Angolans Are Done With a One-Party State

Article @ Novara Media, published 17 August 2022

On 8 July, the man who ruled the largest country in sub-Saharan Africa for nearly 40 years died quietly in a private Spanish hospital after a prolonged illness. José Eduardo dos Santos – colloquially known as Zedu – was the president of Angola between 1979 and 2017. During his time in power, Angola went from a newly-emancipated Portuguese colony to the stage of a harrowing civil war to the resource-rich convergence point of postmodern capitalism. As leader, dos Santos was often merciless and always cunning, amassing enormous wealth for himself and his family and placing his children and friends in the nation’s top jobs.

When he stepped down, following much social unrest and calls for reform, he had turned the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), which has governed Angola since the country gained independence in 1975, into a state corporation; membership was mandatory for anyone wanting a job, raise or indeed any position of power. In death Zedu proved to be as shrewd as in life, passing away a mere month and a half ahead of Angola’s next presidential elections on 24 August. His successor and current president João Lourenço seized the opportunity presented by dos Santos’s death. Lourenço’s popularity took a hit from the pandemic; even preceding it, opposition party Unita had been making worrying gains under the new leadership of Adalberto Costa Júnior. Lourenço wasn’t shy about politicising his predecessor’s death: voting in MPLA was, he told the audience at the party’s first campaign rally, “the best way to honour the memory of [former] president.” Still, such brazen tactics might not be enough to win him another term.

Because while the Angolan public broadcaster Televisão Pública de Angola (TPA) and government-friendly newspaper Jornal de Angola have both predicted an MPLA lead of 62% against Unita’s 33%. Yet polling from Mudei – a civil rights organisation comprising multiple grassroots groups and established in 2021 to ensure freedom and fairness in the upcoming general election – suggests that Unita is about to seize power in a landslide victory with 51.2% of the vote, while MPLA is set to win only 26.4%.

If Mudie’s data is accurate, the reasons for Lourenco’s fall from favour are complex.

One may be that, despite ever-growing interest from global capital due to Angola’s diamonds, oil and other natural resources, the opportunities pouring into the country seem to only bless a sliver of the population. Far from being despondent about this state of affairs, the population – whose median age is under 17, versus a world average of around 30, and whose upstart bourgeoisie has been bolstered by a generation raised in Europe during Angola’s civil war – are craving something new.