The erasure of Jose Eduardo dos Santos’ 38-year rule in Angola appears to be accelerating. Angola does not have executive term limits, but Eduardo dos Santos finally stepped down as president in late 2017.
On Wednesday his successor, Joao Lourenço, removed replaced his son (Jose Filomeno dos Santos) as head of Angola’s $5b sovereign wealth fund. This follows the sacking of Isabel dos Santos (Africa’s wealthiest woman) as head of the country’s state oil company last year. President Lourenço has also moved to replace key security chiefs in sub-Saharan Africa’s third largest economy and second biggest oil producer.
When Eduardo dos Santos said he’d retire I was skeptical. The anointment of his defense minister, Joao Lourenço, as his successor (while retaining position atop the ruling party) did little to change my mind. But like in Mozambique and Zambia before it, the mere change of guard in Angola appears to have initiated a process of elite churn that is accompanied by a dismantling of the old order (at the very least within the ruling party).
Now, there is no guarantee that this will lead to normatively desirable outcomes (such as better governance and service delivery in Angola). Change for its own sake is only good up to a point. But it is a testament to the political importance of term limits. Regular leadership turnover is a nice way of ensuring that no single interest group or ruling cabal completely dominates a country’s political economy.
Relatedly, I am not a close watcher of Angola but recent events have led me to update my view of the level of institutionalization of MPLA. For a long time I thought that it was just an electoral/patronage SPV for Eduardo dos Santos. But news events seem to suggest that its powers transferred almost intact to Joao Lourenço (I could be wrong of course).