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What's Next For Angola With A New President

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

For the first time since 1979, the southern African country of Angola has a new president. Of course, Angola is oil-rich, but it is also famously corrupt. And much of its population lives in poverty. The country's new president, Joao Lourenco has made huge promises that have sparked a lot of hope for change. NPR's Eyder Peralta reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF FISH MARKET)

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: In the distance, you can see a gleaming skyline - big steel and glass structures built during the excess of the oil boom. But out here in this fish market, things are different.

LUISA ISABEL ERCOLANO: (Speaking Portuguese) Cinco-quinto, cinco-quinto, cinco-quinto.

PERALTA: Most regular Angolans live in homes made from corrugated aluminum. The roofs are held down by rocks and bricks. And people here get by with whatever they can catch in the ocean. Luisa Isabel Ercolano is buying fish for her daughter's birthday party.

ERCOLANO: (Speaking Portuguese).

PERALTA: She says, "life here is hard." "Some people live," she says, "but most just survive."

ERCOLANO: (Speaking Portuguese).

PERALTA: "Jose Eduardo dos Santos has been in power too long," she says. "And it's our right to try a different way."

Dos Santos decided to step down this year, and he handpicked Joao Lourenco as his successor. But out here, amid the fish and manta rays and squid, almost everyone I speak to says they have no other choice but to hope. Luciando Seguno says the only reason he's selling fish here is because there's no other way to survive.

LUCIANDO SEGUNO: (Through interpreter) There must be changes because this our country. We're going nowhere. There must be jobs.

PERALTA: Angola is a relatively new country. After 400 years as a Portuguese colony, it gained independence in 1975. But that quickly devolved into a civil war that did not fully end until 2002. Fernando Manuel, a government historian, says if you take that into account, this country has made a ton of progress. It's built schools and roads and railways. But even he admits that for a country that was founded on communist ideals, at some point, when it was rolling in money because of high oil prices, it lost its way.

FERNANDO MANUEL: (Speaking Portuguese).

PERALTA: "People who were once revolutionaries," he says, "turned into bourgeoisie - with a lot of money, foreign houses - but others have nothing." The new president has promised to redistribute wealth more evenly. He also promised to end impunity, punish those who have taken state funds to enrich themselves. Manuel says he believes Joao Lourenco. He comes from a new generation, he says. And he doesn't have the kinds of financial holdings that the former first family has. Plus, he says, Lourenco went all over the country making those same promises.

MANUEL: (Speaking Portuguese).

PERALTA: "He has no other choice," he says, "because if he doesn't make good, who knows how the electorate will react."

(SOUNDBITE OF UNITA MEETING)

PERALTA: On the outskirts of Luanda, UNITA, the leading opposition party calls a meeting of all its elected officials. Their failed presidential candidate Isaias Samakuva opens his speech by saying even though the election is over and a new president has taken power, the regime has not changed.

ISAIAS SAMAKUVA: (Speaking Portuguese).

PERALTA: "Human rights violations continue, and they will continue," he says. "Corruption continues, and it will continue." After his speech, he tells me that's because he just doesn't trust Angola's new president.

SAMAKUVA: I hope I'm wrong. But while he was talking against corruption - after his speeches, he went to corrupt people.

PERALTA: For Rafael Savimbi, a UNITA MP and the son of Angola's historic opposition leader, Angola's future still depends on the country's old president. Jose Eduardo dos Santos stepped down after 38 years as president, but he remains the leader of the ruling party. And the dos Santos family still holds unparalleled power. His son is the chair of the country's sovereign wealth fund, and his daughter heads the state oil company which is the source of most of Angola's revenue. Meanwhile, dos Santos remains president emeritus - immune from any prosecution. And right before he stepped down, he appointed loyalists to the security services. Savimbi sees a small silver lining. Angolans voted overwhelmingly for change, and the country's new president knows that.

RAFAEL SAVIMBI: The message of the people was so clear that if he was having the capacity of changing something, maybe he could do it.

PERALTA: But he says he's not holding his breath. Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Luanda. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.