This is part 2 of a 6-part series
A leopard cannot change its spots, the saying goes. In Angola, João Lourenço is that leopard. The 67-year-old president is four years into his term, after taking the reins from José Eduardo dos Santos in 2017.
Belonging to the same political party as his predecessor, the Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (MPLA), Lourenço is a pure product of the system. After previous roles as secretary general of the MPLA (1998-2003) and as defence minister (2014-2017), he found a way to cast himself as a beacon of change, promising to do away with Dos Santos’s brand of governance built on political authoritarianism and the opaque management of public finances.
But as the years go by, and despite getting off to a good start, President Lourenço has increasingly struggled to set himself apart from Dos Santos against the backdrop of an economic crisis made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic. The situation has put him in a particularly tight spot a year ahead of general elections, which will be held in 2022.
End of a honeymoon phase?
Were the early days of Lourenço’s term just another honeymoon phase? Within days of taking up residence in the Cidade Alta, the district that houses the presidential palace, Luanda’s new leader played the change card hard. His anti-corruption crusade made an impact at home and abroad, while his approach to the presidency elicited an equal amount of enthusiasm.
Going completely against the Dos Santos grain, Lourenço put his greater openness on display in a variety of ways, such as by granting many long interviews with the media (something his predecessor categorically refused), actively communicating on social media (virtually unheard of before), allowing demonstrations (mostly dispersed in the past) and taking into account the views of civil society groups and even dissenting voices.
These are impressive feats for a former soldier who completed his training at a military academy in the USSR and whose round face belies his stern, rather reserved demeanour. The public is elated with the new tone set by the president, feeling freer to speak their minds – and it seems like there is no going back.
There's more to this story
Get unlimited access to our exclusive journalism and features today. Our award-winning team of correspondents and editors report from over 54 African countries, from Cape Town to Cairo, from Abidjan to Abuja to Addis Ababa. Africa. Unlocked.
Already a a subscriber Sign In
Also in this in Depth:
distribution detailsWill Dangote’s Refinery solve Nigeria’s fuel consumption problems? President Muhammadu Buhari commissioned the Dangote Refinery and Petrochemical Plant, the world’s largest single-train refinery, on 22 May in Lagos amid jubilation, but experts say distribution problems are the next big challenge.
Coffee WithAngélique Kidjo, an encounter beyond space and time Fresh from winning the prestigious Polar Music Prize, the Benin-born singer tells The Africa Report what motivates her to cross cultural divides in her art and advocacy.
Cracking downUS sanctions Wagner commander in Mali in latest crackdown on Russian mercenary operations in Africa The US government slapped new sanctions on Russia’s Wagner Group on 25 May, putting African nations on notice that working with the Kremlin-linked mercenary group carries high risks.