Angola's Dos Santos says risk of upheaval nil despite poverty

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 06, 2013 6:29 PM
Angola's Dos Santos says risk of upheaval nil despite poverty

LISBON (Reuters) - Angola's long-serving president, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, on Thursday dismissed recent anti-government youth protests, saying the risk of social upheaval in the oil-producing country is inexistent despite a large rich-poor wealth gap.

In a rare televised interview on Thursday, Dos Santos said attempts to organize large demonstrations after the 2011 Arab Spring failed and Angola has only seen small protests attended by fewer than 300 people, mainly in the capital, Luanda.

"We don't see, at least I don't perceive, any risk of social instability at the moment," he said in the interview with Portugal's SIC channel. "But that does not mean that there are not flash points once in a while."

"Shortly after the revolts in Tunisia, Egypt and the conflict in Libya, they tried, here too, to incite the youth to hold big protests... but the truth is, it did not stick because most of the population understands the government's efforts."

A youth movement has staged several rallies since March 2011, urging Dos Santos to quit after 33 years at the helm of Africa's No. 2 oil producer. Though small in numbers, the protests have provoked a violent clamp-down by authorities.

"They are youths with some frustrations and who failed at school and could not enter the job market," Dos Santos said.

The president last year led his MPLA party to an election win to secure a new five-year term, but he has long kept observers guessing about his political plans, resulting in intense speculation over when and how he will step down.

Asked about whether he had thought about the future and a possible succession, the 70-year-old said: "Yes, of course, and it is only human to do so."

The silver-haired leader did not, however, provide any clues as to when he may step down, but said that any such move would have to start by finding a successor to lead his MPLA party.

The MPLA party, backed by the Soviet Union and Cuba, won the a long civil war against rebel group UNITA, which had support from apartheid South Africa and the United States. It then crushed its rivals in elections in 2008 and 2012.

The president has since portrayed himself as the guarantor of peace and rapid economic growth, but opposition parties and rights groups have long accused him of mismanaging oil revenues and doing too little to fight widespread corruption and poverty.

Dos Santos said his government plans to keep Angola growing at a rapid pace - GDP is expected to rise 7.1 percent this year - as that will help reduce poverty which he estimates affects 36 percent of Angolans.

"Evidently (I'm worried about the poor-rich gap)... Our policy is to fight asymmetries - regional asymmetries, but most of all those between rich and poor," he said.

(Reporting by Shrikesh Laxmidas and Daniel Alvarenga; Editing by Sandra Maler)