JOHANNESBURG - Even the toughest critics of Angola’s government say that in just more than a year, President Joao Lourenco has accomplished more to stop corruption than any previous Angolan administration.
Lourenco took power last September after the retirement of longtime president Jose Eduardo dos Santos, whose cronies and family members are alleged to have controlled every important company and source of wealth in the country.
But in the year since the transition, Lourenco has swept away an impressive number of allegedly corrupt top officials who, under dos Santos, were considered untouchable. Most notably, the ex-president’s son Filomeno, who ran the nation’s sovereign wealth fund, was arrested this week on allegations of money-laundering, embezzlement, and fraud.
Journalist and human rights activist Rafael Marques, who was arrested and put on trial for his corruption exposés during the dos Santos era, says the new president deserves praise.
“I would give Lourenco an eight out of 10, simply because he inherited a country where corruption was so ingrained, so institutionalized, that it became the institution itself,” he told VOA. “The government itself was corruption. I think he’s done that with - and deserves great credit for - what he’s done in terms of also letting the judiciary have the power to indict and arrest some of these most notorious, corrupt officials.”
And the purge has been rewarded, says Alex Vines, who heads the Africa Program for research group Chatham House. The nation’s biggest investors, international oil and gas companies, have decided not to pull out of the resource-rich nation. But, he says, more needs to be done to rebuild the country.
“This is a transition process still, it will progress in fits and starts, but I think we are beginning to see that these reform efforts aren’t just about the consolidation of power from dos Santos to Lourenco, but is beginning to become a bit more equitable,” he said.
Lourenco, he notes, is a shrewd politician, having risen to prominence within the ruling People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola in 1984. He now has to gird his party for its next challenge, Vines says.
“Mr. Lourenco, I think, has bought himself a couple of years of credit with the reforms that are going on,” he said. “The honeymoon period is over. But he will be severely tested, I think, in 2020, with the local elections, the first eve in Angola’s history, and the MPLA is worried that in certain districts in Angola, it might do poorly. And so, these reforms are really all about the MPLA and about renewal. And that is really what this is all about, I think.”
But Marques says for the party to pull ahead, it needs to improve the economy and ensure millions of unemployed Angolans can find jobs.
“He continues to have a very, an extremely, incompetent economic team,” Marques said. “And these measures will not yield great results in terms of changes in the public life if his government is not competent enough to turn around the economic situation, create jobs for the economy and economic growth.”