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Angola’s Eduardo dos Santos: an unlikely chief recognized for his ‘even handed’ use of violence

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José Eduardo dos Santos, the previous Angolan president who died on 8 July 2022 5 years after relinquishing energy, was an unlikely chief.

His 38-year tenure didn’t stem from a expertise for mobilising standard assist. As an alternative, he held on to energy by means of his means to work behind the scenes and switch apparently antagonistic circumstances to his benefit.

He was born in Sambizanga, Luanda in 1942, the son of poor immigrants from São Tomé – a element that was utilized by his detractors to assert that he was probably not Angolan. He was educated at Luanda’s most prestigious state highschool, the Liceu Salvador Correia. On the time, Portuguese coverage ensured that solely a handful of black learners certified for such establishments. In 1961, when the colonial order was shaken by a jail break in Luanda and uprisings on the plantations of the north, Dos Santos was in his late teenagers. Like many educated black Angolans of his technology he left the country.

He studied in Baku within the then Soviet Union, the place he met his first spouse, Tatiana Kukanova, the mom of his eldest daughter Isabel. He served for a time in communications for the Widespread Motion for the Liberation of Angola’s (MPLA)) guerrillas in Cabinda, in addition to in its diplomatic arm in varied capital cities. This outfitted him for his function as overseas minister within the first impartial authorities from 1975. When a free Angola’s founding president Agostinho Neto died in 1979, the MPLA anointed Dos Santos, then 36, as get together chief. This made him routinely the top of state.

Dos Santos’s reign

On the time Angola was preventing a civil war (1975-2002) in opposition to Jonas Savimbi’s insurgent Nationwide Union for the Whole Independence of Angola (Unita). This merged with a battle of aggression from apartheid South Africa.

His get together, too, was in disaster. Years of inside division had erupted in 1977 with an rebellion led by a former authorities minister, Nito Alves, supported by a lot of Luanda’s poor residents and by radical intellectuals within the MPLA.

The MPLA’s management responded by remodeling the organisation into an instrument of management moderately than political participation. It was an atmosphere the place a flair for mobilising individuals was much less necessary than the power to handle the intricacies of intra-party politics.

The state’s safety trusted essential relationships with Cuba and the Soviet Union. Within the late Nineteen Eighties, because the Soviet Union scaled again its worldwide pursuits, the US pushed for a peace deal that linked the withdrawal of Cuban forces from Angola to the independence of Namibia from South Africa, and eventual multiparty elections. The US assumed this plan would culminate within the MPLA dropping energy like different Soviet-backed regimes. It assumed wrongly.

Residents in Angola’s coastal cities distrusted Savimbi. This, alongside the MPLA’s management of state sources to fund its marketing campaign, led the get together to an outright National Assembly win within the 1992 elections. Dos Santos got here inside 1% of an outright victory within the presidential vote.

The federal government largely complied with necessities to disarm its armed forces, however civilian militia remained loyal to the MPLA and had been complemented by a brand new partisan particular police pressure. Regardless of its personal substantial military, Unita had no chance of seizing power while contesting the election result.


The election outcomes allowed Dos Santos to assert the ethical excessive floor over Unita. And a return to battle from 1993 offered cowl for political repression. Dos Santos benefited from these features of the 1992 constitution that suited him, equivalent to privileging the presidency over the get together. He ignored people who didn’t – like civil liberties and parliamentary oversight. Relations had been indulged. Military generals had been stored onside by the award of navy and civilian state contracts.

In 2001, as Dos Santos approached 60 after greater than 20 years in energy, he hinted that he may step down. The query of succession had all the time been taboo. When the get together secretary-general João Lourenço indicated his availability as the following chief, he was quickly sidelined. When, in February 2002, the Angolan Armed Forces tracked down and killed Savimbi, and the surviving Unita leadership accepted peace on the federal government’s phrases, Dos Santos relaunched his presidential profession underneath the soubriquet of “The Architect of Peace”.

Exponential growth in oil revenue and the alternatives for state spending within the title of reconstruction allowed the presidency to divert but extra funds to Dos Santos relatives and allies. The tide started to show in 2011; Angolans protested publicly concerning the president’s seemingly countless tenure. The regime responded by jailing 15 activists with out trial for a 12 months in 2015-16.


By 2016 Dos Santos was spending extended periods in Spain and phrase was that he was being handled for most cancers. This was most likely what compelled the problem of the succession. However whom to again? His political allies had been securocrats with no ambitions for the highest spot. The get together would by no means have supported a Dos Santos relative as his presidential inheritor.

Dos Santos’s least dangerous possibility was to rehabilitate João Lourenço, hoping that each the get together and the safety institution would belief the person – and, crucially, that Lourenço wouldn’t intrude with the Dos Santos corruption empire.

However when Lourenço won the 2017 election because the MPLA’s candidate and took workplace amid a gathering financial disaster, he realised his solely path to public approval was to distance himself from his predecessor. He eliminated Dos Santos’s relations from their govt positions and investigated their financial affairs. Dos Santos himself returned to Spain. Aside from a visit home in 2021, he remained there till his loss of life.


Some obituaries have referred to as for a extra beneficiant remembering of Dos Santos, emphasising Angola’s support for the struggle against South African apartheid. But it’s uncertain how a lot of this legacy Dos Santos might justly have claimed as his personal, apart from by advantage of the political sleight-of-hand that secured his place as head of state.

For Angolan author Sousa Jamba, Dos Santos’s aptitude was in his “even handed use of violence”, and he left “no vision or philosophy”.

Luaty Beirão, who was jailed for his criticism of the regime, greeted the ex-president’s passing with the words:

Zero pity, zero feelings, he’s fully detached to me. Excuse me, I’ve the Wimbledon semi-final to look at.