14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 28 March 2018 – United by the slave trade and, later, by geopolitics, Angola and Cuba are today experiencing a similar moment beyond cultural ties or military pacts. Both countries are going through a process of succession from the historic leadership, which, in the case of Luanda, is defying more than one forecast.
When the oil producing nation began a new chapter in its history last year and José Eduardo Dos Santos left the presidency, after almost four decades, everything pointed to the transfer of power being a maneuver to prolong the status quo and to ensure the former president’s family remained well situated.
Joao Lourenço, who had occupied the post of Minister of Defense, was chosen to succeed the man whose face is still on the currency and whose official propaganda surrounded him with an exalted cult of personality. JLO, as Lourenço is also known, was seen as a stand-in, a puppet who would be closely managed by Dos Santos.
Among the 27 million inhabitants of the African country, many were born or grew up under the shadow of the leader of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). However, shortly after taking power, JLO began to dismantle his predecessor’s extensive web of family businesses. One of the first pieces to fall was Isabel Dos Santos, daughter of the former president, whom Forbes magazine has named the richest woman in Africa, with a personal fortune of around 4.5 billion dollars.
Isabel had been named in June 2016 as head of state oil company Sonangol, which controls more than 90% of the country’s crude exports. Last December Lourenço relieved her of her position, shortly after having also done the same to the Commander General of the National Police and the Chief of the Intelligence Service and Military Security.
The coup reached two of the family’s other children, son José Paulino and daughter Welwitschia, who had under their control the most important television networks. The new president, who during his inauguration had lavished praise on the father of these skilled businesspeople, took a few weeks to move on the man’s children.
A few days ago it was the turn of José Filomeno Dos Santos, formerly responsible for the Angolan Sovereign Fund, which has assets of more than 5 billion dollars. The son of the country’s former strong man has been accused by the Justice Department of defrauding the Central Bank of 500 million dollars and has been barred from leaving Angola.
Removing the Dos Santos children from those positions not only allows JLO to replace them with more trustworthy members of his administration, but it represents a sledgehammer against the network of nepotism that fueled his predecessor. This economic undermining translates into a loss of power in a country that ranks 164 out of 176 nations on the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index.
With its rich oil deposits, Angola continues to be a nation of deep social contrasts, hit by inflation and a country where bribes or thefts of public assets constitute the main sources of economic gateways for many officials and businessmen.
José Eduardo Dos Santos, who was reputed to be an “African Machiavelli,” is now a sick old man, unable to oppose his successor, who has abandoned the script of the transfer of power and is threatening to take his children to court.
The table is set so that the historical diatribe falls on his figure and the opposition – which he kept at bay with the blows of repression – is beginning to take advantage of the cracks in the dome. Although the old patriarch was left in his leadership position in the MPLA, he has had to call an extraordinary congress where it is very likely that a new leader will be elected.
It is difficult to resist the temptation to extrapolate these events to the situation that now exists in Cuba with the succession of Raúl Castro, the old ally who led thousands of men to die on African soil so that the MPLA could take power in 1975. Nor is the careful planning of generational change, which will take place in Cuba as of April 19, a guarantee against upsets.
From the Angolan experience, Castro can extract two lessons: puppets can cut their strings, and protecting a family clan is a difficult task when you do not have all the power.
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