Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos said Friday that he will not seek re-election, signaling the end of his nearly four decades in power.
Dos Santos told a conference of the ruling MPLA party in Luanda that Defense Minister Joao Lourenco will stand as the party’s number-one candidate in the next election, scheduled for August.
Dos Santos, 74, had previously indicated he would step down as head of Africa’s second-largest oil producer. He has ruled Angola since September 1979, making him the continent’s second-longest serving leader, behind Teodoro Obiang of Equatorial Guinea.
Under Dos Santos’ rule, Angola reaped huge oil revenues and saw the end of a long, destructive civil war. But human rights groups have criticized him for secrecy, corruption and allowing most Angolans to live in deep poverty.
Last month, Forbes magazine listed the president’s daughter, state oil company chief Isabel dos Santos, as Africa’s richest woman with a fortune of $3.2 billion.
In contrast, ordinary Angolans suffer some of the highest child and maternal mortality rates in the world and an average life expectancy of only 51 years.
In Angola, the person who heads each party’s list of candidates for parliamentary elections also stands as the party’s presidential nominee.
The MPLA tapped Lourenco last year as the likely candidate to succeed dos Santos. Lourenco told the state-run Angola Press agency that Friday’s announcement is confirmation of something that party leaders have “taken for granted.”
But dos Santos is not slipping into retirement. The longtime president is number three on the MPLA candidate list. His wife, Ana Paula Cristovao de Lemos dos Santos, is number 17.
For that reason, opposition parties are expressing doubt that dos Santos will truly give up power.
The parliamentary head of the main opposition party, UNITA, Adalberto da Costa Jr, told VOA’s Portuguese to Africa service that the top leadership of MPLA has not changed “and therefore its essence has not changed.”
Lindo Bernardo Tito, vice president of the CASA-CE party, told VOA that the announced change is “cosmetic.”
“The MPLA is the same, the people that they are submitting to the election are those that have always been at the top of the ruling party,” he said.
“These are the people who have also been named as corrupt, these are the ones who helped José Eduardo dos Santos and therefore there is no change,” he added.
Lourenco himself said Friday that his main challenges will be “the consolidation of democracy and strengthening the economy.”
He said his main priority now is to win the elections.
“I am prepared to face this challenge and will do everything to honor the trust that people have given me,” he said.