Angola’s president since September 1979, José Eduardo dos Santos is now relinquishing the seat he has occupied for 38 years. Behind him he leaves a leadership that was often troubled and, not infrequently, criticised, even though, after the country had been devastated by almost 30 years of war, a new Angola was reborn. In the quest for an increasingly developed Angola, with his eyes firmly set on the future, he is succeeded by João Lourenço, historic member of the MPLA and general of the Armed Forces, who won the elections on the August 23, a date that marks a new era in the history of Angola’s construction.
José Eduardo dos Santos was born in Luanda in 1942. He joined the MPLA in 1958, and went into exile in November 1962. In that year he joined the Popular Liberation Army of Angola, MPLA’s armed wing. In 1963 he went to Baku, now the capital of Azerbaijan, part of the USSR at that point, where he studied engineering, majoring in oil, and completed his studies in 1969.
When Angola’s independence was declared in 1975, with Agostinho Neto as president, he was foreign minister, deputy prime minister and minister of planning. The first president’s death, in 1979, lead to the succession of the then young Eduardo dos Santos. In the first years, his leadership was anything but peaceful due to the civil war raging in Angola for 27 years, and to the Cold War.
After the war, the ‘new’ Angola dedicated itself to exploration of oil, gas and diamonds and opened its doors to foreign investment. The country’s economy grew at a rapid pace until 2008, when it slowed down due to the global crisis. In 2012 it started rising again, but at an increasingly slower pace, mainly due to falling oil prices, the Angolan economy’s main pillar.
The assessment of José Eduardo dos Santos’ legacy is far from being consensual and only history will judge it, but the ‘new’ Angola, devastated by almost 30 years of war, has risen from the ashes. The achievements in the areas of education, health, housing, communication routes, in terms of culture and art, as well as the efforts made towards the diversification of the economy, are indisputable. Eduardo dos Santos has decided to step down after 38 years in power and now a new cycle will begin with newly-elected João Lourenço.
Historic member of the MPLA, as well as its vice president, João Lourenço says he is prepared to take up the challenge. Aged 63, with a degree in history, he has held various positions within the MPLA, including that of president of its parliamentary group and secretary for information. He has also been Angola’s defence minister since 2014. João Lourenço is committed to cross sector growth in Angola, to «improve what is good and correct what is bad». Despite being a general of the Armed Forces, João Lourenço insists on not highlighting this, pointing out that the country «has not been at war» since 2002 and that the challenges now are «the consolidation of democracy and strengthening the economy», for a more prosperous and happier Angola.