For a man whose current position of power depends on having beaten the odds at least twice, he has displayed remarkable political dexterity in staying there and on Friday, in Luanda the Angolan Head of State, José Eduardo dos Santos, manifested his availability to – in his own words – “continue working for the country’s development”. But Africans should unite and tell Dos Santos it is time to go!
The current constitutional law places the president of the republic in an embarrassing situation
President dos Santos
Dos Santo is marking 30 years in power and has the record as the second longest serving African leader despite never winning any election. Angola rivals Nigeria as Africa‘s biggest oil producer and is the world’s fifth biggest Diamond exporter- but two-thirds of its people live in abject poverty. While they have long endured their woes in silence, patience now seems to be running out.
José Eduardo dos Santos started his political career in the 1950s by joining clandestine groups that opposed the colonial regime, following the constitution of the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), of which he afterwards became a member.
In November 1963, he went on a scholarship to the Oil Institute of Baku, former Soviet Union, where he got a degree in Petroleum Engineering in 1969.
A former minister under Angola‘s first president Agostinho Neto, dos Santos was appointed president by the ruling party in 1979. He is also commander-in-chief of the armed forces and is responsible for appointing judges
After dismissing several prime ministers, Mr Dos Santos then took on the duties of prime minister for himself, as well as remaining as head of state and president of the ruling party. He has sought to justify this concentration of power – which critics have condemned as unconstitutional – in terms of the state of crisis prevailing in the country.
But at the end of Angola‘s brutal 27-year civil war that ended in 2002 and the death of Savimbi, his tenure as president has come to rely on a delicate balancing act involving the party, the government, and the presidential inner circle.
Having woven the web that keeps him in power, a man whom one diplomat dubbed “Africa‘s Machiavelli” now has to use all his political cunning to extricate himself from it if he is to enjoy a happy, peaceful and prosperous retirement.
The 67-year-old ruler, who never won an election, is set to default once again on a promise to hold a presidential vote this year. His party signalled this month that the election could take place only in 2012.
The Angolans are willing things to change. “Things need to change for us very soon,” said Miguel Antonio, 31, who lives on the side of a dirt road in the crime-ridden neighborhood of Sambizanga, a suburb of Luanda where President Dos Santos was born.
“During my whole life I have only had one president. I have seen him and his friends prosper from Angola‘s oil while the majority of people continue to live in poverty.”
Dos Santos, branded as the “kid” when he came to power at the age of 37, is now the continent’s second-longest serving leader after Libya‘s Muammar Gaddafi. Angolans now refer to the president simply as “the boss.”
He did not outrightly win the first round of Angola‘s last — and only — presidential vote in 1992. There should have been a re-run but the controversial poll re-ignited the civil war that lasted until 2002.
Today, his family and friends hold a huge sway over Angola‘s economy by holding stakes in banks, oil firms, and private media groups. The country’s only daily newspaper, Jornal de Angola, is also controlled by the government.
Unlike his Libyan counterpart, who marked 40 years in power with fireworks, aerobatic jets, paragliders and dancers this month, dos Santos 30 years in power was marked by official silence. He spent Monday inside his presidential palace that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean.
“The president wants this date to go by without much notice because being 30 years in power in Africa is nothing to be proud of,” said Fernando Macedo, a law professor at Lusiada University in Luanda. “What we need is more democracy.”
Despite widespread poverty, the ruling MPLA party won almost 82 percent of the vote in the country’s first post-war parliamentary election last year against a divided and under funded opposition.
The MPLA is credited with rebuilding the country since the end of the civil war and attracting billions of dollars in foreign investment to Angola‘s oil, diamonds and construction sectors.
However, half of Angola’s 16.5 million population still have no access to sanitation and life expectancy at birth — 38.2 years — is the world’s worst after Swaziland, according to the CIA’s World Factbook ranking of 224 nations.
Despite the president’s silence and broken promises, a lack of an alternative political leader is likely to keep him in power for many years to come.
“There is nobody within the party that is seen as a successor to the current president and the opposition parties remain weak and divided,” said Eugenia Neto, the wife of Angola‘s first president. “That means people will probably vote for him when and if he decides to hold elections.”
On his visit to Angola early August, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that Dos Santos has committed to “timely” presidential elections that will be the country’s first since 1992.
“He gave a very thoughtful description of the choices they are trying to make, but committed that the constitution would be completed and elections held in a timely manner,” Clinton told reporters travelling on her plane.
Washington had publicly called for Angola to hold the long-awaited poll which was due this year, but which officials said were likely to be postponed citing delays with drawing up a new constitution. Clinton said Dos Santos promised Angola was looking at different electoral systems.
Clinton also called for Angola to do more to spread oil wealth, saying prosperity for ordinary people “depends on good governance and the strengthening of democratic institutions”.
Despite an economic boom generated by vast oil and mineral reserves, two-thirds of Angola’s population of around 13 million live on less than two dollars a day, according to the United Nations.
Angola’s human rights are violated with impunity. Residents of oil rich lands have been forcefully resettled without compensation. Corruption is rampant.
In 2004, Human Rights Watch criticised Angola for mismanaging public resources. HRW says the government enacted domestic laws that criminalized possession of information and restricted its distribution.On the international level, the government often refused to provide information about its use of revenue and its expenditures, and attempted to prevent other institutions from disclosing information or conducting investigations.This was true with the IMF, private companies, and even other governments.In no case did the government take steps to provide adequate information to counter serious allegations of misuse of public funds.
“Oil exploration bonuses, or up-front payments from the oil companies to the government for exploration rights, have been a common feature in Angola’s oil contracts in recent years.The allocation of these bonuses is decided by the presidency in conjunction with Sonangol – the Angolan Oil Company, and even though they are identified as income in the budget, their use is not normally recorded in the fiscal accounts“, HRW said.
Political analyst Laurence Carombo said that while the US advocated democratic reform in Angola, Washington was unlikely to exert pressure on the government for domestic policy changes.
China has become a major player in Africa, and has assiduously cultivated relations with oil-producing countries like Angola,” he told AFP. If the US tries to put pressure on countries like Angola, this will do little except to further increase China’s influence in Africa. So America is unlike to upset the apple cart.
However, Africans should unite and tell Dos Santos it is time to go