Key political risks to watch in Angola

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Angola’s President Jose Eduardo dos Santos has yet to confirm he will lead his MPLA party in a general election later this year, but is widely expected to do so after saying he is ready for any mission his party gives him.

This is unlikely to dispel intense speculation over a possible successor to the 69-year-old leader, who is the second longest-serving ruler in Africa after Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo.

Critics say it is no coincidence that both countries are significant oil producers, underscoring the tight link between access to petro-dollars and political power in Africa, Reuters reports.

With Dos Santos apparently ready to go ahead with a re-election bid, the immediate political focus is on the MPLA’s choice for No. 2 on its candidate list.

Dos Santos’ decision to move Manuel Vicente from the helm of state oil firm Sonangol into a government post in January could signal he has chosen him as a successor, but observers say this choice could meet opposition from senior MPLA members.

And the mood on the street is heating up with clashes between young protesters, police and pro-government supporters.

On the economic front, the government expects a return to double-digit expansion in 2012 after technical problems in oil production led to disappointing growth in 2011.

GUESSING THE SUCCESSION

Dos Santos strengthened his hand with a new constitution in 2010 stipulating the person in the first slot on the winning party’s electoral list for a parliamentary election becomes president, without the need for a direct presidential ballot.

Still, the MPLA’s decision last year not to quash talk about a succession signaled that, for the first time, Dos Santos may be considering a handover of power.

But the president said in November that he was “available to fulfil any mission for the party”, apparently signaling his intention to run. ID:nL5E7MH2P9]

Vicente’s reappointment for a new term at Sonangol in December quieted some speculation, but Dos Santos’ decision to move the executive to a key post in government coordinating economic policy has revived it.

Senior MPLA members could favour career politicians such as Vice-President Fernando da Piedade Dias dos Santos or powerful minister Carlos Feijo for the post of Dos Santos’s deputy.

Dos Santos may also keep succession plans under wraps until after his party has secured an election win.

The MPLA is widely expected to win the election, with main opposition party UNITA, the former rebel movement that was defeated in the battlefield, seen hampered by internal disputes.

What to watch:
– MPLA announcement of list of candidates for election
– Powers given to Vicente’s new role as minister

YOUTH PROTESTS

Inspired by the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings, the pro-democracy rallies have rattled the MPLA, which has responded with pro-government demonstrations. Senior party figures have accused the opposition of planning “a national insurrection”.

A rally in September resulted in violent clashes in the capital Luanda, leading to 24 arrests and injuries to protesters, journalists and police.

A court swiftly sentenced 18 of the protesters to up to three months in jail, drawing criticism from opposition parties and international human rights organisations. The sentences were later overturned on appeal.

After a lull of around three months, the youths staged another rally on March 10, calling for the removal of Susana Ingles from the helm of the national elections committee and the resignation of Dos Santos.

This time they were blocked by pro-government supporters, dressed in plain clothes and some armed with sticks, with the rally ending in injuries to at least three of the around 30 demonstrators.

Angolan police said they are investigating the incidents.

What to watch:
– Plans for more anti-government rallies, police reaction

DISPUTE OVER ELECTION COMMITTEE CHIEF

The 2012 election will be only the second since the end of a 27-year civil war that pitted the Russian- and Cuban-backed MPLA against UNITA, which drew support from the United States and then apartheid South Africa.

The MPLA finally won the civil war in 2002, and then took 82 percent of the vote in a 2008 election.

UNITA re-elected of party chief Isaias Samakuva in December, but the departure of influential figure Abel Chivukuvuku to create his own party this month signals Angola’s second-largest party is divided.

The internal struggle has not stopped UNITA from maneuvering for position against the MPLA, accusing it of stripping the national election committee of authority and transferring control of logistics to the government.

The parties reached a deal on the election law in December, but tensions flared again in January when opposition parties criticised the re-appointment of the electoral commission chief.

UNITA has filed an appeal against the appointment with the Supreme Court and said it may stage its own protests if the appeal is unsuccessful. Senior party members have also spoken about the possibility of boycotting the elections.

Watch out for:
– Further tension over electoral commission chief
– Election preparations, especially oversight

GOVERNMENT TRANSPARENCY

Dos Santos’s government has long been accused of mismanaging oil revenues, avoiding public scrutiny and doing too little to fight graft. Transparency International ranks Angola as among the most corrupt countries in the world.

Critics have also urged Angola to reduce the huge influence of Sonangol, calling for an independent agency to ensure oil income trickles down to the poor. An estimated two-thirds of Angola’s 16.5 million people live on less than $2 per day.

New York-based watchdog Human Rights Watch in December urged the government to account for $32 billion in missing government funds, thought to be linked to Sonangol, which were spent or transferred from 2007 through 2010.

It cited an IMF report revealing that the spending and transfers were not properly documented in the budget.

The government denied the funds are missing and said the discrepancy resulted from insufficient record-keeping.

Watch out for:
– Government, Sonangol explanations on discrepancy

ECONOMIC GROWTH

Lower-than-expected oil output in some fields due to technical problems forced the government to cut its growth estimate for 2011 to 3.4 percent from 7.6 percent.

However, the government expects the economy to grow 12.8 percent this year – a return to the fast pace enjoyed before the 2008 oil price slump – as oil fields come back on line and new projects start production.

Most analysts agree on double-digit growth estimates for 2012, but warn that downside risks include further technical glitches and a possible drop in oil prices.

Still, international oil companies are undeterred from ambitious long-term investment, and in December signed deals to explore ultra-deepwater blocks which promise huge discoveries similar to those made off Brazil.

Central Bank Governor Jose de Lima Massano has won respect for stabilising the kwanza and helping cut inflation to 11.38 percent in December from 15.3 percent at the end of 2010.

Watch out for:
– Oil output recovery in next months
– Monetary policy decisions to curb inflation

OIL DEPENDENCY

Oil has helped Angola pick up the pieces after its civil war to become sub-Saharan Africa’s third-biggest economy after South Africa and Nigeria.

Despite moves to diversify into sectors such as agriculture — the country is well endowed with fertile soil and a tropical climate — oil still accounts for over 90 percent of Angola’s export income but employs less than 1 percent of its people.

Should it fail to reduce its dependency on oil, it risks becoming another Nigeria, where quarrels about the distribution of wealth have fueled civil unrest.



Watch out for:
– Implementation of diversification plans