October 13, 2011

Ruling party to confirm presidential successor

Angola's Manuel Vicente will be confirmed as nominee for leadership of the ruling Movement for the Popular Liberation of Angola (MPLA) - effectively guaranteeing his election to succeed the country's long-serving President Jose Eduardo dos Santos in elections due 2012. In both public statements and behaviour, Dos Santos has been ambiguous about whether he means to step down following the elections. But recent developments in the country and inside the ruling party suggest views may be changing in the MPLA, with party leaders increasingly willing to contemplate life after dos Santos.
The MPLA, sources say, is sensitive to allegations that, after 32 years at the helm, dos Santos may have stayed too long. This feeling has been reinforced by this year's events in North Africa, where long-serving rulers such as Libya's Muammar Gaddafi (42 years in power) and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak (33 years) were removed by popular revolts. Popular discontent in Angola remains muted, but clearly on the increase.

Vicente is the powerful chairman of the Angolan national oil company, Sonangol. His nomination for the party post will be presented to meetings of the MPLA's Politburo later this month and its Central Committee in November. Dos Santos's carefully laid plans for an orderly retirement have been disrupted by a growing trend of sporadic and spontaneous anti-government protests in the streets of the country's major cities. Aimed against the grinding poverty, unemployment and vast inequalities in Angola, some of the protests have openly called for dos Santos's resignation. They blame dos Santos's long rule as a leading cause of the endemic corruption in government and the ruling party. Should social and other pressures force dos Santos to step down before the elections, the MPLA will call an extraordinary congress at which a new leader - Vicente - will be elected to take over the rein, insiders say.

There are several reasons why dos Santos may be comfortable enough to step down with Vicente at the helm. Vicente is dos Santos's own handpicked preference for the top job, and is thought the most likely to look after the dos Santos family's vast fortune and business interests.

Due largely to this, Vicente is said to enjoy the confidence of Isabel dos Santos, the president's influential and exceedingly wealthy eldest daughter. Vicente, through his control of Sonangol, sits at the centre of a vast network of state-based graft and patronage. This makes him the preferred choice of many powerful ruling party figures who benefit from that network. He has the backing of Angola's deputy president, Fernando da Piedade dias dos Santos ("Nando"), MPLA deputy president Roberto de Almeida, and party secretary general Dino Mattross, according to MPLA sources. Vicente is as an economic pragmatist likely to continue the country's current market-friendly economic policies. He has also been instrumental in propelling Angola's regional strategic interests, notably in the Gulf of Guinea, though oil diplomacy. (Southern African Report)

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