Key political risks to watch in Angola

2011-10-03 12:37

Lisbon - The ruling MPLA's December Central Committee meeting will be closely watched after media reports suggested long-serving President Jose Eduardo dos Santos has chosen a successor and may step down before or one year after a 2012 general election.

The weekly Novo Jornal said a month ago dos Santos had selected Manuel Vicente, head of national oil company Sonangol, as his successor, although a party spokesperson said no decisions had been taken and the party would appoint its candidate at the December meeting.

Meanwhile, two anti-government protests in September showed Angolan youths were ready to air their grievances about poor social conditions and high unemployment but also that the authorities are willing to respond with force.

On the economic front, strong oil prices have allowed Africa's second biggest crude producer to overcome its debt arrears problems and return to fast growth, but over-dependence on oil and a possible global slowdown could see those problems return.

Signs of possible succession

Dos Santos strengthened his 32-year grip on power with last year's new constitution, but the MPLA's decision not to quash talk about a succession signals that for the first time he may be considering a handover of power.

According to the constitution, the number one in the electoral list of the party that wins a general election becomes president.

With the main opposition UNITA in disarray thanks to an internal leadership dispute, the MPLA is favourite to win the 2012 election, meaning its list of candidates to be presented in December may signal whether a succession is planned.

If dos Santos is still selected to lead the party in the election, placing Vicente second in the list could mean the president wants to guarantee an electoral win and hand over power in a controlled manner later.

Analysts say Vicente would not represent a significant change in policies as he is already in the president's inner power circle, with many saying dos Santos is likely to remain in the background as a guarantor of stability.

Vice President Fernando Da Piedade Dias dos Santos is still also seen as a successor but has health problems and may be outflanked by Vicente or ministers of state Manuel Vieira Dias and Carlos Feijo.

Watch out for:

- Comments from dos Santos, MPLA before December meeting

- Any comments on who will succeed Vicente at Sonangol

Youths voicing protests

Two anti-government rallies in September showed that a putative youth movement has not been deterred from protests and that the government is ready to clamp down on any dissent.

The first rally in the capital, Luanda, resulted in 24 arrests and injuries to protesters, journalists and police officers during violent clashes.

A court swiftly sentenced 18 of the protesters to up to three months in jail, drawing criticism from opposition parties and international human rights organisations.

A second rally calling for the arrested to be released was blocked by police moments after it started.

Inspired by uprisings in north Africa, the pro-democracy rallies -- now totalling four this year -- have upset the MPLA, which has responded by organising pro-government demonstrations. Senior party figures have also accused the opposition of planning "a national insurrection".

Watch out for:

- Plans for more rallies, appeals against court sentences

Political bickering ahead of election

The 2012 poll will be only the second after the end of a long civil war that pitted the Russian- and Cuban-backed MPLA against Unita, supported by the United States and apartheid South Africa.

The MPLA, which won the war in 2002 and 82 percent of the vote in a 2008 general election, is likely to win the 2012 election, especially as Unita, now the main opposition party, is embroiled in an internal dispute.

Senior Unita figures in July demanded the resignation of party chief Isaias Samakuva, saying he had prevented the party from choosing its own leader freely. He responded by suspending 12 of the dissenting members for 45 days and promising a party conference by the end of the year.

The internal struggle has not stopped Unita from raising tensions with the MPLA, which it accuses of stripping the national election committee of power and transferring control of logistics to the government.

Rights watchdogs are also likely to use the campaign to call for more transparency in the oil and media sectors, greater efforts to fight poverty, and a clampdown on corruption.

- Next steps in Unita internal dispute

- Rising tension in parliament ahead of election


Dos Santos' government has long been accused of mismanaging oil revenues, avoiding public scrutiny and doing too little to fight corruption.

Graft watchdog Transparency International ranks Angola as the most corrupt country in southern Africa and 11th in the world.

Other organisations have urged the government to cut the huge influence state oil company Sonangol wields in the economy, calling for an independent agency to ensure oil income trickles down to the country's poor. An estimated two-thirds of Angola's 16.5 million people live on less than $2 per day.

The usually tight-lipped government in April denied a report that it lost almost $6 billion in illicit capital flows in 2009 via "trade mispricing" in which importers pretend to pay more for imports than they actually spend.

Dos Santos has been unusually vocal about corruption after his government turned to the IMF for a loan in 2009, and his comments on zero-tolerance for graft prompted parliament to pass a law to punish corrupt officials.

But the decision-making process remains opaque, with access to key officials limited. The private media are also seen to be controlled by members of the government.

Watch out for:

- Government delivering on pledges to fight corruption

Economic growth

The central bank said in September it expected the economy to grow more than 6 percent this year, a return to the fast pace enjoyed before the 2008 oil price slump.

However, many analysts have recently lowered their growth forecasts for 2011, citing a decline in oil output in some fields and maintenance in others in the first half.

Most analysts say that strong oil prices and an improved performance in the non-oil sector will, nonetheless, allow the government to meet its target of 3.4 percent growth this year.

The analysts expect growth to accelerate in 2012 thanks to the end of a partial outage at an oil field and the start of two new major oil projects.

The government's estimate of 15 percent growth next year - based on diversification plans and a revival of the farm sector - is seen by economists as overly optimistic.

An IMF delegation said in June it saw a "positive" outlook for the rest of the year, while all three major ratings agencies recently upgraded the country's debt standing, praising the government for starting to strengthen its monetary management.

They also praised efforts to tackle $6.8 billion owed to Portuguese and Brazilian building firms.

Central bank Governor Jose de Lima Massano has been received favourably since his appointment last year, particularly for strengthening the kwanza and bringing inflation down to 13.7% in August from 16 percent in October 2010.

Massano said last week he was confident Angola could meet its target of ending the year with inflation at 12 percent even though most analysts say that will be a tough challenge.

Watch out for:

- Government forecasts for 2012 GDP, oil price assumptions
- Progress in repaying debts arrears and cutting inflation

Read more on:    unita  |  mpla  |  eduardo dos santos  |  angola  |  southern africa

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