The Old, the New and the Dead

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The recent return of the body of the late president of Angola, José Eduardo dos Santos, to his home from Spain was a fitting prelude to the tensions that have been growing in the country in the run-up to the Aug. 24 elections.

After ruling Angola from 1979 to 2017, dos Santos died in Barcelona where he had been in self-imposed exile after he fled his southern African nation amid public protests over crime and corruption – including allegations that his family was plundering state coffers – the poor economy and other issues, the New York Times reported.

Dos Santos was an authoritarian leader who brooked no political dissent, controlled the economy with an iron fist and operated an extensive state surveillance system to oppress his people, University of Johannesburg anthropologist Claudia Gastrow and Catholic University of Angola researcher Gilson Lázaro wrote in the Conversation.

While he was gone, his handpicked successor, Joao Lourenco, distanced himself from the former president and declared that he would restore the rule of law, Africa Report explained. He fired dos Santos’ daughter from her job as president of the national oil company and removed his son from Angola’s sovereign wealth fund.

Now, as Angolans head to the polls to elect a new president and parliament, they are deciding between Joao Lourenco and his ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, and opposition leader Adalberto Costa Junior of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola. Incidentally, the two parties waged a 27-year-long civil war against each other that ended in 2002.

The election has become a fight between the new and old. By distancing himself from dos Santos, Lourenco has attempted to fashion himself as a new kind of leader, but few voters have accepted his transformation, Al Jazeera wrote. That said, as Stratfor noted, the incumbent president is still expected to win.

Junior, meanwhile, has courted the youth vote. Half the country’s population is under the age of 30, according to Africa News. Half of Angolans younger than 25 are also unemployed, added Reuters.

Lourenco has cracked down on civil rights in the days prior to the vote, Amnesty International warned, evoking memories of the bad old days under his predecessor. Police arrested a Voice of America reporter for covering a protest against electoral irregularities, the Committee to Protect Journalists wrote. Few are optimistic that the elections will be free and fair, according to the Maverick.

Whoever wins will have a chance to live up to the ideals that ordinary Angolans clearly want in their leaders. Will they? That’s anyone’s guess.

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