During his nearly four years in power, from 1979 to 2017, dos Santos led his resource-rich country through a seemingly endless conflict and an unstable peace marked by corruption that has served him well. Families and a few favored people have channeled enormous wealth while leaving most Angolans in trouble. Desolate poverty.
More than half a million people were killed in the civil war and more than 3 million were displaced, leaving much of the country in ruins or riddled with landmines, even as Angola became Africa’s second-largest oil producer and third-largest diamond producer.
Mr. dos Santos is an extremely private, even reclusive, figure who has largely avoided any cult of personality. Even his image on the country’s currency is partially overshadowed by another portrait. He rarely gives speeches or gives interviews, and rarely reveals his personal life. He maintains a muted smile in official photos, none of which are his office or home.
Mr. dos Santos was eventually forced into exile — in a $7.2 million mansion in Barcelona after his successor, President João Lourenço, unexpectedly launched an anti-corruption crackdown that has long eluded much of the country. The Ssantos family and their associates.
The main target of the investigation is Isabel dos Santos, the eldest daughter of the former president and said to be Africa’s richest man. In 2020, she was charged with money laundering, forgery and other financial crimes for her role as head of Angolan state oil company Sonangol.
Prosecutors have relied heavily on a trove of leaked financial and business records disclosed by news organizations working with the Washington-based investigative nonprofit International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The “Luanda Leaks” scandal linked Isabel dos Santos or her husband to more than 400 corporate entities and offshore tax havens in 41 countries.
She owns mansions in London and Dubai and built a secretive business empire worth about $3.5 billion, but denies wrongdoing. Her two half-siblings fled abroad. His half-brother, José Filomeno dos Santos, was arrested in 2018 and later sentenced to five years in prison for embezzling up to $500 million from the Angolan sovereign wealth fund he leads.
All told, Lourenço’s government estimates that more than $24 billion was looted during Mr. dos Santos’ rule, allegedly through illegal transfers of oil revenue, government contracts, entrenched sponsorships and other schemes.
Mr Dos Santos ‘allows his immediate family and extended family and colleagues to dominate business activities amid a stagnant economy [and] Textbook kleptocracy,” said Alex Wiens, head of the Africa programme at Chatham House, a British think tank.
Despite his low-key public profile, dos Santos has little to no restraint in his power. He leads the armed forces, oversees the security apparatus and leads the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), forces that have dominated nearly every aspect of Angolan life since the Portuguese colony won independence in 1975.
At that time, dos Santos’ faction was supported by Cuba and the Soviet Union. The United States and apartheid-era South Africa backed the MPLA’s main military rival, known by the acronym UNITA, fueling a devastating superpower proxy war to take control of Angola. The country’s civil war was longer than the Cold War, which ended in 2002.
During his long tenure, Mr. dos Santos’ regime relied on arbitrary arrests, torture and extrajudicial killings, as well as vague judicial procedures and restrictions on freedom of assembly, speech and the press, as described in the State Department’s human rights report.
Mr. dos Santos was a shrewd dealmaker who achieved his political longevity by swapping allies and ideologies as the world around him changed. As the Soviet Union began to disintegrate, the former Marxist-Leninists allowed part of the market economy, allowing Chevron, Texaco and other American companies to develop Angola’s vast offshore oil fields, the country’s main source of income.
In the end, he abandoned Marxism-Leninism completely, expelled the Cuban army, and allowed the country to hold its first multiparty elections. The United States became Angola’s largest trading partner, and by 2004 Mr. dos Santos made four working visits to the White House.
Since then, more and more of the country’s oil has gone to China. China has invested more than US$20 billion in Angola’s roads, schools, power plants and other infrastructure as part of an oil loan scheme, Portuguese news agency Lusa reported.
Still, the World Bank estimates that more than half of Angola’s 30 million people live on less than US$1.90 a day. Angola still has the lowest life expectancy in the world and the highest infant mortality rate.
The son of a bricklayer, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, was born on 28 August 1942 in the capital, Luanda. His high grades made him one of the few opportunities offered to African students at a school attended by the children of Portugal’s elite. Amid growing anti-colonial sentiment on the continent, he joined the MPLA’s army at the age of 20, determined to End four centuries of Portuguese rule.
Like many African activists, he gained support in Moscow. He received a degree in petroleum engineering in 1969 from a university in Baku, Azerbaijan, then a Soviet republic.
When Portugal agreed to Angola’s independence in 1975, he served on the MPLA Central Committee. Luanda’s transitional government fell when fighting broke out between the MPLA and rival guerrilla groups, including the National Union for the Complete Independence of Angola or UNITA.
With the help of Havana and Moscow, the MPLA managed to build a shaky new government under President Agostinho Neto, but he died of cancer in 1979, leaving then key cabinet member Dos Santos Promoted to President, Armed Forces Commander and Head People’s Council.
Angola – a country twice the size of France – remains in trouble. Currency is almost worthless, civil wars are often waged by child soldiers, infrastructure is destroyed and millions flee.
The 1992 ceasefire and UN-supervised multiparty elections marked the first real chance for peace. But when US-backed UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi lost decisively to Mr. Dos Santos, he lied about fraud and reignited the war.
Savimbi’s army soon seized large swathes of territory, cut supply lines to the city and caused starvation in some areas. With casualties and atrocities rising, the UN envoy to Angola, Alion Blondin Beyer, called it “the worst war in the world”. A peace deal was not reached until the Angolan army killed Savimbi in February 2002.
Mr. dos Santos is married to Ana Paula dos Santos, a former fashion model and flight attendant. He reportedly had four to eight children with various wives and relationships, but an official list of survivors was not immediately available.
Mr. dos Santos voluntarily stepped down in the 2017 legislative election due to ill health and handed power to his former defense minister and political protégé, Lourenço.
A year later, Mr. dos Santos was shocked into silence at the MPLA meeting, as his chosen successor denounced recent “corruption, nepotism, flattery and impunity” in a barely veiled attack on the former ruling family.
For the party, Mr dos Santos made no apology, acknowledging unspecified mistakes and saying he would leave “with his head held high”.