A New Angolan President

On September 21 we will have a new president, after 38 years with José Eduardo dos Santos. The National Electoral Commission has named João Lourenço president-elect, without legally validating the votes in 15 of the 18 provinces. The MPLA, already in power for 42 years will continue to rule for a further five-year term. Anyone who things that the law is worth when MPLA’s leaders’ interests are at stake, is mistaken.

It is worth taking a look back at the history of presidential power in Angola and its popular legitimacy.

In 1975, Agostinho Neto became president through the unilateral declaration of independence, after expelling the other liberation movements, FNLA (led by Holden Roberto) and UNITA (led by Jonas Savimbi), from Luanda. The three movements had formed a transitional government, and the process of declaring independence ought to have happened only after elections were held. Instead, the most cunning and strategic leader emerged the victor, and the dictatorship of Agostinho Neto was thus assured.

The Angolan people had no part in choosing him.

José Eduardo dos Santos assumed power when Neto died in 1979, not chosen according to the popular will but by his peers in MPLA Political Bureau.

In 1992, Dos Santos and the then rebel leader Jonas Savimbi should have contested the second round of voting, since the majority in the first round. This second round never happened and Dos Santos remained in office, without a popular mandate. Savimbi formally accepted the election result and waited for the second round. The war is another story that we need to tell truthfully and impartially.

José Eduardo dos Santos himself insisted in 2005 on seeking a Supreme Court ruling that annulled his presidential mandates for lack of popular and democratic legitimacy. His purpose was obvious: to remain in the presidency, ignoring the two-term limit of the 1992 Constitutional Law.

We then had the 2008 legislative elections. Many Angolans have already forgotten that, at that time, the MPLA leadership’s phobia about direct presidential elections had deepened. José Eduardo dos Santos tried to justify this on the grounds that the presidential elections should take place in 2009, one year after the legislative ones. No election happened in 2009.

There came the 2010 Constitution, which dealt with the MPLA leadership’s phobia by taking away the right of the people to freely and directly elect their president.

Only under this system did Jose Eduardo dos Santos agree to run for parliament in 2012, and to become president automatically, as the first name on the list of the party that won the legislative elections. I did not go with the people’s judgment. He passed this lesson to John the Baptist, whom he chose his successor.

In 2017, there was nothing to suggest that John Lawrence would steal the elections wholesale. People expected him to become president with the usual cheating, made possible by the MPLA’s absolute control of the electoral process.

And so Angola has its third president in history, this time without even the pretense of legitimacy.

This history demonstrates the deep division among Angolans and their passive resistance to the power of the MPLA.

Blessed be the people, cursed their self-imposed leaders.