Friends of Angola

By Henrique Almeida and Candido Mendes

Angolan President Joao Lourenco dismissed the son of his predecessor Jose Eduardo dos Santos as chairman of the country’s $5 billion sovereign wealth fund, further loosening the grip of the Dos Santos family on key areas of state.

Lourenco fired Jose Filomeno dos Santos and the entire board of the Fundo Soberano de Angola, according to a presidential decree published by state-owned Angola Press. The decree didn’t provide a reason for the dismissals. Carlos Alberto Lopes, a former finance minister, will take over as head of the fund, it said.

“The sovereign wealth fund dismissal isn’t a surprise and it certainly isn’t Lourenco’s most aggressive move,” said Paula Roque, a political analyst at Oxford University. “Lourenco could be doing two things: reforming the economy, or simply trying to take over the key structures of power.”

Lourenco, 63, assumed office in September following elections that marked the end of the 38-year rule of Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who said he wanted to quit active politics. He has already removed his predecessor’s daughter, Isabel, as chairwoman of the state-owned oil company Sonangol, and fired the central bank governor and the head of diamond company Endiama. He has also terminated management contracts for state TV channels with two other Dos Santos children.

While Lourenco was commonly referred to as “J-Lo” during his election campaign, the unexpected string of dismissals has earned him the nickname “relentless remover” and comparisons with the Terminator, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s movie character.

Filomeno dos Santos’s management of the sovereign wealth fund came under fire last year following a report by Swiss newspaper Le Matin Dimanche that claimed the fund’s assets were being mismanaged. The government then hired a company to review the fund’s accounts.

‘Aggressive Style’

The economy of Africa’s second-biggest oil producer has been crippled by low crude prices, soaring inflation and a shortage of dollars needed to import products. The central bank ended the kwanza’s almost two-year peg to the dollar on Tuesday.

Lourenco has vowed to stimulate growth by tackling corruption, selling stakes in state-owned companies and encouraging wealthy Angolans abroad to repatriate their funds. He may next take aim directly at Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who still heads the ruling People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola, or MPLA. At a press conference in the capital, Luanda, on Monday to mark his first 100 days in power, Lourenco reminded his 75-year-old predecessor of his pledge to leave politics in 2018.

Lourenco’s aggressive and outspoken leadership style is probably meant to win him more support within the ruling party so that he can eventually push Dos Santos out, said Roque.

“Nothing that Lourenco has done so far has been discreet and under the table,” she said.