and economists predict that by 2018 it will be Africa’s largest economy if they can overcome the current challenges. Angola has Africa’s third-largest oil reserves and the third largest producer of diamonds.
“I personally doubt that the deepening economic crisis is what would have forced President dos Santos to announce that he is stepping down. President dos Santos has significant influence, wealth and control of major sectors that drive the Angolan economy, has control of the MPLA and the opposition is still very weak and divided to mount a serious challenge to the presidency. I believe his choice to step down, if he does at all is more to do with the changing tide of populations demanding more from their leaders, a need for transparency and accountability but most importantly a need from within the MPLA to have new ideas whilst maintaining a close grip on their policies,” argued Woods adding that “whoever shall win the elections will face a big challenge of cleaning up the system of patronage, nepotism and corruption. They will need to ensure they impact the lives of the Angolan populations and diversify the economy further.”
The Angolan economy has been heavily reliant on the oil sector thus will need to really invest heavily in other key sectors such as agriculture, tourism, fisheries and construction. Agriculture will be of tantamount importance as of now it currently accounts for only 11% GDP of the nation. During the colonial period, Angola was a major exporter of coffee, sisal, sugar cane, banana and cotton and now it imports 90% of its food at a cost of $5 billion per year. In the colonial period Angola exported over 200,000 Metric Tonnes of coffee at its peak as compared to 12,000 Metric Tonnes in 2014. Sadly, there has been a lack of investment in this area thus a need for more to be done. Angola has only cultivated a third of its arable land, has a great youthful labour force and good weather conditions to drive forward the agricultural terrain.
The legacy of dos Santos?
Woods opines that dos Santos legacy will be split, “the educated middle class in Angola will view him as an individual who enhanced his wealth and that of those close to him whilst the rest of the nation lives below the poverty line; promoted nepotism and corruption whilst oppressing those who went against him. On the other hand, those in the rural areas may see him as the leader who ended the civil war and brought peace thus a sense of stability – this group will see him as their hero. The international community, will no doubt look at him as an autocratic leader who had total control of the country and ruled with an iron fist.”
Despite the negative social indicators on Angola, one cannot mask the development that has taken place in just over a decade of peace (2002 to present), a nation which in this short time frame has seen itself become the third largest economy on the continent with the potential to be the largest in 2018 as some economist predict.
Watch the Full Interview on the youtube link below.