President Lourenço: Where Does Angola Go from Here? 

The foundation of Angola’s future prosperity rests upon four pillars. Firstly, empowering and visionary leadership at the executive level, capable of bridging the numerous divides in Angola’s society to unite the country’s citizenry and institutions to work towards common prosperity. Secondly, the presence of strong legal institutions capable of upholding the rule of law. Thirdly, the economic emancipation and continued preservation of the populace’s economic freedom. Lastly, a well-crafted and well-defined blueprint to ensure access to freedom and justice for all.  

The foundation of any prosperous nation-state is the presence of robust and fair leadership in its government combined with strong and well-functioning institutions. The aforementioned qualities give rise to a nation that is governed democratically and equitably, with branches of government working in symphony to uphold the rule of law and achieve common prosperity. In such a nation, all branches of government work together to foster a legal climate capable of promoting and effecting justice while simultaneously providing an economic environment capable of producing and sustaining high-quality educational, healthcare, and physical infrastructure, all unnegotiable preconditions for sustainable long-term growth.

Angola is a nation yearning for stability and unity. It has now been 21 years since the end of Angola’s bloody 27-year civil war, yet the average Angolan has seen no improvement in their quality of life in spite of the country’s abundance of natural resources and favorable demographic composition. Angola’s stagnation and failure to realize the widely touted ‘peace dividend’ – the economic prosperity arising from the war’s end – is the result of 38 years of blatant mismanagement under the corrupt leadership of the late ex-President José Eduardo dos Santos. The same conclusion is evident to not just Maka Angola but to all observers of Angolan affairs, a country unable to fulfill its potential due to decades of corruption-induced mismanagement.

João Lourenço’s inauguration as President in 2017 had many Angolans dreaming again. Upon his election, President Lourenço promised to usher in a new era founded upon radical change and reform, whereby his government was to experience the separation of powers and be held accountable by checks and balances. If we took his promises at face value, Lourenço’s reforms contemplated fostering stronger institutions, including an independent judicial branch capable of delivering justice and serving as a counterweight to the executive. This would effectively end the extensive looting of the state treasury practiced by public servants, enabling state resources to be allocated effectively to solve Angola’s most pressing issues. However, as the honeymoon phase ended, it became clear to all: Lourenço’s administration would be much like his predecessor’s.

In last year’s elections Lourenço managed to attain a pyrrhic victory with the MPLA’s share of the vote falling precipitously from 61% to 51% since the 2017 elections, principally due to widespread popular discontent over the state of affairs during his first term in power. Lourenço had again campaigned on the promise of necessary institutional reforms and increased spending on critical infrastructure. Instead, nearly a year later, Lourenço has failed to reinforce any of the aforementioned four pillars and his leadership has plunged Angola into further despair.

From my observation, the collapse of political morality has given rise to a mentality in which the ‘father of the nation’ is no better than a petty robber baron. Angolans have lost the capacity to distinguish between the nation state and its government.  Angolans have forgotten that a nation’s economic health relies upon the separation of powers and the maintenance of impermeable boundaries between them.  The distinctions between due rights (whether individual or collective) and the duties, responsibilities and obligations that are required in exchange, have been blurred or erased in total.  There seems to be no consensus that there should be firm barriers to prevent the people in charge of state institutions funded by the public funds from lining their own pockets. 

Successive leaders have failed to create the rules that would promote and enforce ethical and honourable governance.  This is not due to the absence of collective moral values in Angolan society.  Decades of trauma have deprived Angolans of their individual agency making it appear that only their supreme leader, the all-powerful President, was in a position to put such a system into effect.  Yet, we know this is not the case, there are tried-and-true systems and methods that can provide safeguards against the excesses and crimes of public servants.

I would argue that, given the vacuum to date, it is up to Civil Society to define the codes of conduct our country and people deserve.  We can no longer leave it to the man at the top. 

João Lourenço’s failure to put an end to corruption and dishonesty has resulted in a power vacuum.  In just five years from being hailed as Angola’s saviour, this Messiah is now derided as a Judas.

It’s fair to note that João Lourenço began his presidential term by creating some political overtures, announcing both anti-corruption measures and free-market economic reforms but between then and now he has lost his way.  We might say that his first mistake was not to understand that he himself needed to change and grow, given that he was moulded and groomed by his corrupt predecessor, Dos Santos. Instead, and without sufficient support, he stumbled into following the same path, having inherited both the modus operandi and the same second-rate people who had served Dos Santos. 

And in the face of any opposition or criticism, his response is just the same:  repression.  Just look at the recent detention of four young activists in Huambo province, deprived of their freedom without charge on the same old, worn-out, justification of “incitement to rebellion” that Dos Santos’s administration used in the infamous case of the Bookstore 15 (and 2 others) who were rounded up and roughed up and detained without trial, for studying a treatise on non-violent opposition.  We can all recall just how well that turned out – it made a laughing stock of the late President Dos Santos, and of the judicial system and toadying magistrates who acted injudiciously to try to silence his critics.  The result was in inverse proportion to the intention: not silence but world-wide amplification of the very criticisms he wished to conceal.  

The ‘Huambo Four’ were not organizing a street protest or any kind of civic or political direct action.   Their ‘crime’ was to mourn publicly the six people killed during a previous demonstration on June 5, 2023 by people complaining about the 80% jump in gasoline (petrol) prices at the pumps.

So much for the basic principle of democratic government “by the people, of the people, for the people” (in the words attributed to Abraham Lincoln).  The idea of a government that serves the people, was never the guiding principle of administration in Angola (neither during the colonial era nor since).   The post-colonial, post-war generations expect better, but Lourenço seems incapable of delivering, or lacks any interest in doing so.  Instead, like his predecessors, President Lourenço is resorting to a display of petulant arrogance and responds to any challenge with a kneejerk use of force to repress and silence the critics, rather than address the behaviours that give rise to the criticism.


A clear example of Lourenço’s regressive and anti-democratic behaviour can be seen in his actions, seemingly aimed at eroding Angola’s already fledgling rule of law. Such behavior could not be better typified than by Lourenço’s decision to appoint a convicted felon to the position Supreme Court justice. On June 16, 2023, Lourenço decided to confirm the Superior Council of the Judiciary’s nomination of Mr. Carlos Alberto Cavuquila, a former municipal administrator found guilty of embezzling state funds, thereby appointing Mr. Cavuquila to the Supreme Court. The appointment arrived in spite of Angola’s Court of Auditors unanimous rejection of Mr. Cavuquila’s nomination on May 8, 2023, on the grounds that he had been found guilty by the same court of embezzlement from the Angolan Treasury and therefore ordered to pay a sum of 29 million kwanzas back to the government. To add insult to injury, Mr. Cavuquila was appointed while undergoing trial for a separate case of embezzlement where Mr. Cavuquila was adjudged to have diverted 1.5 billion kwanzas.

As I wrote in Maka Angola at the time, “never in the worst of banana republics has a felon subsequently been nominated as a suitable person fit to select future judges to serve in the very court that convicted him”.  Has there ever been a similar case in which a country’s President has brazenly chosen a person convicted of embezzling state funds to a position as a judge in one of the high courts of the land?  Has President Lourenço lost his mind altogether?  Or does he have a covert hostile agenda to undermine the Rule of Law in Angola by turning legal institutions into havens for crooks?

Because this is not a single aberration but part of a pattern.  The President also chose to overlook and condone the much-criticised behaviour of the Supreme Court Chief Justice, Joel Leonardo, despite numerous documented allegations of corruption and detailed reports of Judge Leonardo’s many offences. For some as yet unknown reason, the President has deemed him worthy of protection at all costs.

The President is becoming more open about how he views his role in ‘supervising’ the operations of the courts in Angola.  In a speech on June 19, during the installation of new justices at the Audit Court, Lourenço made it crystal clear that he intends not just to interfere but to exert control over, the judicial system.  


Economic development depends on confidence in the rule of law to protect individual interests. Without legal protections, why should international investors be attracted to do business in Angola?  From independence, Angola’s economy was centralized, run initially on Marxist-Leninist principles.  All means of production were state-owned and controlled by the one-party state.  Privatisation was a corollary of the introduction of multi-party democracy, but it was almost immediately subverted into a means of rewarding the key individuals in the ruling party.   Illicit enrichment became the norm by which President Dos Santos maintained loyalty while at the same time ensuring complicity.  Lourenço promised to dismantle the apparatus but in practice only changed the faces of the beneficiaries. 

This means that there is no guarantee of effective economic freedom in Angola.  The idea that any individual or corporation can freely enter and leave the market at will, found companies, obtain credit, and engage in all the usual activities of business, with the confidence that the letter of the law will be applied is an illusion if those appointed to pass judgement are the President’s Yes Men.   A complicit and biased judiciary loyal to the president, centralized control of the apparatus of state and key economic entities though the insertion of presidential allies, are bound to inhibit entrepreneurial activity as there is no guarantee that any added value created will revert to the investor.   Without a truly private sector, capable of creating surplus product for export, reinvesting profit into job creation and the expansion of the means of production, Angola cannot expect any wealth creation for the benefit of the population as a whole. Once again, a corrupt elite centred around the family, friends, allies and associates of the President will derive the short-term benefits.

The current government of Angola failed to listen to the overwhelming advice of economists at home and abroad to diversify, did not come up with a rational developmental programme or even take advantage of the brief window of respite given by rising prices in the barrel of oil.  Instead, the country is at the mercy of fast-rising unemployment and inflation, factors that will fuel instability and discontent. 


Each mistake by the current President and the ruling MPLA party in government, for 48 consecutive years, compounds the ones that have gone before. It further erodes the confidence that this leader and this party are fit to govern.  Yet they show no willingness to create the conditions for a peaceful and orderly transfer of power.   The space required for freedom of expression, for an open and confident exchange of ideas that might offer alternatives is being closed and this in turn creates barriers for meaningful participation by civil society groups. 

In short, Angola is being held back by a retrogressive cohort in government who have failed to make a successful or full transition from a centrally-planned economy to a free market economy.  Instead of proceeding with the separation of powers to attract investment and empower citizens by offering unequivocal guarantees that rights and freedoms under the law will be upheld by an impartial judiciary or that the country’s wealth will be directed to investing in infrastructure, intermodal transport links, education and health, all the evidence suggests President Lourenço’s efforts are aimed at evading any attempt to hold his administration accountable.