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This OPEC country has just witnessed historic political change, but who's really in charge?

  • Angola is on track to have elected its first new president in 38 years, a milestone for a country hit hard by the drop in the price of oil
  • The ruling MPLA party claimed electoral victory Thursday, meaning that the country's next president will be Defense Minister Joao Lourenco
  • Outgoing President Jose Eduardo dos Santos and his family retain control of Angola's key institutions
Supporters of MPLA presidential candidate Joao Lourenco gather during the closing campaign rally in Luanda, Angola, on August 19, 2017.
Marco Longari | AFP | Getty Images
Supporters of MPLA presidential candidate Joao Lourenco gather during the closing campaign rally in Luanda, Angola, on August 19, 2017.

Angola, OPEC member and Africa's second largest oil producer, has just witnessed historic political change. The country has elected its first new president in 38 years, but despite this political milestone, analysts CNBC spoke to expect little upheaval for a country hit hard by the drop in the price of oil.

With 98 percent of votes now counted from Wednesday's election, Joao Lourenco, defense minister for the ruling People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and named successor to former president Jose Eduardo dos Santos, looks set to take the country's top job.

Dos Santos is Africa's second longest ruling leader after Equatorial Guinea's Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who beats him to the record by just one month. The MPLA claimed victory – widely expected by onlookers – Thursday.

Though the MPLA did lose some ground to other parties in this week's vote, the dos Santos family retains a firm grip on Angola's economy through its key institutions. Dos Santos' daughter Isabel, Africa's richest woman, is chief executive of Sonangol, the country's state oil company. Meanwhile, his son Jose Filomeno heads up the country's $5 billion sovereign wealth fund.

Outgoing Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos and MPLA presidential candidate Joao Lourenco hold hands during the closing campaign rally in Luanda, Angola, on August 19, 2017.
Marco Longari | AFP | Getty Images
Outgoing Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos and MPLA presidential candidate Joao Lourenco hold hands during the closing campaign rally in Luanda, Angola, on August 19, 2017.

"Everything points towards continuity rather than change after the election," Richard Mallinson, geopolitical analyst at Energy Aspects, told CNBC.

This is worrying given that the economy, sub-Saharan Africa's third largest, is arguably in crisis. Gross domestic product growth shuddered to a halt in 2016 and inflation for the last 12 months averages at 29 percent.

While the International Monetary Fund expects economic growth for 2017 to rise to 1.3 percent, problems, including a devalued kwanza and a foreign exchange shortage, continue to simmer away.

Dependence on crude oil is part of Angola's problem, the commodity making up an average of 97 percent of exports over the last 10 years, according to the World Bank.

But, the oil industry is plagued by corruption, and its wealth when prices were high has been shared among too few, for too long. Other challenges remain according to Mallinson, one being "attracting foreign investment in deepwater projects in a low oil price environment," crucial as the bulk of Angola's oil is offshore.

Oil companies including Eni, Exxon and Total currently operate in the country.

MPLA party activists watch the announcement of Angola's general election result in the capital Luanda on August 24, 2017.
Marco Longari | AFP | Getty Images
MPLA party activists watch the announcement of Angola's general election result in the capital Luanda on August 24, 2017.

Mallinson added that Angola was struggling with limited refining capacity, with plans for new facilities "shelved amid low oil prices."

According to data from S&P Global Platts, Angola has been leading the way in terms of OPEC production cuts. Robert Perkins, senior writer for EMEA oil news at S&P Global Platts, explained to CNBC that "Most of the oil has already come on stream."

Cobus de Hart, senior economist at NKC African Economics, told CNBC that Angola has had some success in broadening its economy into non-oil sectors such as agriculture, telecoms and tourism. "But given the pressure the finances are under, it is hard to drive diversification," he said.

De Hart added that better spreading the country's economic reliance would go "hand in hand" with appeasing the country's young population which is in need of employment: roughly two thirds of Angolans are under 25.

Questions remain concerning Lourenco's level of autonomy, given that dos Santos will stay on as party chairman.

Political powers in the country have the "instinct to address problems through stricter control," Francois Conradie, head of research at NKC African Economics, told CNBC.

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