Angola's dos Santos says to quit after 36 years in power

Daniel Garela-Pensador
President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos has been a looming presence in daily life for as long as most Angolans can remember (AFP Photo/ALAIN JOCARD)

Luanda (AFP) - Angola's iron-fisted ruler Jose Eduardo dos Santos, Africa's second-longest serving leader, on Friday said he would quit in 2018 after his current mandate ends, but experts were sceptical about his latest pledge to step down.

"I have taken the decision to quit political life in 2018," he told the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) party politburo in the capital Luanda.

It was the 73-year-old's third such announcement since he came to office in 1979. He has been in office just one month less than Africa's record-holder, Equatorial Guinea's Teodoro Obiang Nguema.

The president's tenure ends in late 2017, but he did not elaborate why he would leave the year after. Analysts suggest he may run for re-election, leaving only once he feels secure about the future.

In power for almost four decades as president, dos Santos has consolidated political power while his family has amassed a vast business empire.

He added another five years to his reign by taking a large victory in a disputed election in 2012, but since has faced growing discontent from the nation's youth.

Critics accuse dos Santos of overseeing corruption, misrule, arbitrary arrests and intimidation.

Paula Roque, expert researcher on Angola with the University of Oxford, believes that the announcement offers "no assurance that one of Africa longest heads of state will finally step down."

"What he is saying by announcing that he will step down in 2018 is that he will run in the next poll and then decide if the country is stable enough to step down," said Roque.

Dos Santos came to power in 1979, following the unexpected death from cancer of Angola's liberation president Agostinho Neto.

As head of the military, police and cabinet, the leader has an iron grip on all aspects of power in Africa's second biggest oil producer.

He names the senior judges and has MPLA allies in all public agencies, including the supposedly independent electoral commission.

Analysts believe that Dos Santos could be grooming one of his children to succeed him, or will ensure that whoever succeeds him protects his family interests and will not go after him or his family for looting state coffers.

- Iron fisted rule -

Few publicly criticise him. Independent journalists who express their opinions risk criminal charges.

A group of youth activists are currently standing trial on charges of "rebellion" and attempting to carry out a "coup".

Dos Santos's lengthy term in office has been marked by tense relations between his MPLA party and war time rebels turned opposition, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA).

UNITA has been significantly weakened since the killing of its founder Jonas Savimbi by MPLA forces in 2002. His death paved the way for a peace deal that brought an end to one of Africa's longest and bloodiest conflicts.

In 2014, UNITA voiced concern over what it called the deteriorating state of democracy under Dos Santos's rule.

"Dos Santos was never elected, he will leave a negative legacy, having led Angola to an alarming crisis," said Makuta Nkondo, a former UNITA opposition lawmaker.

Although he shuns the spotlight, the elderly leader's family has built up a vast business empire, with his daughter Isabel dos Santos ranked Africa's richest woman.

Despite the country's oil and diamond riches, the majority of the population live in abject poverty, with an enormous gap between the rich and poor.

The fall in oil prices has hit the economy, with the kwanza currency losing 35 percent if its value against the dollar this year.