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Angola’s mysterious, all-powerful, long-time ruler

#Angolas #mysterious #allpowerful #longtime #ruler

Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who died on Friday at the age of 79, ruled Angola for 38 years and used his country’s oil wealth to make his family billionaires while his people were among the world’s poorest.

He died on Friday morning in a Barcelona hospital, where he was admitted for cardiac arrest on June 23.

During his reign, he eschewed the cult of personality so often favored by dictators, employing instead secretive and authoritarian tactics learned during the Soviet era.

And as much as he controlled every aspect of Angolan life, he mismanaged his own transition from power so badly that it ended in temporary self-imposed exile, with a son in prison and a daughter facing international litigation.

Although he was rarely seen in public, he was present in daily life for as long as most Angolans could remember, maintaining fierce control of the country throughout its devastating civil war and oil boom and bankruptcy.

Dos Santos became President and leader of the ruling People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) party in 1979.

He was Africa’s second-longest-serving head of state – a month ahead of Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea.

He handpicked his defense minister, Joao Lourenco, as his successor. But as president, Lourenco launched a tough anti-corruption campaign.

After decades of impunity, the dos Santos family and other high-ranking officials suddenly found themselves under intense scrutiny about their shady dealings.

Dos Santos’ son, José Filomeno, has been in prison for corruption since 2019.

His daughter Isabel was once named the richest woman in Africa by Forbes, with a fortune of $3 billion. She now faces a series of investigations into her multinational businesses.

For most of his time at the head of his MPLA party, he fought a brutal civil war.

When the 27-year conflict with UNITA rebels ended in 2002, he presided over a country riddled with landmines and among the poorest in the world.

The conflict was a Cold War flashpoint, with dos Santos receiving Soviet and Cuban support while UNITA had the United States and apartheid South Africa on its side.

After the war, he led Angola away from hard-line Marxism and fostered a post-war oil boom and surge in foreign investment that transformed the center of Luanda.

– ‘Survival Instinct’ –

According to Alex Vines of British think tank Chatham House, Dos Santos was “an accomplished and astute economic and political dealmaker with an instinct for political survival”.

His first wife was Russian-born Tatiana Kukanova, whom he met during college and with whom he fathered Isabel. He later married former stewardess Ana Paula, 18 years his junior.

From humble beginnings as the son of a bricklayer, dos Santos joined the MPLA as a teenager and quickly rose through the party’s ranks as a combatant during Angola’s fight for independence from Portugal.

After stints in Kinshasa and Brazzaville, he went to Azerbaijan to study petroleum engineering and, in addition to his native Portuguese, was fluent in Russian and French.

In 1979, after Angola’s liberation president Agostinho Neto died suddenly from cancer, dos Santos, then Minister of Planning, was sworn in as president.

A 1992 presidential election was scrapped before a second-round vote when his battlefield rival Jonas Savimbi claimed the vote had been rigged.

Civil war flared up again until Savimbi was killed in 2002.

During the 2012 election campaign, dos Santos repeatedly appeared unexpectedly at public rallies wearing colorful T-shirts and promised better universities and jobs for young people.

But his politics remained little changed after the vote.

– Attendance check –

He served, with few qualifications, as chief of the military, police, and cabinet, as well as president.

He selected senior judges and had MPLA allies in all public agencies, including the supposedly independent Electoral Commission.

Angola has become a major oil supplier to China, and dos Santos forged close ties with the Asian powerhouse.

Although he tried to present himself as a rock of stability, right-wing activists and members of the opposition accused him of systematic repression.

In a 2013 Brazilian TV interview, he said his rule had been “too long, too long,” but added that decades of war “means we haven’t been able to strengthen state institutions or even carry out the normal democratization process.”

Dos Santos was reportedly treated for cancer at Barcelona for several years. He left the country shortly after his retirement and spent two years in the Spanish city, both for medical treatment and to avoid a tightening legal web in Luanda.

While in power and always immaculately dressed, he rarely traveled abroad on official business, but he is said to have enjoyed music and poetry, cooking fish and was once a keen footballer.

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