Robert Mugabe, in power for 37 years, has finally resigned. Meanwhile, on the southwestern coast of the continent, Angola’s new president, João Lourenço, tapped by now “emeritus” president José Eduardo dos Santos — who ruled for 38 years — has been stirring things up. Now that Mugabe has stepped aside, maybe the international media will pay attention. Or, if we are lucky, it can hold two African countries in focus at the same time. We can always hope.
Next week, we hope to have some sharp political analysis for you on the situation in Angola. Today, we just want to give you the bullet points on what President João Lourenço, newly dubbed the “implacable exonerator,” has been up to.
Elected August 23 with 61% of the vote (vote counts are disputed, look here), Angolans and Angola-observers expected Lourenço to tow the dos Santos line. Beginning in late October, he has broken ranks. And how.
(1) Lourenço’s first move was to fire the governor of the National Bank of Angola eleven days after his opening speech in parliament in which he stated “we won’t rest until the country has a central bank that strictly meets and in a competent way, its role and is governed by professionals in banking.” Valter Filipe, the director removed from his position, is a lawyer by training. Angola’s financial crisis and desperate foreign exchange situation require solution.
(2) Acting to improve freedom of expression, Lourenço replaced the board of administrators and editors in chief of the state-owned media – Jornal de Angola (the state daily), Rádio Nacional de Angola (Angolan National Radio/RNA), Televisão Pública de Angola (Angolan Public Television/TPA), and Angop (the news wire).
(3) On the same day, November 9th, he cancelled the state’s contracts with Bromangol, a company owned by one of Dos Santos’s children, Filomeno “Zenú” dos Santos, who also happens to be head of the Angolan Sovereign Wealth Fund. Bromangol runs all the laboratory testing for products entering the country to see if they are fit for human consumption.
(4) Various sectors of Angolan civil society, for a long time now, have called for Isabel dos Santos’ removal as head of Sonangol, the national oil company, following her appointment by her father in June 2016. First, a number of lawyers contested the legality of her appointment. Angolans, generally, expressed displeasure and outrage. Recently, Rafael Marques, noted investigative journalist, who has written extensively on Isabel dos Santos’ assets, posted a call for her to resign “Belinha sai só.”
She didn’t need to. The “implacable exonerator” got to her first. On November 15, President Lourenço fired Isabel dos Santos. The same day, he cancelled the contracts between TPA and Semba and Westside Comunicações, communications companies owned by Welwitschia (Tchizé) and Coreon Dú dos Santos, two other dos Santos children. While this does not have the same financial implications, the symbolic force is significant.
(5) November 20, Lourenço removed Ambrósio de Lemos, head of the National Police and General António José Maria, chief of Military Intelligence, in his first move against the generals closest to dos Santos. Zé Maria, as he is commonly known, is rumored to be prowling the halls of the media with the dos Santos decree that secured his position for the next five years in hand.
While this may just be re-arranging or organizing his own system of power, the moves have been wildly popular. Along with spending the night in Cabinda after speechifying there and apparently requesting the removal of the MPLA young pioneers and the women’s group when he landed in Lubango to give a speech on independence Day, claiming he is the president of all Angolans, JLo, is making a bid to be a President who connects with Angolans. Something Zedú (dos Santos) never managed to do. But, as Rafael Marques cautions, civil society and the opposition parties need to step up of this will another government that governs without the people.