Here’s why oil-rich Angola is ripe for political change

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Despite its oil wealth, Angola is a miserable place for many. The country produces 1.2 million barrels of crude a day, making it Africa’s second largest producer after Nigeria, but about half of its 33 million people live on less than $2 a day. Transplantation is widespread and most government services are poor or non-existent. The blame lies with the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, or MPLA, which ruled for nearly half a century and funneled much of the nation’s wealth into the hands of a small politically connected elite. . Opposition parties are capitalizing on dissatisfaction with the status quo and soaring food prices, and elections scheduled for August 24 are shaping up to be the most contested since the end of a 27-year civil war in 2002.

1. What is the record of the ruling party?

The MPLA has been credited with ending the war and presiding over an economic expansion that saw gross domestic product rise every year between 2003 and 2015 – when the end of an oil boom heralded the start of a five-year recession. Angola has also become synonymous with nepotism and corruption, with former President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos’ family and entourage among the main beneficiaries. President Joao Lourenço, 68, who succeeded Dos Santos in 2017 and is seeking a second term, has turned against his former allies and tried to recover billions of dollars they had hidden abroad. He also instituted a series of other reforms to consolidate Angola’s finances, diversify the economy and attract foreign investment. Although he has won international praise, his selective anti-corruption campaign and slow progress in tackling rampant poverty and unemployment have eroded his domestic support, especially among young people.

2. Who poses the greatest threat to the MPLA?

The Puling party’s main challenge comes from the National Union for the Total Liberation of Angola, or Unita, which was on the losing side of the civil war and has been its main political rival ever since. Unita is led by Adalberto Costa Junior, 60, who trained as an electronics engineer and was a lawmaker and party spokesman. Widely known as the ACJ, he pledged to redistribute Angola’s oil revenues and spoke out about unacceptable levels of corruption and poverty. His spirited and combative style of debate in parliament and in the media won him strong popularity among young urban voters. While Costa Junior has pledged to reduce the state’s role in the economy, he is ruled out replacing MPLA-appointed officials or waiving the nation’s debt obligations.

3. Can the main opposition party win?

It’s unlikely. Lourenço and the MPLA have all the advantages of the mandate, including access to state resources to campaign. The party won 61% of the vote in the last national elections in 2017, and Unita only 27%. However, Unita’s fortunes appear to have turned since Costa Junior replaced Isaias Samakuva as leader of his party in 2019, and its election campaign has won the support of two smaller parties and Marcolino Moco, a former prime minister of the ruling party. An opinion poll published in May by the research firm Afrobarometer showed the MPLA leading Unita by just 7 percentage points. He also predicted that the opposition would get the most support in the capital, Luanda, which is home to most of the country’s voters. The government has since banned similar investigations. Campaign rallies organized by the two main parties drew large crowds across the country.

Foreign investors will be watching closely if the new administration proceeds with the planned sale of stakes in oil giant Sonangol EP and other state-owned companies. They will also monitor whether Angola is using windfall revenues from rising crude prices to help settle around $19 billion in debt owed to China – funding that has been used mostly to build roads, hospitals and rail links. The government has sought to diversify its funding away from the Asian nation – it completed a $4.5 billion program with the International Monetary Fund in 2021 and sold $1.75 billion in Eurobonds in 2022. It aims also to increase fuel sales to the European Union, which tried to reduce its dependence on Russian oil and gas after the invasion of Ukraine.

5. Will the election be credible?

As the National Electoral Commission insists the vote will be free and fair, officials from Unita and other opposition parties have questioned the independence of the body and accused it of favoring the MPLA and not doing enough to prevent electoral fraud. They also criticized the location of polling stations and complained that it is too difficult to register election observers. State media devoted 95% of its election coverage to the government and the ruling party, and broadcast its rallies live, according to Carlos Rosado de Carvalho, an economist at the Catholic University of Luanda, who has followed the campaigns. UNITA has asked its supporters to maintain a presence around the polling stations to ensure that the voting and counting are fair. The party has ruled out a return to armed conflict but has threatened to organize street demonstrations in the event of an attempt to rig the elections. Several observation missions will monitor the vote, including those of the European Union and the African Union.

6. How is the election going?

Eight parties will contest 220 seats in the single-chamber parliament. The person who heads the list of legislative candidates of the party that wins the most seats in the National Assembly becomes president. More than 14 million people have registered to vote.

More stories like this are available at bloomberg.com

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