Lourenco: Ex-general poised to be Angola's next leader
The likely next president of Angola, Joao Lourenco, is a ruling-party loyalist andformer general who endured several years out of favour after he angled for the top job in the 1990s.
Since then, Lourenco, 63, has convinced key regime players he is the right man to succeed President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who has ruled the oil-rich southwest African nation for 38 years.
As the deputy president of the People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and as defence minister until last month, Lourenco is "part of the inner circle of power", according to Didier Peclard, an Angola specialist at the University of Geneva.
In February, Dos Santos named Lourenco the party's presidential candidate for Wednesday's general election.
It was something of a turnaround for a man whose political ambition nearly ended his career back in the 1990s when Dos Santos hinted he might be standing down, and Lourenco failed to hide his desire to succeed him.
Believing the former general was being opportunistic, Dos Santos forced Lourenco into several years of "political purgatory", according to Peclard.
Dos Santos's apparent flirtation with resignation was merely "a political manoeuvre to bring those in the party with ambitions out of the woodwork, and Joao Lourenco paid the price," he said.
- Soviet education -
He was born Joao Manuel Goncalves Lourenco on March 5, 1954, in Lobito, a town in west Angola.
As a young man, he fought against Portugal's rule of Angola and then in the civil war that erupted between the MPLA government and UNITA rebels after independence in 1975.
Like Dos Santos, he studied in the former Soviet Union which trained a number of rising young African leaders during decolonisation.
Lourenco became political chief of the armed wing of the MPLA in the civil war -- a Cold War proxy conflict involving Cuban forces and CIA-backed militias.
- 'Hardline MPLA general' -
In 1984, he was appointed governor of the eastern province of Moxico, Angola's largest, quickly rising through the MPLA hierarchy.
The ex-artillery general later led his party's group in parliament before becoming deputy speaker of the National Assembly.
His appointment as defence minister in 2014 secured his position as favoured successor to Dos Santos.
His main challenge in office may be Angola's shift to free market capitalism at a time when volatile oil prices are taking a heavy toll on the crude-dependent economy.
Lourenco "has a reasonable reputation as a moderate, not an extreme character," said Soren Kirk Jensen of the Chatham House research group in London.
"He is probably the right person to be the bridge as Angola goes through a transition."
Rumours abound that Dos Santos had hoped to hand over the reins of power to one of his children, one of whom is Isabel dos Santos -- Africa's first billionaire woman according to Forbes magazine.
But Jensen said, "There is speculation that high-ranked people in the party put their foot down against this."
Opponents of Dos Santos's all-powerful regime believe Lourenco offers little hope of real change in Angola.
Activist and journalist Rafael Marques, a leading regime critic, said Lourenco was at heart "a hardline MPLA general".
Former political prisoner Nuno Alvaro Dala said that under Lourenco "power in Angola will continue to be militarised".
He is married to Ana Dias Lourenco, a former minister who also represented Angola at the World Bank. The couple has six children.