Impeachment bid signals tougher times for Lourenço
Angolan President João Lourenço this week survived an impeachment bid, giving him a freed mind to travel on his trip to Nairobi, Kenya on a state visit, where he was chief guest at Kenya’s Mashujaa (Heroes) Day celebrations.
But that failed motion was more of a warning signal on his troubles in this term that a victory for his party.
At the impeachment motion in Luanda on Saturday, the ruling party, Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) trounced the opposition led by the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita).
The impeachment was Unita’s initiative and some 90 MPs from the opposition had signed on it. In the end, the motion was rejected with 123 votes from the MPLA MPs, two from the Humanist Party of Angola and one abstention from the Social Renovation Party.
Read: Angola opposition files motion to impeach president
“The Unita Parliamentary Group clarifies that, under the terms of the Constitution and the Law, the voting carried out by the National Assembly is invalid,” Unita said in a statement after the vote.
“The Unita Parliamentary Group informs the public that the process of removing the President of the Republic from office will continue and reiterates that the defence of democracy and legality will continue to be its main motto,” it added.
Unita’s parliamentary group (PG) head Liberty Chiaka also accused the ruling MPLA of threatening the opposition MPs to vote against the process. Unita needed least 111 MPs to support the motion to go ahead with the impeachment process.
“… They (MPLA) said they will fingerprint the votes and find out which of the MPs voted against them,” Mr Chiaka said.
MPLA responded by accusing Unita of starting a process without legal basis. Ju Martions, a MPLA legislator said his party MPs “of course could not go along with this manouevre, with total disrespect for the rules of procedure of the national assembly, parliamentary ethics and even the parliamentary table,” he said.
“The country has been kept almost in suspense on this issue for more than three months, and Unita PG has used every possible trick to intensify the process among the civil society,” he added.
Read: Angola power elites showdown looms in party congress
One strength of MPLA is its majority in parliament. But that has not shielded Lourenço from criticism outside of the House.
Lourenço, 69, became president in September 2017 after taking over from Jose Eduardo dos Santos’ 38-year rule. Last year, he was sworn in for a second and last five-year term albeit after a disputed election.
During his first term in office he was praised by supporters for fighting corruption, including a purge in the family of the former President dos Santos. His critics, on the other hand, pointed out he had used collective punishment, including sacking several security chiefs close to his predecessor.
He removed his predecessor’s daughter Isabel dos Santos as head of the country’s state oil company Sonangol. The former president’s son, Jose Filomeno dos Santos was sentenced to five years in jail for fraud and corruption in 2020.
At the inauguration speech last year, at the historic Praca da Republica square in the capital Luanda, Lourenço pledged reforms to encourage the private sector, diversify the economy from oil dependency and fight youth unemployment.
Read: Angola’s Lourenco pledges more economic reforms
But he got increased frequency of street protests against rising cost of living. Taxi drivers protested against a recent fuel-price increase in several provinces; women street traders protested in Luanda and political activists protested in several provinces too, each group citing hiked prices of basic goods.
“Things are getting worse every day in Angola. Prices are only going up. We’ve never been worse off than now,” Jose Tchimuko, 45, a street trader in Luanda told The EastAfrican, adding “things are even worse down there” in reference to his homeland in Huambo Province.
In May, Human Rights Watch (HRW), said the human rights situation in Cabinda province (an Angolan enclave in the DR Congo), as an example, has remained poor since President Lourenço took office in 2017, with many activists being arrested for exercising their fundamental rights.
In August, Ms Zenaida Machado HRW senior Africa Researcher said that “the Angolan police appear to be targeting those who speak out against government policies.”
The dos Santos family has used the criticism to return to local politics, indirectly. Comparing her father to the current president, Tchize dos Santos said earlier this month that no one in Angola was arrested for annoying the late head of state, who, according to her did not care about social media.
Actually, some journalists fled the country during dos Santos time and the country was mostly dominated by MPLA.
Speaking to Lusa, the Portuguese news agency, economist and political commentator Carlos Rosado de Carvalho said the country’s economy has tanked on a weak currency.
“The inflation is out of control, the kwanza (local currency) is completely out of control, with foreign exchange crisis.
“In the economic terms, we have gone from heaven to hell, because in the  elections, everything was fine, the country was growing, we were going to accelerate growth, the Kwanza was stable, inflation was under control, the public accounts were balanced and we realised that one year after the elections that there was none of that,” he added reviewing a year after elections.
The Freedom House, a lobby on freedom of the press, says that Angola government along with those of 69 other countries have long employed party loyalists or contracted agents to covertly manipulate information online.
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In a report titled Freedom on the Net 2023: The Repressive Power of Artificial Intelligence released earlier this month, it added that generative Artificial Intelligence technology is slowly beginning to enhance such distortion campaigns. Angola usually ranked 125 out of 180 countries surveyed by the Reporters without Borders this year.
Two days after the motion was defeated, Lourenço spent 2 hours and 17 minutes in a national address parliament and said the country is still experiencing the negative effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and that the decline in families’ purchasing power is a global issue.
“The reducing the tax burden, namely reducing VAT on some products will continue with the process of withdrawing fuel subsidies,” he said adding economic diversification will be also taken into account.
“We are transforming our country’s economic structure by no longer producing and exporting only oil. Oil revenues should be used less for the consumption of goods and services and more for spending on diversifying and promoting the non-oil economy,” Lourenço said during his speech.
Lourenço also mentioned that the fight against corruption and the process of recovering state assets remained at the top of the state’s agenda.
“The country’s political and military situation is stable, and there are no relevant threats that could jeopardise peace, territorial integrity, sovereignty, stability, public order or the normal functioning of constitutional bodies,” he added.
The World Bank says Angola’s 33 million people are mired in poverty and says economic diversification remains elusive in the country while oil production is declining and global decarbonisation looms in the medium-term.
“Angola needs to urgently invest in removing barriers to private sector investment to achieve economic diversification to support growth, job creation, and poverty reduction,” it added.