An improbably smooth transition in Angola appears to be taking shape under President João Lourenço, inaugurated on 26 September. But he faces major challenges in diversifying Angola's plummeting economy so as to make it less dependent on oil, and in rehabilitating its international reputation, which has been damaged by longstanding corruption. Much depends on whether he can exploit his non-partisan instincts and common touch to become a charismatic leader with a long-term vision.

Amid a wave of disruptive elections and political transitions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, The Gambia, Kenya and Zimbabwe, an improbably smooth transition in Angola seems to be taking shape under João Lourenço, who won the 25 August election with 64.5% of the vote. On 26 September 2017, he became Angola’s third president, succeeding José Eduardo dos Santos, his People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) comrade who had led Angola in an authoritarian and patrimonial manner for 38 years. After less than two months into his mandate, Lourenço had sacked most of the loyalists and relatives that dos Santos had placed in key positions before handing over power. While Lourenço’s speeches during the MPLA’s 2017 electoral campaign focused on reversing corruption and state capture, echoing popular discontent about the ruling elite and particularly the business interests of the dos Santos family, few expected Lourenço to directly challenge the legacy of dos Santos – who remains secretary-general of the MPLA – by unseating most of the former president’s appointees so early in his tenure. This bold change was implausible a year ago. While it does not necessarily indicate meaningful reform to Angola’s governance, it does suggest that the ruling party has rapidly fractured and that Lourenço enjoys strong party and military support.

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