The Dos Santos Brand Turns Toxic

In Angola it is a crime to speak ill of the President. The man, who for the past 37 years has led the ruling MPLA party (the Peoples’ Movement for the Liberation of Angola) is accustomed to hearing only praise from within his party’s ranks.

Yet on the eve of what was expected to be a slickly-organized party congress, aiming to re-establish José Eduardo dos Santos as the party’s sole candidate for President in next year’s elections, there has been an unprecedented public condemnation from a senior party cadre.

“The popular appeal of the MPLA – the party of the President and head of state [José Eduardo dos Santos] – is at an all-time low thanks to his ‘shenanigans’. He gives the party a bad name – and when he falls, he will drag the innocent members of the MPLA down with him.”

This stunning denunciation from Ambassador Ambrósio Lukoki, a 40-year veteran of the MPLA Central Committee, was delivered at a news conference in Luanda, as he revealed that he had asked for his name to be taken off the list of candidates for election to the Central Committee. This is the first time a member of the central committee has dared to criticise the president since 1977 (the tragic events of the 27th of May, in which explicit party dissent led to the killings of several leading members of the party along with senior government and military figures.

Explaining why he would turn his back on more than 40 years of loyal service, he said that as a nationalist, he could no longer tolerate the lack of democracy at the heart of his party.

“It is wrong and harmful yet it continues to be the hallmark of the current trajectory of the MPLA party,” the Ambassador said. “How much longer can this regime go on stamping out the waves of protest? When will the regime understand the signs of the times and pay attention to the criticisms that are leveled at it?”

Ambassador Lukoki wants his party to react before it is too late, saying it is imperative to turn around the current situation inside the party machine which continues to present itself as though this were a one-party state in which the state and the party are indistinguishable, even though both are “sinking”.

Ambrósio Lukoki has long had the reputation of a man unafraid to criticize the President directly at MPLA meetings. Now he has stated this criticism in public, also denouncing his own colleagues as nothing more than “yes men”. “What the country needs is ethical authority, not straw men,” he emphasized.

To the public’s astonishment, Ambassador Lukoki spoke out about what he called “a spirit of silent insurrection and revolt” which is spreading across the country.

He said the levels of public support for the MPLA, as seen at its large public events and in its propaganda, “are false” and “melting away”. From his perspective, the lack of popularity affecting the party today is “the price being paid by the MPLA because of its servility towards José Eduardo dos Santos, allowing itself to be used by him as a launch pad for his absolutist style of government.”

And he had a clear message for the MPLA cohort: it should not be up to Dos Santos to step down from power and from the party leadership when he wishes, but the MPLA which should be showing him the door.

“For as long as the MPLA fails to dissociate itself from José Eduardo dos Santos it will be unable to regain its soul as a progressive party.” He ended by calling on his comrades to show “strength, courage and wisdom” and to fight together again, but this time with ideas, for liberty and justice in Angola.

Ambassador Lukoki’s message to his comrades-in-arms, fellow party members, and the nation at large, may be the single most significant moment of this gathering of Angola’s ruling party. Coming as it does at a difficult time for Angola, it may yet prove a turning point.