Luanda, Angola | AFP | Angola’s new president, Joao Lourenco who will be sworn in Tuesday, is a former general who spent several years in the political wilderness after angling for the top job in the 1990s.
Since then, Lourenco, 63, convinced key regime players he was the right man to succeed Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who has ruled the oil-rich southwest African nation for 38 years.
As the deputy president of the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) — and defence minister until July — Lourenco is now “part of the inner circle of power”, said Didier Peclard, an Angola specialist at the University of Geneva.
The MPLA won last month’s election, carrying Lourenco to power as the party’s presidential candidate.
It was something of a turnaround for a man whose ambition nearly ended his career in the 1990s when Dos Santos hinted he might stand down. Lourenco failed to hide his desire to succeed him.
Dos Santos, believing the former general was being opportunistic, forced Lourenco into several years of “political purgatory”, according to Peclard.
His apparent flirtation with resignation had been merely “a political manoeuvre to bring those in the party with ambitions out of the woodwork, and Joao Lourenco paid the price,” he said.
Following the recent election, Lourenco sharply criticised opposition parties who questioned the authenticity of his victory as he sought to smooth the path to his inauguration day.
“These political groups, by protesting in their sole interests against these so-called procedural irregularities, have violated electoral laws,” he said earlier this month.
– Soviet education –
Joao Manuel Goncalves Lourenco was born on March 5, 1954, in Lobito, in western Angola.
As a young man, he fought against the then colonial power Portugal. After Angola won its independence in 1975, he fought in the civil war that erupted between the MPLA government and UNITA rebels.
Like Dos Santos, Lourenco studied in the former Soviet Union, which trained a number of rising young African leaders during decolonisation.