Angola has placed under house arrest another close ally of former president Eduardo dos Santos just days after the ruling party MPLA made changes in its ranks meant to entrench President Joao Lourenco’s hold on power.
The country’s military court (STM) on Monday placed under house arrest the former head of information and security of the army, General José Maria who held the position for more than 30 years under dos Santos.
General José Maria is charged with embezzlement of restricted military documents and equipment as well as insubordination.
He was last seen on Friday in handcuffs after attending a court session. The military court STM did not disclose further details.
Maria’s confinement came just 24 hours after the ruling party’s congress ended on Sunday in the capital Luanda.
which two key organs were expanded.
Notably, dos Santos close allies including his daughter Tchize who has accused President Lourenco of muzzling state institutions did not attend.
They have accused Lourenco’s administration that came to power in 2017 after dos Santos 38-year reign of seeking to obliterate his legacy as well as the political careers of his associates in the name of fighting corruption.
The People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) has governed Angola since 1975 after the country’s independence from Portugal.
At the special congress called to unite the party in the midst of divisions between supporters of the two powerful politicians, the party’s Central Committee was enlarged from 366 to 497 members while the political bureau now has 72 members against 52 previously.
In politics enlargement of composition of party organs is usually done to create room for newcomers, mostly from a constituency that is being appeased in this case former dos Santos allies.
President Lourenço has launched a large-scale purge in the administration and public companies that appears to target associates and relatives of dos Santos.
In the 2018 Corruption Perception Index by Transparency International. Angola was ranked the eleventh most corrupt country (position 165 out of 175 in the world) with those faring worse mostly considered as failed states.
When dos Santos left, the country was at position 167 against the most favourable ranking of 85 in the year 2000.
At the opening of the congress on Saturday president Lourenço blamed members of the country’s political and economic elites who he did not name of illicitly enriching themselves while plunging the country deeper into external debt.
Angola’s national debt relative to the size of the economy has risen from 34 per cent in 2014 to 90 per cent this year, reflecting commodity price shocks over the period.
It is projected to steadily decline to 66 per cent by 2024 if the current commodity prices hold.
He said the fight against corruption was meant to end kinship and nepotism as the basis for ascending to political office and other spheres of public service.
“If the government achieves this, more citizens will be taken out of poverty. The responsibility we have is urgent and needs to be expedited,” he said.
The private sector, he added, would become the engine of growing the economy.
Oil-rich Angola has one of the most unequal societies with 94 per cent of the rural population living in extreme poverty despite Luanda, the country’s capital, featuring among the most expensive cities to live in in the world.
Two thirds of the population lives below the international poverty line of $2 per day as a debilitating war that ended in 2002 negated earnings from oil, diamonds, other minerals, lumber and fish.
The congress attended by 2,448 delegates elected Paulo Pombolo as its new secretary-general replacing Álvaro de Boavida Neto.
Neto is a close ally of dos Santos but had been appointed to the post by President Lourenco.
The former president José Eduardo dos Santos was invited but he is currently in Spain for treatment.
His family and close allies, however, gave the conclave a wide berth.
A week before the congress Ms Tchizé dos Santos was suspended as a ruling party and central committee member over absenteeism.
Mr Manuel Rabelais, the former information minister and Mr Norberto Garcia the party’s former spokesperson also did not turn up.
Manuel Rabelais is barred from foreign travel as he is facing corruption charges while Mr Norberto Garcia was recently acquitted by a court over similar charges.
Analysts see ominous signs in the breaking of ranks between the two political families.
“The absence of the big family during the congress is a matter of concern,” Mr Morais Feliciano a political analyst said.
During the congress, the party paid homage to Ilídio Machado and Mário Pinto de Andrade, the first two presidents of MPLA, by including them in the portrait of its leaders.
The MPLA has had five presidents during its existence the other one being Agostinho Neto.