Former Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos died on July 8, 2022, at the age of 79, in Barcelona (Spain). He had been entrenched there for some time, in a luxurious villa. Head of State and the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), José Eduardo dos Santos ruled Angola for nearly four decades.
Son of Avelino dos Santos (a mason and paver) and Jacinta José Paulino, José Eduardo dos Santos was born in August 1942 in the poor district of Sambizanga, Luanda. He grew up in this poor neighborhood, which played a certain role in his anti-colonialist struggle.
In 1961, at the age of 19, José Eduardo dos Santos joined one of his country’s clandestine nationalist organizations, the MPLA. But in November of the same year, he fled into exile in Leopoldville (Kinshasa) where the MPLA had an important antenna. His skills were quickly recognized and he was appointed vice-president of the party’s youth organization. In 1962, he joined the Popular Armed Forces for the Liberation of Angola, before being attached to the MPLA office in Brazzaville.
In 1963, the MPLA sent him to study in Bokou (USSR) where he obtained a degree in petroleum engineering and telecommunications in 1969.
In parallel with his political commitments, he sings and plays guitar under the pseudonym “Joes” in the group “Kimbamba do Ritmo” with his childhood friends from Luanda. Once in the USSR, he formed the music group Nzaji with Fellow Angolans and recorded a 33 rpm record. His songs are of a revolutionary nature, and broadcast on the radio “Voix de la révolution congolaise” in Brazzaville.
From 1970 to 1974, José Eduardo dos Santos worked as an operator at the Main Telecommunications Centre within the “Cabinda”, the 2nd politico-military region of the MPLA. He was then appointed a member of the provisional commission for the readjustment of the northern front, in charge of finance, before returning to Brazzaville as a representative of the MPLA until June 1975.
In September 1975, he was appointed a member of the Central Committee and political bureau of the MPLA, responsible for coordinating the political and diplomatic activities of “Cabinda”.
Following the proclamation of Angola’s independence, José Eduardo dos Santos served as Minister of External Relations from November 1975 to December 1978, then as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Planning from December 1978 to September 1979. When Angolan President Agostinho Neto died in September 1979, José Eduardo dos Santos succeeded him by appointment and became President of the MPLA and the Angolan State.
Once in power, his main challenge lies in resolving the conflict with UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) and the MPLA’s main rival movement. UNITA, led by Jonas Savimbi and initially supported by South Africa and the United States, will never fully recognize the legitimacy of the MPLA government supported by the Soviet Union and Cuba and triggers, as an opposition, several armed conflicts, resulting in a civil war that ravaged the country for 27 years.
In May 1991, José Eduardo dos Santos signed a peace agreement with his opponent. In the first free and multi-party elections held in 1992, dos Santos led his side to victory in the general elections against the main opposition party, UNITA.
In the presidential election held the same year, Eduardo dos Santos came out ahead of Jonas Savimbi, head of UNITA, but did not obtain the absolute majority required in the first round (49.57% of the vote for dos Santos against 40.6% for Savimbi).
Three days of particularly deadly conflicts once again traumatized the country and the second round did not take place, because the resumption of hostilities between UNITA and the MPLA tipped Angola into a new civil war that left 30,000 dead. Savimbi then decided to withdraw his candidacy, accusing the vote of being rigged, and thus reviving the civil war.
The death of the head of UNITA (Jonas Savimbi) in February 2002 brought the peace process to a successful conclusion. On 4 April of that year, the Angolan army and the rebels agreed to sign a ceasefire, and peace was officially declared on 2 August.
José Eduardo dos Santos will remain in power until August 2017, when he chooses João Lourenço, Minister of Defense, as his presidential candidate during the general elections. In September 2017, João Lourenço succeeded him as President of the Republic.
His life was punctuated by the armed struggle against the Portuguese colonist, followed by 23 years of civil war (1975-2002), before beginning the reconstruction of the country with billions of petrodollars.