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Angola's opposition unites for change

May 24, 2021

The MPLA party has ruled Angola for almost 50 years. In the lead-up to next year's election, the opposition is determined to bring about change and has started to forge an alliance, even seeking support in Germany.

Angola's President Joao Lourenco
As President Joao Lourenco's popularity plummets, opposition figures are already preparing for next year's electionImage: Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images

At the beginning of May, Adalberto Costa Junior, the president of Angola's largest opposition party, UNITA, made a brief visit to Berlin for "political talks with representatives of German parties and foundations." Or, to put it another way, to promote his program and shore up political and financial support.

During his time in Germany, he also reached out to DW. Over the phone, the opposition leader described Angola's political, economic, and moral situation as "catastrophic."

President Joao Lourenco began his tenure in 2017 with promises to democratize the country, fight corruption and improve living standards. Now, four years later, the country is in ruins, according to Costa Junior.

The economy has more or less collapsed and remains heavily dependent on oil as its main export product. On top of this, food prices are soaring, unemployment figures are rising, and the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic are "threatening to get out of control."

Adalberto Costa Junior speaks at a rally in Luanda
Opposition leader Adalberto Costa Junior, seen here at a rally in Luanda, is also seeking support abroadImage: DW/M. Luamba

The people are deeply frustrated. In fact, most Angolans now look back favorably on the 36-year rule of Lourenco's predeccessor, former president Jose Eduardo dos Santos and his powerful family .

Any observer of current developments in Angola knows the public discontent is justified. The situation in the country is dire, and the mood is increasingly tense. However, the government isn't solely to blame: External factors such as changes within the global economy and the pandemic have also left their mark.

For Costa Junior, is it clear that in 2022, the MPLA — which has ruled continuously since the country gained independence in 1975 — must be voted out of office. And now is the time for the course to be set to achieve this. But how exactly? The opposition politician remained ambiguous on this point.

The official unofficial alliance

UNITA's press spokesperson, Marcial Dachala, is more specific about the party's aims: It wants to facilitate talks with all opposition movements in the country "who are pursuing the same goal," Dachala told DW.

It's an open secret that UNITA has already held the first informal talks: Namely with prominent opposition politicians Justino Pinto de Andrade and Abel Chivukuvuku.

Police look on as people gather during a demonstration in Luanda.
Desperate Angolans are increasingly taking to the streets in protest, as seen here in Luanda in MarchImage: Osvaldo Silva/AFP/Getty Images

"The three opposition politicians who have teamed up are veterans in Angolan politics," political scientist Olivio N'kilumbu told DW. "If the three of them manage to come to an agreement and really forge an alliance, then the opposition's chances in next year's elections will increase considerably." But it won't be easy for all three to agree on a hierarchy moving forward.

Who will be the presidential candidate?

The Angolan newspaper "Novo Jornal" reported that the opposition parties had already reached an agreement at the beginning of May: Costa Junior would be considered the main leader ahead of Chivukuvuku and de Andrade, respectively.

So far, UNITA has neither confirmed nor denied this. "We will only announce in due course who will lead the 'Patriotic Alliance for Alternance' as a presidential candidate in the 2022 elections," party spokesperson Dachala told DW.

Pepetela, a renowned Angolan author and former minister, and member of the ruling MPLA party, believes Chivukuvuku would pose the strongest challenge to the incumbent president. He is "a man whose name is familiar to all Angolans, a man who speaks the language of the youth," Pepetela explains.

Angola Abel Chivukuvuku, Adalberto da Costa Junior and Justino Pinto de Andrade sit together during a meeting
Opposition figures Angola Abel Chivukuvuku (left), Adalberto da Costa Junior (center), and Justino Pinto de Andrade (right) met for talks in MarchImage: Borralho Ndomba/DW

According to Pepetala, a tight election is almost certain. The MLPA is unlikely to achieve a landslide victory, as has been the case in previous years. "Those times are over," says Pepetala.

N'Kilumbu takes a similar viewpoint: In his opinion, the opposition has the chance to spearhead a democratic change of government for the first time since independence. But to achieve this, the opposition would need to form a strong united front. Rather than sticking with a three-way alliance, other parties and movements and influential figures who have not yet appeared on the political stage should also be involved.

Will Isabel dos Santos enter the fray?

One of these figures, according to observers, could be Isabel dos Santos — the disgraced daughter of former president Jose Eduardo dos Santos. The entrepreneur, who is considered Africa's richest woman and against whom several investigations into corruption are still pending, has not ruled out a shot at the presidency.

Isabel dos Santos, Angola's former First Daughter and Africa's richest woman
Entrepreneur, billionaire, corruption suspect: Could Isabel dos Santos enter Angolan politics?Image: Valery Sharifulin/Imago Images/ITAR-TASS

According to political observers in Angola, the Dos Santos clan remains hugely influential and could significantly damage the MPLA, to whom it owes its rise.

But Pepetela thinks it's implausible Isabel dos Santos will run for office: "Isabel dos Santos never held a political office. I also don't think she would have the talent or the real political ambition to take it on. She would not really be dangerous competition for Joao Lourenco."

Political observers believe it is unlikely that opposition parties would welcome the participation of members of the dos Santos clan in their alliance.

Joao Carlos contributed to this article.