Angola’s José Eduardo dos Santos dies with Questionable legacies
José Eduardo dos Santos, Angola’s former president who ruled the mineral-rich country for almost four decades, died at 79.
According to the government source, he died in Spain, where he was receiving treatments for a cardiac arrest.
While supporters hail dos Santos for bringing peace to Angola after a long and devastating 27-year-old civil war, which took more than half a million lives, others accuse him of gross human rights violations and institutionalising corruption, which has made his family and allies amongst the richest in Angola. Despite his position, excessive wealth and opportunities as president, many believe José Eduardo dos Santos did not die a happy man. And he was the architect of his misfortune.
Just four years after gaining independence from Portugal in 1975, Angola descended into a civil war between dos Santos’ MPLA and Jonas Savimbi’s UNITA - the two groups that had fought their colonial master, Portugal. With the peace treaty signed in February 2002, after dos Santos’s troops killed Savimbi, which gave birth to a new Angola, José Eduardo dos Santos had the golden opportunity to bring genuine reconciliation and economic prosperity to all Angolans. However, he preferred instead to enrich himself and his family. It did not help that he enjoyed enormous popularity, demonstrated by the 82% victory of his MPLA in the 2008 elections, coupled with Angola’s abundance of oil and other natural reserves. The country has the 4th largest oil reserve in Africa and 17th in the world.
The question is: What did José Eduardo dos Santos do with the opportunities to turn his rich country into a world-class class? Virtually nothing much. Poverty is still alive in Angola; the majority struggle to put food on the table, while the few wealthy individuals are more affluent than the country. And most of them are no other than dos Santos’s family members.
According to Forbes, in 2013, José Eduardo dos Santos’s daughter Isabel dos Santos was declared the wealthiest African billionaire with a net worth of $3 billion. Although her net worth was reduced significantly to $1.4 billion in January 2021 following corruption-related asset freezes, Isabel is still a billionaire. Nor are other members of Eduardo dos Santos’s family left out of the excessive rich club. José Eduardo dos Santos’s family members would want the world to believe they earned their billions legitimately. However, corruption allegations against them, including their confiscated properties in various countries and Isabel’s ban from entering the US for “involvement in significant corruption,” make it extremely difficult for the dos Santos to convince Angolans and the world that they are victims of political witch-hunting.
Single-handedly hand-picked by the former president Eduardo dos Santos, after 38 years in near-absolute power, the new president João Lourenço has caused fear amongst the once untouchable Angolans, including members of dos Santos’ family, with his anti-corruption crusade. Immediately after taking over power, President João Lourenço dismissed Isabel dos Santos as the head of Sonangol, the state-owned oil company, which critics believe Santos and his close allies have used for more than 38 years to milk the State and enrich themselves. Eduardo dos Santos’ son Zenu has been jailed for five years for fraud following a $500m transfer from the national bank of Angola to an account in the UK. There are many other corruption cases against the dos Santos family in different countries.
Although José Eduardo dos Santos and his family members have consistently denied allegations against them, mere denial is not enough to clear their names; they need to do more to prove their innocence – especially in the face of mountainous proofs against them.
At his death, most Angolans would have preferred to remember or applaud José Eduardo dos Santos for bringing peace to Angola, changing their lives positively, and ushering prosperity to the country. Sadly he failed in his insatiable greed for power and wealth to do the latter. The reality on the ground is overwhelming against the former president. Yes, José Eduardo dos Santos may have made himself – and his family - a billionaire; sadly, he will not take the stolen billions to his grave. Vanity of vanities.