Luanda, Angola. The elections this week will be a turning point in the history of Angola and one of Africa’s “sit tight” heads of state, José Eduardo dos Santos, who at 74 years and after 38 years in the presidency, vacates his seat after designated polls, although critics say he has no real intention of straying too far from power.
José Eduardo dos Santos became president in 1979, making him Africa’s second-longest-serving leader, after the Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema. Rumors about his health status are increasing as his medical visits to Spain are repeated. Dos Santos has reportedly received cancer treatment in Barcelona over several years.
José Eduardo dos Santos was born on August 28, 1942 in Luanda to a humble family and, upon finishing his high school studies at age 18, joined the Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), a Marxist and nationalist Opposed Portuguese colonialism and rose up in arms against the metropolis in 1961.
However, colonial repression forced him to flee the country in a boat and exile in the Republic of Congo, where he contributed to the founding of the MPLA Youth.
In 1963, José Eduardo dos Santos received a scholarship to study in the Soviet Union, where he graduated six years later as a petrochemical engineer at the Institute of Oil and Gas Studies in Baku (now the capital of Azerbaijan), after which he completed a military telecommunication course and Returned to the Angola area controlled by MPLA.
The Carnation Revolution that overthrew the Salazarist dictatorship in Portugal triggered its withdrawal from the colony, so that on November 11, 1975, Angola declared its independence and the MPLA, which controlled Luanda, proclaimed itself a ruling party in the country.
In the first MPLA government in independent Angola, supported by the USSR and Cuba and presided over by Agostinho Neto, Dos Santos occupied the Foreign portfolio
Portugal left without formally giving power to anybody, reason why the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita), founded by the guerrilla leader Jonas Savimbi and that controlled the second city of the country, Huambo, established an alternative government, Which triggered a civil war that lasted until 2002.
In the first MPLA government in independent Angola, supported by the USSR and Cuba and presided over by Agostinho Neto, Dos Santos occupied the Foreign Ministry, from which the UN and the Organization of African Unity (OAU) recognized the New country.
Neto died suddenly in 1979 and Dos Santos, nicknamed by a diplomat “the African Machiavelli”, replaced him in front of the Party and the Executive, going from being seen as a gray technocrat without real power to consolidate his leadership gradually to move away gradually To the MPLA of Marxism.
After the peace signed by the MPLA and Unita in 1991, Angola held its first multiparty elections in 1992, which resulted in the re-election of Dos Santos, a result that did not accept a Savimbi who called the fraudulent elections and resumed the armed struggle against government. The MPLA would end the civil war after ending Savimbi in 2002.
In 2001, Dos Santos said he would not run for new elections, although the only ones called since 1992 were the 2008 legislative elections, in which the MPLA won 81.64% of the votes and helped the president stay in the power.
The new constitution approved in 2010 angered an opposition that considered, that Dos Santos was “destroying the democracy” when maintaining in the power, although the president re validated his mandate two years later with 71.84% of the votes.
Although the management of Dos Santos has been key to the stability of the country – supported mainly by its rich oil fields, which make up 95% of its exports – half the population lives on less than two euros per day and Angola ranks 150th out of 188 on the Human Development Index.
This situation does not seem to worry who has managed to amass a large fortune for himself and his family: his daughter Isabel, president of state oil company Sonangol, is considered the richest woman in Africa, worth $3 billion (2.55 billion euros), while his son, José Filomeno, is chair of the Angolan sovereign fund.
According to Transparency International, Angola has been among the most corrupt countries for years, and also under constant accusations of disregard for human rights.
Photo: Angola President José Eduardo dos Santos
The current Defense Minister, João Lourenço, is the maximum favorite to the succession. If finally elected president, the court of Dos Santos, and perhaps himself from the shadow, will ensure that everything remains the same in Angola that he led with iron fist for 38 years
After 38 years in power, José Eduardo dos Santos is not seeking re-election. The 74-year-old has guided the MPLA from hardline Marxism to a rapacious capitalism that enemies say has been tarnished by cronyism, nepotism and corruption. Now, weakened by illness, he is stepping down.
José Eduardo dos Santos is Africa’s longest-serving president after Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo. Unless Unita can win the poll, dos Santos’s place will be taken by 63-year-old João Lourenço, the defence minister.
José Eduardo dos Santos rarely travelled abroad on official business, but is said to enjoy music and poetry as well as cooking fish, and was once a keen footballer.