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Angola Swears In First New President In 38 Years


The southern African country of Angola is making history today. For the first time in 38 years, it has inaugurated a new president. The change in leadership came after the country's longtime leader decided not to run and his handpicked successor won presidential elections last month. NPR's Eyder Peralta reports from the capital, Luanda.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: In Luanda, I find a city bursting with hope. Luisa Oliveira, 56, was hurrying home from work. On inauguration day, she says, she will pause to make sure she remembers every moment. She hopes when Joao Lourenco takes over it will mark the day Angola changes for good.

LUISA OLIVEIRA: (Speaking Portuguese).

PERALTA: "People here," she says, "lack everything, and so the government has to lend a helping hand."

Angola is second only to Nigeria when it comes to oil production, but half of its population lives in poverty and it is ranked as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Lourenco campaigned on cleaning up the country and fighting corruption, so people here seem giddy about the future. On inauguration day, thousands of people show up. And when the anthem plays, they sing from their heart.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #1: (Singing in Portuguese).

PERALTA: The country's chief justice heralds longtime President Jose Eduardo dos Santos as a revolutionary hero who helped liberate this country from Portugal and then helped Angolans reconcile in 2002 after decades of bloody civil war. The chief justice then turns to Lourenco and asks him to fight corruption. Then he administers the oath.



PERALTA: When he was done, Lourenco turns toward the country's former president and 38 years of a presidency came to an end.

And this is a moment of history as President dos Santos has passed the presidential medal to Joao Lourenco.

At that moment, the entire pavilion fills with smiles. People dance. One man shouts, it is over, our great president can now rest. And the crowd chants, Lourenco, friend, your people are with you.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #2: (Chanting in Portuguese).

PERALTA: In his inaugural speech, Lourenco does not mince words. He promises to not only fight corruption but to end impunity.


PRESIDENT JOAO LOURENCO: (Speaking Portuguese).

PERALTA: "We will all work together," he says, "to squash that threat to society."

Of course, critics have doubts about how much Lorenzo can get done. Dos Santos is still the leader of the ruling party, and he remains president emeritus, enjoying full immunity. And he and his family still have financial interests across the Angolan economy. His daughter, for example, heads the state-owned oil company. But Paula Esperanza Garcia Mendes watches her first inauguration and is filled with hope.


PERALTA: "We expect," she says, "that Lourenco's words will turn to actions and not remain just a theory."


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking Portuguese).


PERALTA: Back at the pavilion, the military salutes Lourenco. After inspecting his troops, he drives away in a presidential car. Jose Eduardo dos Santos slips away quietly - no salute, no special license plate on his Mercedes. Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Luanda. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.