News Analysis

Why the Church is backing Angola’s reformist president

João Lourenço (Getty)

Aid workers say things have never been worse for the country, but there is hope of change

One of Africa’s largest nations is experiencing a dramatic political shake-up – and the Church appears to be delighted.

Catholic leaders in Angola have signalled that they stand fully behind the country’s president, João Lourenço, and the reforms he has launched since taking up office in September 2017.

Speaking to Ecclesia, the news agency of the Portuguese bishops’ conference, Bishop José Manuel Imbamba praised the new government. “We fully embrace the reforms being conducted, we encourage them to continue”, said the vice-president of the bishops’ conference.

After 38 years in office, former president José Eduardo dos Santos stepped down peacefully last year, to be replaced by João Lourenço. Many expected the new leader to be little more than a puppet, but he has been proving otherwise, purging state institutions of loyalists of the former president, including his own children.

However, the bishops are also cautious, with Archbishop Filomeno Dias of Luanda, president of the bishops’ conference, expressing his hope that “speeches become practice, and practice becomes culture, a way of life for our society”.

Angola became independent in 1975, following years of armed struggle, but then plunged into a long civil war, which only ended in 2002. However, despite the years of conflict, the head of the local Caritas says that things have never been worse. “People die more now than they did during the war, they get sick more, there are more children out of school,” Eusébio Nguengo told Ecclesia. “There is hope that things will change, and we have a president who gives out those signals. But for now they are only signals. We need facts.”

Speaking during a trip to Lisbon, President Lourenço insisted that his anti-corruption drive would not be stopped. “Are we playing with fire? Yes, we are. But what is important is that the fire be controlled. We will not be burned,” he assured journalists.