18 Jan

Lourenco Proves He’s No One’s Puppet in Angola

Shortly after becoming president of Angola in September, Joao Lourenco did something completely unexpected: he stopped at a red light.

The incident prompted thousands of social-media users to praise the 63-year-old former army general for abiding by the law.

In October, Lourenco waited in line at a KFC restaurant to buy a burger, and then this month, photos surfaced of him and his wife Ana Dias strolling on a beach in the capital, Luanda.

Few predicted the sharp contrast in leadership style with his predecessor, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who rarely left the pink presidential palace from where he ruled Africa’s second-biggest oil producer for almost four decades.

When he did emerge, hundreds of soldiers swarmed the city center to allow his convoy to move swiftly through the pot-holed streets, leaving traffic paralyzed for hours.

“He’s been a very positive surprise,” said Soren Kirk Jensen, an independent Angola expert. “There’s been a profound change of style, from a completely closed style to a completely open one.

More importantly, he’s initiated much-needed economic reforms by addressing dysfunctionalities in the way the market works due to unnatural monopolies that happened to be controlled by certain families.”

When Lourenco won nomination as the candidate of the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola last year, analysts discounted a policy shift, saying his power would be limited by the party and the Dos Santos family and its allies.

Lourenco’s decision to reappoint 13 out of 18 provincial governors he had inherited from Dos Santos just two days into his new job seemed to confirm that suspicion.

Corruption Fight

But in a state of the union speech on Oct. 16, Lourenco stressed that he was serious about campaign promises to fight corruption and end state-run monopolies in a country that ranks among the world’s 20 most corrupt, according to Berlin-based Transparency International.

The first high-profile official to be removed was central bank Governor Valter Filipe, a lawyer Dos Santos appointed the previous year.

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