Will he go, will he stay? Angola’s President Jose Eduardo dos Santos began his 38th year of largely unchallenged rule last week after promising to step down in 2018.
“I have decided to leave political life in 2018,” the 74-year-old leader told party officials of his People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) in a surprise announcement in March, giving no reason for the decision.
But last month, Dos Santos was re-elected head of the MPLA, which would automatically extend his mandate as Angola’s ruler by five years if the party wins an election next year, as expected.
And so strong is his hold on power that many do not believe he plans to quit politics. On a continent where political longevity is common, Dos Santos is a champion.
Only President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, of Equatorial Guinea, beats him as longest-serving ruler, and by just a month.
In a symbol of his grip on Angola, in June he placed his daughter Isabel in charge of Sonangol, the national oil firm. As one of Africa’s largest oil exporters, Angola is economically dependent on the resource.
The “princess”, as Isabel is known, is held to be Africa’s wealthiest woman by US magazine Forbes.
Her homeland has, meanwhile, been rated by global institutions and human rights organisations as one of the poorest, most corrupt and repressive countries on the planet.
The latest anniversary evokes little more than a resigned shrug from those who dislike the regime.
Raul Danda, the vice-president of Unita, which became the main opposition party after civil war ended in 2002, said: “It’s an ugly dictatorship.”
The departure of the head of state would also raise delicate succession issues.
Foes of the regime largely anticipate a dynasty, where Dos Santos would distance himself but protect his assets