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Santos passes baton to Angola’s defence chief

Saturday December 10 2016

Angola's President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos

Angola's President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos leaves the Elysee presidential palace in Paris after a meeting with French president on April 29, 2014. He is now retired. PHOTO | AFP 

AFP
By AFP
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LUANDA

Angola formally announced the end of President Jose Eduardo dos Santos’ controversial 37-year rule, and named a successor to lead the ailing African oil-producing country.

News of the veteran leader’s impending retirement, announced on state radio on December 2, has made front page news in Angolan newspapers all week.

But the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), in power since 1975, has remained silent on the matter.

On the 60th anniversary of its founding, the party confirmed that dos Santos, 74, would not seek another term as president in the 2017 party elections.

It also announced that he would be succeeded as head of the party by defence minister, Joao Lourenco, 62.

Angola does not directly elect a president, but rather the leader of the winning party automatically becomes head of state.

In all likelihood, the retired general Lourenco will succeed dos Santos — one of the longest serving leaders in Africa — after the party elections next August.

The departure, announced in a closed-door meeting of the MPLA’s central committee last week, does not come as a complete surprise.

Dos Santos himself announced in March intention to end his long political career.

“President dos Santos had been planning to step down in 2018,” said Alex Vines, Africa programme director at the British think-tank Chatham House.

“But I think a combination of the country’s economic conditions and falling health brought his plans forward.”

After years of spectacular growth, thanks to an oil boom, like many crude-producing nations Angola has suffered a sudden downturn in the last two years due to a drop in prices.

Last week, national oil company Sonangol, managed by dos Santos’ daughter Isabel, announced it would not be paying dividends to the state this year — a first for the country’s main source of foreign currency.

While it will be a new page in the history of Angola, the departure of the former Marxist guerrilla fighter is unlikely to shake up the running of the country.

This is to the chagrin of critics who have been denouncing dos Santos’ “authoritarian leadership” for years. )