Angola: Dos Santos steps down as party chief

LUANDA (AFP) – Ex-president Jose Eduardo dos Santos yesterday bowed out from Angolan politics which he dominated for nearly four decades when he hands leadership of the ruling party to President Joao Lourenco.

The passing of the baton between the two men was the climax of a handover marked by barely disguised friction and new policies challenging dos Santos’s legacy.

As his rule came to an end, dos Santos said he wanted to be remembered for his dignified exit from the office he held since 1979.

The 76-year-old liberation war veteran did not seek re-election in the August 2017 polls and handed the reins of power to his Defence Minister Lourenco, 64.

But he remained at the helm of the oil-rich country’s People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) party, where much of the real power is seen to be vested.

Yesterday, “Comrade Number One” relinquished control of the MPLA to Lourenco at an extraordinary party meeting.

“The stepping down of Jose Eduardo dos Santos as MPLA president is an important watershed moment,” said Alex Vines, an Angola expert at the Chatham House think-tank in London.

“It’s been a bumpy transition with a bit of tug-of-war over power between (them).”

By choosing a successor from within his own regime, dos Santos had thought he would be assured a peaceful handover.

He had earlier given control of strategic sectors of the economy to close confidants – including the state oil giant to his daughter Isabel.

Dos Santos also appointed loyalists to head the country’s security forces.

But Lourenco quickly moved to assert his authority after being elected president last year, beginning to dismantle his predecessor’s empire.

On the premise of rebooting the listless economy, Lourenco deposed Isabel from the top job at Sonangol as well as her half-brother Jose “Zenu” Filomeno from the leadership of Angola’s sovereign wealth fund.