João Lourenço's "irreversible reforms" in Angola

João Lourenço completes a year in office as president of Angola

João Lourenço completes a year in office as president of Angola

  |  Reuters

The country's situation forced the new president to embark on inevitable changes. Within a year, no relevant industry was spared. And there were symbolic gestures, such as the exhumation of the remains of Jonas Savimbi.

Leadership changes in the fundamental economy sectors, from Sonangol to the Sovereign Fund, from the central bank to the national diamond company. The replacement of the heads of the public media, changes in the legislation on foreign investment (which ends the obligation of making partnerships with Angolan partners). The end of the double taxation of Portuguese companies and workers, an agreement established in the framework of António Costa's visit to Luanda. The announcement of rectifications to diamond mining, of which Angola is the fifth largest producer in the world, with the goal of "bringing back the big companies of this industry," according to what President João Lourenço said in May, speaking at the world center of the field, Antwerp.

More signs of diversification of an economy still dependent on oil - the cause of the crisis in the country after the decline in the price of crude oil; the start of the restructuring of the air carrier and the company that manages airports and shipping, opening the way for the privatization of both. Entry of floating exchange rates at the beginning of 2018 to bring the kwanza closer to the real market value; progressive application of VAT, in Angola, starting in 2019. Angola is the only country in the Southern African Development Community where this tax is not yet applied.

On the other hand, symbolic decisions took place, synonymous of attempts at internal peacemaking, such as the exhuming of the remains of UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi, killed in combat in 2002, or the authorization given, after being deferred for over two decades, to Radio Ecclesia, of the Catholic Church, to broadcast at national level.

After one year in office as president, which will be fulfilled on Wednesday, 26, João Lourenço has been laying the groundwork for important changes in the Angolan society, with the greatest repercussions being felt in the economic sphere. And he took control of the MPLA one year ahead of schedule. All of this without blocking forces or internal resistance. How the crisis is managed is critical to the ruling party's future and they know it.

As Brazilian researcher, of the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI), Mathias de Alencastro, said in February of this year, "in the space of months, the political scene in Luanda has become unrecognizable." For this specialist in Brazil-Africa relations, João Lourenço "faced a dilemma after taking office": the scale of the crisis forced him to generate "a shock of credibility," under penalty of "not being able to survive politically." And, aware of the support that "his decisions have inside and outside," "Lourenço has placed the country on the road to irreversible reforms."

The Angolan historian Fernando Manuel thinks that "having found an unprecedented bankruptcy," the president "managed to give Angolans a feeling of hope" by making decisions that were previously "unthinkable." Fernando Manuel, who spoke to Angop in early September, pointed out that João Lourenço "broke monopolies," initiated reforms "at an economic and internal social level" and returned public television Channel 2, managed by one of the sons of former president Eduardo dos Santos, to the public service. In the same manner, he alienated other of his predecessor's sons from central positions, such as the presidency of Sonangol and the leadership of the Sovereign Fund.

A convergent analysis, albeit in other terms, is that of the Angolan academic José Serra Van-Dúnem, also speaking in September to Jornal de Angola. For Van-Dúnem, the president "has made progress" with his reforms and "accelerated the social policies that derive from the demographic pressure that underlies a country with a young population like ours." In 2017, Angola, with about 30 million people, was the lusophone country with the highest percentage of young people, 47% of the population. The same scholar also stressed the importance of diversifying the economy, which should work as a "life insurance" in the face of changes in the price of oil, which closed this week, falling, at around $ 70.