After 38 years under President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, João Lourenço took office as Angola’s third president on September 21. Angola gained its independence from Portugal in 1974.
Lourenço assumed power after his party, the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), won 64.5 percent of the popular vote.
Dos Santos, also of MPLA, took office in 1979 after the death of the country’s first president, Agostinho Neto. He is Africa’s second-longest serving leader, after Teodoro Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea.
In December 2016, Dos Santos announced that he would not run for re-election, likely because of health issues. It was welcome news to many Angolans, for whom Dos Santos’ administration represented the large-scale corruption that has plagued the country.
Though Angola is Africa’s second-largest oil producer, most of the country outside of the capital, Luanda, lacks basic infrastructure, a problem which has caused public health crises in recent years. For example, the government cut waste-collection services in some areas in March 2016, which incited a deadly yellow-fever outbreak that killed more than 400 people.
Lourenço campaigned on the promise of increased transparency and reduced corruption. He has signaled a plan to open and diversify the country’s economy, with the goal of limiting the country’s dependency on volatile oil prices.
However, despite his campaign promises, many fear that Lourenço will continue many of Dos Santos’ policies due to their similar backgrounds. Both leaders were Soviet-trained, members of the MPLA party from an early age, and products of the country’s violent revolution.
Additionally, the Angolan parliament recently created the role of president-emeritus for Dos Santos, which guarantees him the luxuries of the presidency even after leaving office. He also continues to serve as head of the MPLA, thus exercising significant power within government.
Still, amid the transition, there are signs of progress. This year’s election, which many in the international community deemed legitimate, saw an unprecedented rise in the popularity of various opposition parties.