FILE - Angola President Jose Eduardo dos Santos.
FILE - Angola President Jose Eduardo dos Santos.

Angola President Jose Eduardo dos Santos’ surprise announcement Friday that he will leave national politics in 2018 has drawn skepticism about the longtime leader’s decision as well as speculation about his potential successors.

In a nationally broadcast speech to key members of the ruling Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), dos Santos said he would "leave active political activity in 2018."

Now 73, he has headed the oil-rich southern African country since 1979. The country’s parliamentary elections will take place in 2017, and the winning party’s leader will take the government’s reins.

Alcides Sakala, spokesman for the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), the main opposition party, described the announcement as a calculated attempt by dos Santos and his MPLA to divert the public’s attention from the country’s dismal economy.

Reeling from slumping oil prices

Angola – Africa’s second-largest oil exporter – has been hit hard by the sharp decline of world oil prices.

Sakala also questioned the credibility of dos Santos’ claim that he would step down.

"We don’t believe it because it is not the first time he says that. … He is still there, so let us wait and see," the UNITA spokesman said. "On the other side, it’s true Mr. dos Santos is tired because he has been in power for [37] years and it’s quite a lot of time."

Who might succeed him?

Dos Santos did not indicate a preference about who might succeed him.

Among those being mentioned are his vice president, Manuel Vicente, and his son, Jose Filomeno de Sousa dos Santos.

Some MPLA members suggested Vicente’s experience as vice president means he’s best qualified to carry out the party’s policies.

But Sakala said Vicente "is mixed up with corruption problems. ... He has lost credibility for the moment, which means that the MPLA and dos Santos and the leadership are really in a bad position in the country."

Gary van Staden, a political analyst with NKC African Economics in South Africa, was more positive about the vice president’s prospects. He told the Reuters news agency that dos Santos "has been grooming Vicente for quite a while now. ... He has deputized for him on a number of important occasions, which sent a strong signal."

MLPA supporters rejected the accusation against the vice president as the opposition’s attempt to score cheap political points. They said dos Santos has effectively led the country’s economic transformation, built a world-class infrastructure, and ensured peace and stability after a civil war that stretched from 1975 to 2002.