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Lourenço's Turn, The Past Hanging Over Angola's New President

João Lourenço succeeds José Eduardo Dos Santos, who ruled with an iron fist since 1979. But Dos Santos has been busy keeping his hands on the levers of power.

New Angolan President Joao Lourenco in Luanda
New Angolan President Joao Lourenco in Luanda
Mathias Alencastro


For the first time since 1979, Angola has a new president. João Lourenço was the obvious candidate to succeed José Eduardo Dos Santos: His long rise — first through the military, where he became general, and later through the People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), the governing party since the country's independence from Portuguese rule in 1975 — concluded in his easy victory in the election held on Aug. 23, 2017.

But far from being in a position of strength, Lourenço will find himself ruling with his hands tied over a ruined petrostate.

Lourenço, whose wife Ana is a former World Bank executive, will be assuming command over institutions designed to serve one man and his clan for decades. The entirety of ministries, local governments and the whole MPLA machinery have been subordinated to the almighty Dos Santos. The main economic levers are in the hands of the Dos Santos family. The now former president's daughter, Isabel, controls the oil and gas company Sonangol, the nerve center of the Angolan economy. Meanwhile, Dos Santos' son, Filomeno, is in charge of the opaque Angolan sovereign wealth fund.

Lourenço's honeymoon won't last very long.

Before leaving power, Dos Santos took all the necessary steps to prevent Lourenço from altering this institutional design. He passed decrees to prolong the mandates of the heads of national security and of the military to make sure his allies would remain in key positions. Bornito de Sousa, who acts as João Lourenço's vice president, is a historical ally of Dos Santos as well as an essential intermediary between the MPLA and the rest of the political system.

Beyond having his hands tied by his predecessor, Lourenço will find himself at the helm of a state engulfed in a financial crisis unprecedented since the end of the civil war, which lasted from Angola's independence in 1975 until 2002. The falling oil prices that began in 2014 choked public finances and led to the defection of most international partners. Like other BRICS countries, Brazil went from generous investor to bill collector for the regime, in just over two years.

Very early in his presidency, João Lourenço will have to sit down at the negotiating table with the International Monetary Fund to seek a new financial assistance package. The inevitable consequence will be a drop of the national currency, the kwanza, which will, in turn, add to the population"s financial difficulties, given Angola's heavy reliance on imports. In short, Lourenço's honeymoon won't last very long at all.

Despite the gravity of the situation, Lourenço understands better than most the importance of moving slowly, step by step. He saw up close his predecessor's aversion for radical change. Fifteen years ago, when Dos Santos first opened the debate on his succession, João Lourenço was among the first to declare his interest in taking over. The result was not what he'd expected: Dos Santos decided to stay on and forced Lourenço into a spell in the political wilderness, as punishment for his excessive ambition.

For decades, politics in Angola has been little more than disputes between wannabe leaders — disputes that, in the end, Dos Santos always won. Even being in charge, João Lourenço may soon find out that old Angolan habits die harder than most.

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Parenthood And The Pressure Of Always Having To Be Doing Better

As a father myself, I'm now better able to understand the pressures my own dad faced. It's helped me face my own internal demands to constantly be more productive and do better.

Photo of a father with a son on his shoulders

Father and son in the streets of Madrid, Spain

Ignacio Pereyra*


When I was a child — I must have been around eight or so — whenever we headed with my mom and grandma to my aunt's country house in Don Torcuato, outside of Buenos Aires, there was the joy of summer plans. Spending the day outdoors, playing soccer in the field, being in the swimming pool and eating delicious food.

But when I focus on the moment, something like a painful thorn appears in the background: from the back window of the car I see my dad standing on the sidewalk waving us goodbye. Sometimes he would stay at home. “I have to work” was the line he used.

Maybe one of my older siblings would also stay behind with him, but I'm sure there were no children left around because we were all enthusiastic about going to my aunt’s. For a long time in his life, for my old man, those summer days must have been the closest he came to being alone, in silence (which he liked so much) and in calm, considering that he was the father of seven. But I can only see this and say it out loud today.

Over the years, the scene repeated itself: the destination changed — it could be a birthday or a family reunion. The thorn was no longer invisible but began to be uncomfortable as, being older, my interpretation of the events changed. When words were absent, I started to guess what might be happening — and we know how random guessing can be.

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