José Eduardo dos Santos is to step down after elections, having ruled for more than four decades. He has been guilty of nepotism, cronyism and corruption.
“It would be extremely surprising if the MPLA loses power, but this is the first time in the past 40 years where there is uncertainty over what happens next,” said Søren Kirk Jensen, an expert on Angola at the independent policy institute Chatham House. “There won’t be a revolution,” But Jensen added. “Lourenço is coming with a mandate to do things differently.
Dos Santos was Africa’s longest-serving president after Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo. Unless Unita can win the poll, dos Santos’s place will be taken by 63-year-old João Lourenço, the defence minister.
Dos Santos, will remain president of the MPLA , retaining significant powers and his family will maintain its hold on a huge business empire. Dos Santos’ daughter Isabel runs the enormous state oil company and is Africa’s richest woman. In one recent poll, nearly 90% said the MPLA leadership acts in its own interest, and not in that of the state or the Angolan people.
There is widespread concern about the fairness of the electoral process. The government has deployed state resources on a huge scale and has consistently repressed critics, moving on 12 August to ban protests and demonstrations by groups not running in the polls. A new law has given regulatory control of all media to a body controlled by the government and the ruling party. Human Rights Watch said the election will be “marred by severe restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly, and limited access to information due to government repression and censorship”.
The MPLA has failed to manage Angola’s economy. Africa’s second-biggest producer of crude oil, has been hit hard by the global fall in oil prices, with revenues crashing from $60bn three years ago to $27bn in 2016. After years of surging growth, Angola has slipped into recession. One recent symptom of the poverty that 15 years of inefficient and expensive investment have failed to eradicate was an outbreak of yellow fever, among the world’s worst in decades, though the disease can be prevented by a single inoculation.
Poor people, many of them still living in shanty towns visible from the glittering office blocks and luxury hotels that line Luanda’s corniche, have been hit by inflation that peaked at 42% last year, steeply increasing the cost of rent and basic foodstuffs.
The income of the new "middle classes" – including vast numbers of civil servants, soldiers and teachers on the state payroll – has dropped steeply in real terms as salaries have remained unchanged.
Even the elite have suffered too. Sales of hugely expensive European-made luxury cars have plummeted, dealers in Luanda say.