Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa met his Angolan opposite number in Luanda on Wednesday in a top-level encounter between nations whose relations have previously been strained by anti-corruption issues.
It follows Angolan leader Joao Lourenco’s landmark November visit to Lisbon in which he sought to set aside tensions created by Portugal’s investigation of graft under his predecessor Jose Eduardo dos Santos.
“This state visit clearly marks a new chapter in the already strong relations between our two countries,” said Lourenco, 65, who added that both sides were working towards “developing exemplary relations”.
De Sousa, 70, said there was a “political will to overcome the problems of the past”.
“The current level of political and economic relations between Portugal and Angola is excellent.”
During the November trip Lourenco compared the fight against corruption in his country to “touching a wasps nest”.
Angola, a Portuguese-speaking oil-rich country, is one of Africa’s poorest countries and nearly half of the population lives below the poverty line.
– Fight corruption –
The diplomacy marks an effort to move beyond the legacy of colonial rule in Angola that ended in 1975 when Portugal withdrew without handing over power and Angola sank into civil war until 2002.
Angola entered a new era in 2017 when Dos Santos, who ruled with an iron fist from 1979, stepped down and was replaced by Lourenco.
A key source of friction between Luanda and Lisbon was removed in May when a Portuguese court decided that Angola’s former vice president Manuel Vicente can face a corruption trial in Angola instead of Portugal.
Lourenco had demanded that the trial take place in his country, “so that relations between Angola and Portugal can return to the level of the recent past”.
Alex Vines, of the London-based Chatham House think-tank, said the visit “is a further step in the normalisation of bilateral relations”.
“A year ago the relationship was fractious — mostly due to a Portuguese judicial investigation into allegations of corruption surrounding the former vice president Manuel Vicente,” he added.
“When Portugal handed over the investigative process to come under Angolan law, a remarkable thawing resulted in President Joao Lourenco visiting Portugal officially in late 2018 and now this further step in rapprochement.”
Lourenco has pledged to fight corruption and rebuild the economy of the second-largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa, which has still not recovered from the 2014 plunge in oil prices.
He has ousted relatives of his predecessor, dos Santos, from leadership positions at institutions and public companies in a move to boost transparency,
But his removal of dos Santos’ daughter Isabel from the top job at national oil giant Sonangol raised fears that Sonangol could withdraw its stakes in Portugal’s energy company Galp or the BCP bank.
Angola is a key trading partner with its former colonial master, and the third largest recipient of its investments.
Portugal, battered by the global financial crisis, avoided bankruptcy with a bailout from the European Union, while Angola has become the tenth largest foreign investor in Portugal.