After 40 Years In Power, Angolan President Says He Will Step Down

Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos said Friday that he would step down in 2018, portending an end to one of Africa’s oldest autocracies and an uncertain succession in the continent’s second-biggest oil producer.

“I took the decision to leave and end my political life in 2018,” the 73-year-old president told members of his political party, in a speech broadcast on state-owned radio stations.

Angola’s next presidential elections are expected to be held in 2017. Mr. dos Santos, who has ruled the Atlantic Coast nation since 1979, didn’t say whether he would contest them or whether that schedule still stands. Representatives for his government didn’t respond to requests for comment.

If Mr. dos Santos holds to his pledge, his abdication could reverberate across a continent where many leaders are redoubling their efforts to extend long terms in office.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni extended his tenure into a fourth decade in February elections that the U.S. State Department decried as being marred by vote tampering and intimidation. Burundi’s president, Pierre Nkurunziza, has driven his country near civil war since using a constitutional technicality to validate a run for a third term last year. And Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, who turned 92 last month, has given no indication that he plans to step down before the next presidential vote in 2018.

Mr. dos Santos has long looked just as entrenched. Since his 2002 victory over rebels he battled for nearly three decades, the reclusive president has consolidated his grip over Angola’s politics and economy.

His eldest daughter, Isabel dos Santos, has used investments in Angolan telecom businesses and banks to amass a $3 billion fortune that has made her Africa’s richest woman. One of his sons, José Filomeno de Sousa dos Santos, runs the sovereign-wealth fund the government established in 2012 to invest some of the proceeds from the 1.7 billion barrels of oil Angola pumps each day.

Lately, though, Mr. dos Santos’ government has faltered as such oil-fueled largess has collapsed along with global crude prices. Thousands of layoffs and a foreign-currency crunch have stoked unprecedented public dissatisfaction with the government. The International Monetary Fund expects economic growth of 3.5% this year, down from double-digit rates a few years ago.

The crisis is exacerbating longstanding economic tensions: Angola is one of the world’s most unequal societies, with a capital, Luanda, that ranks among the world’s most expensive cities, while most of the country’s $24 million people live on less than $2 a day. Transparency International in January ranked Angola the fourth-most corrupt country in the world.

Still, Ricardo Soares de Oliveira, a University of Oxford political scientist and author of a recent book on Angola under Mr. dos Santos, cautioned that the president was likely to use Friday’s announcement to try to mollify opponents within his party and guide efforts to appoint his successor.

“We are far from a post-dos Santos era,” he said. CNN

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