CONFIDENT: Angola's President Jose Eduardo dos Santos addresses the media after casting his vote during national elections in the capital Luanda. Picture: REUTERS

FOR better or for worse, Angola’s battle-hardened alliance of the ruling MPLA party and the oil industry emerged from an electoral challenge looking as formidable as before.

President Jose Eduardo dos Santos and the sophisticated elite which surrounds him may have had a few nervous moments in the days before the vote on Friday. His security was tighter than ever, the turnout at his final campaign rally was nothing to write home about, and the cruel divide between rich and poor came under a glaring spotlight.

By the weekend, he and the MPLA had put all that behind them.

They were heading for total victory. With most of the ballots counted by the National Electoral Commission, the party and its president had trounced the combined opposition by a margin of three to one.

"Foreign investors like political stability" was the simple and probably accurate assessment of a young expatriate manager working in the oil services industry.

If they serve their full terms until 2017, Mr dos Santos will have been president for 38 years and the party will have been in office for 42.

As the election outcome was confirmed, the expatriate sipped an evening cocktail with his wife at one of the new beach-side restaurants on the Ilha do Cabo, a long spit of land forming Luanda’s glorious bay. The bay was what caught the eye of Portuguese navigator Paulo Dias de Novais in 1576. It remains an attraction today for moneyed Angolans and foreigners.

Angola is Africa’s second-largest oil producer, producing about 1.8-million barrels of crude a day. Liquefied natural gas is growing fast, Angolan diamonds have been the stuff of legend for many years, and the economy grew at an annual average of 15% between 2002 and 2008. After a dip — in line with the world recession — the trend is up again this year with projections of 8 % growth.

A rapid growth spurt was inevitable after the end of a 27-year civil war between the MPLA and the late Jonas Savimbi’s Unita, which began at independence in 1975. The MPLA won that brutal conflict and is now reaping the peace dividend.

That is where Angola’s problems start. Many believe that Mr dos Santos, his family and the ruling party’s leadership need to start listening.

One in two Angolans live on $2 a day. Secondary school enrolment is said by some indicators to be about 10%, creating a dramatic skills shortage youth unemployment of at least 50 %.

"If Angola doesn’t change, the situation will be very grave," said Jose Severino, the president of the Industrial Association of Angola. It lobbies for companies big and small and is waging an uphill battle to build the private sector in a centralised economy dominated by state-owned oil giant Sonangol.

"This is what happens when you mix business with too much politics. Sonangol and the party have holding companies, compulsory shares in almost every business; they are everywhere," said Mr Severino.

He echoes a widely, if timidly, expressed view in business circles that the "lobby" of party and presidential business interests, linked to favoured corporate and energy investors — particularly in Portugal, China, Brazil and France — is crowding out badly needed new investors.

The status quo means reform towards a market economy is not in the interests of the elite whose members get a slice of all of the action, including imported goods that could be made locally or imported from SA or other Southern African Development Community (Sadc) members.

But before Angola can benefit from low-tariff imports from Sadc it will have to sign the free trade zone treaty — a step which has no obvious advantages for beneficiaries of the current set-up. Their personal wealth is enviously observed in some of the world’s high-rolling circles with a particular penchant for the south of France.

The government is in the process of spending $150bn on an upgrade of the country’s infrastructure, everything from roads, bridges, ports, railways, housing and hotels.

The people should be satisfied and the election results might imply that they are.

Certainly Unita, with about 18% of the vote compared with 10% in the last polls in 2008, gives no sign that it can convince the majority it is capable of running a country much less sophisticated than Angola.

"Unita has shown that it is a very feeble opposition party at the moment," said Rafael Marques, a rights and anticorruption activist and critic of what he says is a greedy and immoral elite.

Dismissing the election outcome, Mr Marques said sarcastically: "I don’t think it will have an impact on foreign investors. This kind of impunity is reassuring to investors."

The MPLA’s campaign slogan promised better distribution of a growing national cake and there were hints that Mr dos Santos, who turned 70 before the polls, might step down before the end of his next term and be replaced by his deputy, former Sonangol boss Manuel Vicente.

The government has begun Angolanisation policies for jobs and companies — not racially defined like those in SA but certain to be popular if they are enacted. But for the social tide to turn, the establishment will need to listen to educated young people with no magic password into the golden world of the MPLA aristocrats.

People like 32-year-old Mario Daniel, an information technology technician with a state-owned bank who is studying management at a private college in his spare time.

His ambitions? "To marry the mother of my two wonderful boys and to be a great manager. The people are opening their eyes. Things are not equalised. There is too much money for one group and not enough for everyone else. Everyone needs to change," he said at a polling station in central Luanda.

The most surprising thing was that he was an official MPLA election observer. "Yes, I am. But that doesn’t mean I agree with everything we do," he said.