Angolan President João Lourenço in Washington to promote diplomatic and economic ties with U.S. even as protests grow in Luanda and economy crumbles ahead of elections

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Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the U.S. government, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. and New York City.

The President of Angola João Lourenço on Monday met with President Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan in Washington D.C. and used his stay in the American capital to promote Angola-U.S. relations, including economic ties, even as protests against his regime grow at home and the economy crumbles amid a coronavirus pandemic that has reduced demand for oil.

“National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met today with Angolan President João Lourenço to reinforce the strong bilateral relations between our countries,” the White House said in a statement. “Mr. Sullivan reaffirmed our support in resuming the U.S. – Angola Strategic Dialogue as the centerpiece of our engagement. He also emphasized our commitment to working with Angola to advance our shared interests in economic ties, combatting the COVID-19 pandemic, and regional and maritime security for the benefit of the American and Angolan people.”

On the last day of his visit to Washington, President Lourenço is scheduled to meet with U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and visit the African-American History Museum, where he will meet descendants of slaves who left Angola more than 400 years ago and settled in the Virginia region, with relevant participation in the shaping of what is now known as the United States of America.

At the Willard Hotel in Washington D.C. on Monday, not far from the White House, President Lourenço was hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The roundtable discussion about deepening diplomatic and commercial ties between the United States and Angola had in attendance senior U.S. and Angolan government officials.

Those in attendance included Ambassador Nina Maria Fite, the U.S. Ambassador to Angola, Teté Antonio, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Angola; Vera Daves de Sousa, Minister of Finance of the Republic of Angola; Mario Augusto Caetano João, Minister of Economy and Planning of Angola; João Baptista Borges, Minister of Energy and Water of Angola; Myron Brilliant, Executive Vice President and Head of the International Affairs, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Scott Eisner, President of the U.S.-Africa Business Center at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The Chamber, which launched the U.S.-Angola Working Group in June with participation from both governments, convened discussion to advance a private sector agenda for strengthening and diversifying economic relations between the two nations. 

President Lourenço, who is in the United States to participate in the general debate of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly, in New York City, New York, was scheduled to participate on Monday in the Annual Gala of the International Foundation for Conservation of the Environment (ICCF) where he was expected to deliver a speech in the presence of high-level political figures, both local and foreign, including the President of Colombia, Iván Duque Márquez, and numerous congressmen.

In New York, the Angolan leader will make his speech at the United Nations General Assembly, being the fifth speaker of the day, after the leaders of South Africa, Guyana, Botswana and Cuba.

His office said in a statement that in addition to participating in the annual general debate of the United Nations General Assembly, he will meet with leaders of several countries present in New York.

STRENGTH ABROAD BUT CHAOS AT HOME

But, even as he tries to promote strength in the United States, back in the Angolan capital Luanda, thousands of opposition supporters took to the streets on Saturday to protest against changes to the electoral law that they argued will undermine the transparency of next year’s general election.

President Lourenço introduced the bill last week to centralize the counting of votes instead of doing it at local levels where people cast their ballots and can ensure that the votes cast are reflected in the official records.

Virtually all opposition members of parliament abstained or voted against the reform with little effect in a parliament dominated by the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA).

The protests in Luanda on Saturday were organized by the main opposition party, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), and were supported by other political movements and civil society groups.

Chanting in Portuguese “MPLA get out”, the demonstrators waved UNITA and Angolan flags. UNITA had proposed a series of measures to prevent alleged fraud, including biometric identification of voters. The opposition party also called for the involvement of the civil society in the counting of ballots.

THE ECONOMY IN A MESS:

Angola is also confronting its biggest economic crisis in over ten years with the state energy company posting a $3 billion loss last year following the coronavirus pandemic that crippled demand.

The loss is the biggest in at least 10 years, compares with a net income of $125 million in 2019, reported Bloomberg. “The company had a “drastic reduction in revenue from sales of crude oil,” Sonangol, as the firm is called, said in a statement on its website. The Luanda-based Sonangol called 2020 an “abnormal year” due to the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Angola is Africa’s second-biggest oil producer after Nigeria, but the economic crisis coupled with political instability are major threats to the African nation.

Simon Ateba

Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the U.S. government, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. and New York City.

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