Angola’s longtime President Dos Santos to stand down in 2017

Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who has ruled for 37 years, will stand down before next year’s general election, state radio said Friday citing sources in the ruling MPLA party.

The autocratic Dos Santos, 74, became president in 1979, making him Africa’s second-longest serving leader — one month short of Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbassogo.

His reign has seen the end of civil war and an investment boom, but has also been criticized as secretive and corrupt with Angola’s citizens suffering grim poverty as his family became hugely wealthy.

His daughter Isabel, 43, is a British-educated billionaire businesswoman, dubbed the richest woman in Africa. Forbes magazine values her fortune at $3 billion, based on her stakes in Unitel, Angola’s largest phone operator, Portuguese oil and gas giant Galp Energia, and in banks in both countries.

National Radio of Angola said that Defense Minister Joao Lourenco would take over as MPLA leader, in news confirmed to AFP by Joao Pinto, a senior member of the party. “The president will not be a candidate and he already has a successor,” Pinto told AFP. “It will be Joao Lourenco, who will be presented to members of the party on December 10 when we celebrate the party’s anniversary.”

At a meeting of the MPLA (People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola) on Friday in Luanda, Dos Santos launched his party’s campaign for the election, but he did not address whether he would seek a new term. “Our goal is to win the election,” he told delegates. “The key to success will be the discipline and the unity of all our candidates.”

Authoritarian leader

In March, Dos Santos made a surprise announcement that he would step down in 2018, but has since given no further details about any resignation plan.  After constitutional changes in 2010, Angola does not directly elect a president, rather the leader of the winning party automatically becomes head of state.

In August, Dos Santos was re-elected head of the MPLA, extending his mandate by up to five years if the party wins the election, as expected.

Angolan rapper and political activist Luaty Beirao, who was jailed for several months under Dos Santos’s regime, said he was “very satisfied” at the prospect of his leaving office. “Angola is the hostage of his decisions and whims and, fortunately, he has decided on his own that this was enough,” he told Portuguese news agency Lusa, calling for “new faces and new blood in Angola”.

The end of Dos Santos’s regime will shake up Angola, where he has been a looming presence in daily life longer than most people can remember, exercising almost total authority over government, politics, media and business. He was sworn in 1979 following the sudden death from cancer of Angola’s liberation president Agostinho Neto.

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Jean Baptiste Karegeya

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