Friends of Angola


Angola’s new president, João Lourenço, has been in the news since taking office four months ago.

Lourenço has made a number of moves, such as dismissing high-level officials. He says the moves are part of his campaign promise to fight corruption and rebuild the country’s economy.

In December, he removed Isabel dos Santos, a daughter of former President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, from her job as head of Angola’s oil company.

Earlier this month, the new president ousted Jose Filomena dos Santos, the son of the former president, as head of the nation’s $5 billion sovereign wealth fund. The program is meant to support growth, economic conditions and social development across the country.

Angola watchers say Lourenço’s actions are meant to fuel an economy that has long depended on oil exports and foreign investment.

Alex Vines works for the London-based Chatham House research group. He says the president has earned a nickname by dismissing top officials. Vines likens him to “The Terminator,” the killer cyborg played by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1984 film.

The dos Santos family expected change after Lourenço became president, Vines told VOA. “…What none of the family, I think, recognized was that change would come so quickly,” he said.

Vines thinks that has to do with the fact that Angola could not support the sort of business model that happened in the last years of the dos Santos presidency.

“They’ve been removed out of their positions much more quickly than anybody would have imagined; hence, the nickname for João Lourenço in Angola now, which is ‘The Terminator.'”

‘He had to do it’

Paula Roque, another Angola watcher, is based in Johannesburg, South Africa. Unlike others, she is not yet willing to give the new president too much credit as a reformer.

She told VOA the dismissals are important, but he had to do it.

“You can’t run a country, you certainly can’t reform an economy, without taking the lead or the control, of the revenues. And the oil company was certainly one of them. The sovereign wealth fund was created for rainy days, and Angola’s certainly going through a crisis. So he really didn’t have much of an option but to do what he did.”

But the changes are far from a complete ouster of the country’s top leadership. Observers and anti-corruption groups have estimated that the dos Santos family still controls billions of dollars worth of government resources.

Paula Roque said that in reality, Isabel (dos Santos) still controls the diamond industry in Angola.

“So it goes much deeper than just having key positions that we know of. We’re talking about holding companies, shell companies, we’re talking about the use of state resources to invest in private enterprises.”

FILE – A woman walks past the head office of Angolan state oil company Sonangol in the capital Luanda, Aug. 26, 2012.
FILE – A woman walks past the head office of Angolan state oil company Sonangol in the capital Luanda, Aug. 26, 2012.
‘The tip of the iceberg’

Rafael Marques de Morais is an Angolan-based anti-corruption campaigner. He believes Lourenço’s moves only serve to direct attention away from his lack of an economic plan.

“The president’s children were only the tip of the iceberg, and he only dealt with the tip of the iceberg,” he told VOA from Luanda, Angola’s capital. “And now people are realizing he has not terminated the iceberg, but just broke some ice. I think at this point that people are realizing that this is just a show, because he doesn’t have a clear economic policy.”

Economists have, however, praised the government’s recent moves, like the announcement last week that Angola would repay its $5 billion debt by 2019.

But Lourenço has also been criticized by anti-corruption activists for defending the nation’s former vice president. Manuel Vicente is accused of offering money to a Portuguese judge when he served as head of Angola’s state-operated oil company. Angola gained independence from Portugal in 1975.

Vicente’s corruption trial began this week in Lisbon. Portuguese officials have has refused to move the case to Angola. The officials have said they don’t believe he will be fully investigated if he comes back home.

I’m Jonathan Evans.

Anita Powell reported this story for George Grow adapted her report for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.

More at: