By PEDRO AGOSTO in Luanda

ONE of the longest reigns by a ruling party in the continent is facing a rare threat as Angola heads towards the next general elections scheduled for 2022.

If murmurs are anything to go by, this could prove a platform for the once-powerful José Eduardo dos Santos family to bounce back after recent years of friction with the new leadership.

It is for the first time the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) might have to look over its shoulder since coming to power at independence from Portugal in 1975.

A receding economy and factionalism within the governing party as well as the disgruntlement among the populace in a country’s whose economy is too reliant on the fragile oil industry are among major challenges MPLA is faced with currently.

Current President, Joao Lourenco ascended to the helm in 2017 with the promise of delivering an economic miracle but almost four years into his term, his reign has experienced mixed fortunes but has largely been disappointing on the economic front.

Among parties that have hinted at a coalition include the main opposition National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), which has been MPLA’s main rival since independence.

Others are the Democratic Bloc and PRA-JA Servir Angola, with the alliance scheduled to participate as the United Patriotic Front (UPF).

Adalberto Costa Junior, the UNITA president, is touted as the flag bearer of the alliance in the presidential poll, ahead fellow prominent opposition politicians Justino Pinto de Andrade and Abel Chivukuvuku.

The latter two head the Democratic Bloc and PRA-JA respectively.

In what might be one of the most astonishing twists in Angolan history, there are murmurs Isabel dos Santos, could be open to the idea of being among leaders of the alliance.

She is the most prominent of the former president, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who led Angola for 36 years before the election of Lourenco.

Relations between the current administration and the dos Santos family are strained following Lourenco’s anti-corruption crusade is targeting his predecessor’s allies.

Isabel is involved in a bitter battle with the government, which has frozen her assets- she was once Africa’s richest woman with assets valued at US$3,5 billion- and wants her to answer to charges of corruption.

However, analysts pointed out chances of her seeking political office were remote.

“That is highly unlikely as she is pre-occupied with her legal battles. Also, a return to Angola could spark her arrest,” analyst Maico Borba, said.

“However, the factionalism within MPLA has made it ripe for a split, with sympathisers of dos Santos likely to shift to the alliance,” the commentator said.

Jarvis Mateus, a Luanda-based socio-political analyst, said a united opposition was a major threat to the MPLA’S decades-long dominance.

“Apart from tensions within, MPLA’s fortunes are at their lowest, worsened by the downsliding economy and a crackdown on dissent,” Mateus said.

MPLA won 61 percent of the 2017 legislative vote ahead of UNITA’s 26,68 percent.

UNITA claimed vote-rigging but the Constitutional Court ruled against the appeal.

Local government elections set for 2020, which were to be the first in the country’s history, were postponed.

The government blamed the COVID-19 health crisis the National Assembly has not approved the necessary legal framework.

An MPLA official scoffed at the imminent alliance.

“That is opportunism. MPLA remains the only party committed to the empowerment of our people,” he said.

Angola, the continent’s second largest oil and gas producer is paying a hefty price for an over-dependence on oil.

Oil makes up over 90 percent of Angola’s exports and two-thirds of government revenues.

Daily oil production has dropped from a high of almost 2 million barrels a day in 2008 to 1,4 million in 2019.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects the economy to grow by 0,4 percent in 2021.

Lourenco’s administration has pledged to diversify the economy.

Agriculture is earmarked for the diversification.

“The biggest challenge facing the MPLA is the production of food to avoid hunger among Angolans,” said Norberto dos Santos, MPLA provincial secretary, for the northern Malanje province. – CAJ News