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As vote looms, Angolans chafe over Dos Santos era

Supporters of Isaias Samakuva, presidential candidate for Angola’s main opposition group UNITA, hold the party’s symbol of a rooster and a cross attesting to the suffering of former military personnel, in Luanda on August 21, 2017 © AFP / Marco LONGARI

Luanda, Angola, Aug 22 – After nearly 40 years under the rule of President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, millions of Angolans are angry and frustrated — and many seem determined to use Wednesday’s elections to express their hunger for change.

Few of them are signed-up members of any opposition party, but throughout the election campaign they have flocked in large numbers to rallies held by both the UNITA and Casa-CE parties.

Among their ranks are youths whose education has been cut short, leaving them bereft of skills, graduates who can’t find a job, and older men mired in long-term unemployment.

With Dos Santos standing down after the election, the ruling MPLA party — which has held power since 1975 — is expected to win again and install his chosen successor, Joao Lourenco, as head of state.

Even if the outcome is as predicted, the margin of victory will be watched closely as a barometer of sentiment towards the MPLA government.

“We need change. We must put in power a party that cares about the fate of the Angolans, not about filling their own pockets,” Jean Domingo told AFP at a UNITA rally on dusty open ground outside Luanda.

Domingo, a 49-year-old university graduate, was employed in communications until the company he worked for closed down six years ago.

He hasn’t found a job since.

On September 20, 1979, Jose Eduardo Dos Santos took office as Angola’s president after the death of the country’s first post-independence leader, Agostinho Neto © AFP/File / Alain JOCARD

“Life is so difficult,” he said, vowing to vote for UNITA after listening to the searing rally speech by party leader Isaias Samakuva.

“Everything has become too expensive,” Domingo said. “Young people can no longer afford to study, there is no longer any way for them to find work, or for older people like me either.”

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– Economic turmoil –

Angola’s elite enjoyed a heady boom after the end of the civil war in 2002, as the country vied with Nigeria to be Africa’s leading oil producer, GDP growth hit 20 percent and skyscrapers shot up in Luanda.

But the collapse in oil prices has triggered a full-scale national economic crisis since 2014.

Inflation hit a staggering 40 percent at the end of last year, when annual growth was less than one percent.

Mateos Simon, 28, has paid the price.

He worked as a nurse until the hospital was unable to pay him and fired him overnight.

“I live in a house where there is no water, no electricity,” he said. “As I cannot find a job in my area, I survive washing cars in the street.”

He is a fierce critic of the MPLA — the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola — which has dominated everyday life since before most Angolans were born.

“The MPLA does nothing for us,” he said. “Things have to change, now.”

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Similar outrage brings tears to the eyes of Domingas Ngunza, a 27-year-old housewife, as she accuses Angola’s leaders of “ruining the economy, stealing the wealth and leaving nothing to the people”.

– Family business –

Critics point to two vivid examples of alleged corruption and greed under his rule, when Dos Santos installed his daughter as head of the state oil company and his son as head of the country’s sovereign wealth fund.

Another opposition supporter, Adelino Luis, 23, prefers the yellow of the Casa-CE party to the red and green of UNITA, but he also dreams of an end to the MPLA.

“The Angolan people are tired of Dos Santos, his family and their unfulfilled promises,” said the 23-year-old history student listening to a speech by Abel Chivukuvuku, the Casa-CE leader who has a strong youth following.

“Housing, education, health, nothing works in this country,” he said. “I wonder why I go to university, I know that I will not have any work afterwards.”

One unemployed former soldier, Domingos Malongos, 42, warned than if fraud is suspected to be behind another MPLA victory then the result may be disputed.

“If the MPLA tries to robs us of victory, we will not let them,” he said.

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