Post-Dos Santos Angola era in the making
from PEDRO AGOSTO in Luanda, Angola
LUANDA, (CAJ News) – TEMPERATURES are simmering as Angola prepares for elections that will usher in a new era void of one of Africa’s longtime rulers, José Eduardo dos Santos.
The continent’s third longest serving president after Cameroon’s Paul Biya (since 1975) and Equatorial Guinean Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo (August 1979), Dos Santos has ruled Angola since September 1979.
He announced late last year he would not stand for re-election when the resources-rich Southern African country goes to polls in August. The top candidate of the winning party in the legislative automatically becomes president.
More than nine million voters, over 40 percent of the population, are registered.
Dos Santos’ deputy, Joao Lourenco (63), who is also the country’s minister of defence, will contest on the platform of the ruling Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola, literally translated in English as Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA).
“It is almost impossible to imagine what the country looks like without him at the helm,” stated Simon Allison, consultant at the Institute for Security Studies.
In power since independence in 1975 when Agostinho Neto (born 1922, died 1979) became president, MPLA is favoured to retain power, prospects that are strengthened by a weakened and fragmented opposition incapacitated by the ruling party’s socialistic approach of a one-party state system.
Out of the more than 20 opposition political parties, whose majority only appear during municipal elections and targeted legislative positions before ceasing operations, the notable and most formidable oppositions are the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) and National Liberation Front of Angola (FNLA).
UNITA joined a government of national unity following the death of their combative, militaristic leader Jonas Savimbi in 2002.
His death in the battle with government backed troops along riverbanks in the province of Moxico, his birthplace, brought to end over two-and-a-half decades of civil war. More than 500 000 civilians were killed during one of Africa’s longest and bloodiest civil wars.
The upcoming elections, the fourth since a multi-party system in 1992, are the most anticipated in years with the absence of Dos Santos, who turns 75 during the polls, the highlight.
“The forthcoming elections will be exciting considering the incumbent has announced he is stepping down to pave way for Lourenco. Already temperatures are beginning to simmer,” says political and human rights activist António Pereira in Luanda, the country’s capital during an interview with CAJ News Africa .
Businessman, Paulo Marques from the second largest city of Huambo, predicted a closely-fought affair.
“If there is no political violence, intimidation and harassment of opposition parties’ activists, I project a close contest this time around,” Marques speaks to CAJ News.
MPLA has been a dominant force in recent elections, commanding 53,74 % of the vote to UNITA’s 34,10 %.
The last poll in 2012 saw power retained at 71,85% to UNITA’s 18,67%.
“People need change,” argued Marques.
“Angolans no longer wish to be led by a political party whose image is littered with corruption. Take for example, President dos Santos’daughter, Isabel is now controlling almost every sector of the economy in the country. Controversially, Isabel has under a cloud of corruption emerged the richest female in the African continent,” said Marques in an interview.
The change he argued people needs have been manifested through a crackdown on protestors demanding credible elections.
Protesters have accused territorial administration minister, Bornito de Sousa, of planning to rig the polls to enhance his ascension to the deputy presidency of the country if MPLA wins as anticipated.
Third in the hierarchy behind Dos Santos and Lourenco, he is in charge of the voter registration process and there are accusations he could thus manipulate the election. He denies the allegation.
In March, police beat activists with batons and set dogs on pro-opposition groups, resulting in the injury of scores.
Luanda has been the scene of the protests.
Daniel Bekele, senior advocacy director at Human Rights Watch Africa,criticized the heavy-handed response by security forces to peaceful protests.
Amnesty International has also bemoaned trigger-happiness among police.
“We have often seen Angolan police use unnecessary and excessive force against peaceful demonstrators,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s director for Southern Africa.
However, fisherman Flavio Figueiredo, believes the poll will be peaceful.
“The suffering that majority of people went through, especially during the civil war between government forces and UNITA is not something that the general populace would wish for. Also, some UNITA leaders, who are now benefitting from the ceasefire arrangement with MPLA would not want
their lavish prosperity threatened,” said Figueiredo in a separate interview with CAJ News.
Political analyst, Dominique Jordao, concurred the ceasefire would be a factor.
“No single leader from UNITA presently dining with MPLA would ever wish to see their wealth and lavish life disturbed. The politics of today in Angola is about bringing food on the table. As long as those that benefit and their families are safe. There will be no strong opposition to the status quo,” said Jordao.
Southern Africa’s biggest country by size and the second-biggest economy after South Africa, Angola has vast oil and gas resources and mining industry brimming with diamond, gold, uranium, manganese, copper, phosphates, granite, marble, quartz, lead, zinc, sulfur, feldspar, kaolin, mica, asphalt and gypsum, among others.
– CAJ News
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