Storm clouds gather as pedestrians walk along a downtown street in the Angolan city of Lubango, January 24, 2010.
Finbarr O'Reilly / Reuters

In early 2014, Angola, sub-Saharan Africa’s second-largest oil producer and third-largest economy, was flush with cash and confidence. The economy had expanded tenfold over the previous decade, and the government, which in 2002 won a resounding victory in the country’s long civil war, was unchallenged at home, a towering presence in regional politics, and a major investor abroad, including in Portugal, the former colonial power. Its national reconstruction agenda funneled tens of billions of dollars into infrastructure and transformed Luanda into a would-be African Dubai that attracted thousands of expatriates. The rule of Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos seemed secure: the government had insulated itself from civil society groups working on human rights and governance issues, improved its relationships with business-hungry Western states, and deepened its strategic partnership with China.

What a difference a year can make. Since June 2014, oil prices have plummeted nearly 60 percent, and the dos Santos

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  • RICARDO SOARES DE OLIVEIRA is Associate Professor of Comparative Politics at the University of Oxford and the author of Magnificent and Beggar Land: Angola Since the Civil War.
  • More By Ricardo Soares De Oliveira