Reports that president will step down in 2017 after 38 years in power likely to be accurate

December 2016

The Central Committee of the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) on 2 December decided on the party’s candidate list for the August 2017 general elections. Although the party did not publish the list, it was first reported in Portuguese media and later on state-owned Angola National Radio that it did not include President José Eduardo dos Santos, and was instead headed by minister of defence and MPLA vice-president João Lourenço. This would mean that Lourenço would succeed dos Santos as president at the elections.

The apparent decision by dos Santos not to contest the 2017 elections has not yet been officially confirmed and remains subject to change. The MPLA appears to be deliberately encouraging speculation by allowing reports to circulate – rather than exerting its usual control over internal messages and local media – while refusing to confirm them. This enables it to gauge reaction to succession plans. The MPLA has also previously encouraged a sense of uncertainty to enable it to portray dos Santos as the guarantor of stability.

Nonetheless, Control Risks believes that dos Santos will not contest the 2017 elections. Our sources report that dos Santos in recent weeks had informed his inner circle that he would not run in 2017. The decision is apparently motivated by his declining health – the MPLA on 1 December denied rumours he had been hospitalised – and triggered by the death of his brother on 13 November. Although dos Santos has suggested retirement in the past, this is the first time that a successor has been clearly identified.

Furthermore, Lourenço’s apparent nomination as dos Santos’s successor is likely to be widely accepted by MPLA structures. Lourenço has held positions throughout the party since 1984 and has reportedly built alliances across its different factions, including with the influential security forces. Lourenço is also electable, being a charismatic public speaker and having family ties across the country. Although the MPLA is unlikely to lose the 2017 polls given opposition weakness, it is worried that economic challenges will cut its majority.

If Lourenço were to stand instead of dos Santos, changes to the business environment would be likely over the coming year. Dos Santos would seek to retain political influence to protect his family’s substantial commercial interests. This would be likely to see a dismantling of some of the structures that currently concentrate authority in the presidency. Although strict MPLA control of the succession process would ensure broad political stability, this decentralisation of authority would change the political landscape and the range of stakeholders with which investors must engage.

João Lourenço

Lourenço was previously a senior figure within the MPLA, having served as the party’s secretary general between 1998 and 2003. However, in 2003 he fell from favour having commented on the possibility of dos Santos leaving office. Lourenço reportedly used his ‘wilderness years’ to build up strong support networks within the MPLA, before returning to prominence in 2014 when he was appointed defence minister. The Central Committee in August approved him as MPLA vice-president. As defence minister he has close ties to the security forces, while through his wife Ana Dias Lourenco, a World Bank director, he will likely be able to secure the support of international partners. In addition, his family ties extend throughout the country, including in both MPLA and opposition UNITA areas.

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