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Researching and reporting on the lives of some really interesting people (RIP)



Born in 1942 in the Luanda suburb of Sambizanga, his parents were refugees, coming to Angola from Sao Tome and Principe. His father, Avelino, was a construction worker and his mother, Jacinta Jose Paulinho, was a maid.

Angola was a Portuguese colony and a war of independence raged there from 1961.

Whilst at school, Jose joined the MPLA (People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola), a Marxist-Leninist organisation who objected to colonial oppression.

Jose became a wanted man, so he fled into exile – to neighbouring Congo-Brazzaville (nowadays just known as the Congo).

From there he went to Baku in Azerbaijan, which was then part of the Soviet Union, to continue his education. Jose studied at the Azerbaijan Oil and Chemistry Institute in Baku and gained a degree in petroleum engineering and radar communications.

He also met, and married, Russian geologist Tamara Kukanova. She was also a Russian chess champion. They had one daughter, Isabel, although the marriage fell apart when Jose returned to Africa.  They quickly got divorced.

Jose returned home and joined the guerrilla wing of the MPLA as a radio transmitter in the field. He quickly gained promotion to sub-commander.

He was fluent in Spanish, Russian, Portuguese and French, so consequently he became the MPLA representative in Yugoslavia followed by Zaire and then China. He was also elected to the Central Committee and the Politburo of the MPLA.

The war ended in November 1975 and Angola was granted it’s independence. The MPLA took power and its leader Agostinho Neto became the first president.

Jose was made Co-ordinator of the Foreign Ministry at the same time as being in charge of the Department of Health. In the former role, he travelled the world trying to persuade other countries to recognise the government of the newly independent Angola. By-and-large, he was successful (although both the USA and South Africa refused to recognise them).

Not everybody was happy with this state of affairs. Another group, UNITA (National Union for the Total Integration of Angola), felt they should be ruling the country so a civil war broke out. The USA backed UNITA, whilst the USSR and Cuba backed the MPLA.

Angolan Civil War (courtesy South African History on line)

By now, Jose had risen to become Minister for Planning as well as Deputy President. He had  got married again, to Filomena Sousa, and had one son – also called Jose Filomeno dos Santos, but known to everyone as ‘Zenu’.

The marriage was very short. Almost immediately, Jose married for a third time –  to Maria Luisa Abrantes Perdiggo, and they had a daughter, Welwitschia (known as ‘Tchize’) and a son, Coreon dos Santos.

In September 1979, President Neto died in office during cancer surgery. It was unexpected and quite a shock. Nevertheless, there has always been some speculation about his death.

There were 6 possible candidates to replace Neto. Jose was considered the weakest choice but was ultimately chosen because it was believed he would be the easiest to manipulate.

Ten days later, Jose was sworn in as the new president and Commander-In-Chief of the armed forces, aged just 37.

He was to rule Angola for 37 years.

Very quietly spoken, his first speech was 1 minute and 54 seconds long. This was a sign of things to come as he was to rarely give speeches or interviews. He hardly ever appeared in public and tended to work behind the scenes.

He always called himself, ‘The Accidental President’. He acknowledged he had been in the right place at the right time.

He stayed President for many years, marrying a fourth wife, Ana, in 1991, with whom he had three more children; Eduane, Joseanna and Eduardo.

Jose with his wife Ana (courtesy VOA News)

In 1992, a ceasefire to the civil war was finally agreed. After 16 years and over 300,000 deaths, both sides accepted free and fair elections, to be supervised by the United Nations.

It was agreed the successful candidate would have to win by 10% of the vote. Jose won the first round, beating the UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi by 9.5% – so a second round of voting was required.

Dos Santos and Jonas Savimbi meet during the elections (courtesy BBC News)

But at this point, Savimbi and UNITA withdrew, claiming the election was fixed. This led to what is known as the ‘3-Day War’, culminating in the ‘Halloween Massacre’, when MPLA forces killed tens of thousands of UNITA protestors. The civil war resumed.

The following year, 1993, the USA changed sides when UNITA refused to negotiate any more.

In 2001, dos Santos said he would stand down at the next election. But he didn’t, because the following year, prior to the election, Jonas Savimbi died, killed by MPLA forces.

UNITA immediately called for a ceasefire and eventually a peace process began. UNITA demobilised and their soldiers were amalgamated into the Angolan army. The civil war was finally over. In the end it had gone on for 27 years and over 500,000 people had died.

Jose immediately announced an amnesty for all sides -which he stuck to. He said, “Not one more shot – we have to preserve the people alive and negotiate peace.” His own party labelled him the ‘Architect of Peace’ – a title he always loved and constantly referred to.

He employed a Brazilian Public Relations company who rebranded his image, playing on the fact he had brought about peace. They created a ‘cult of personality’ for him.

Jose was re-elected head of the MPLA in 2003 and abandoned the expected presidential elections of 2006, 2007 and 2009. He had become a dictator.

He could be ruthless with his supporters. One party loyalist, Joao Lourenco was demoted to a junior position for no discernible reason – where he was to remain for 14 years.

Joao Lourenco (courtesy Kids Encyclopedia Facts)

A new constitution was passed by parliament, limiting presidents to two terms. Jose got around this by never having elections.

His daughter Isabel and son Jose Filomeno dos Santos (Zenu) were given key economic positions, ‘advising’ their father. Isabel was head of the state oil company ‘Sonangol’ and Zenu was head of the ‘Angola Sovereign Wealth Fund’. Other relatives were rewarded with important roles.

There was supposedly an assassination attempt in 2010. Returning from the beach with his family, a vehicle tried to ‘intercept’ the presidential party. His bodyguards killed the two people in the car. There were no witnesses, and no evidence this actually occurred. Nevertheless, it became an excuse for him to tighten security.

By now, Angola was Africa’s second largest oil producer and third biggest diamond producer. Nevertheless, by 2012, well over half the population were living in abject poverty.

Meanwhile, Jose had become one of the richest men in Africa, with a personal fortune estimated at $26 billion. He was a Marxist-turned-market capitalist (he claimed to have abandoned Marxism when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991).

Demonstrations and protests were organised via the Internet by young Angolans – but they were ruthlessly suppressed.

There were many human rights violations. One such occurred in 2015, when 17 ‘activists’ were arrested and charged with “crimes of rebellion and plotting a coup.”  Their crime? Reading a book entitled ‘From Dictatorship to Democracy’, by the American author Gene Sharp.

Around this time came the ‘Luanda Leaks’, internet documents that proved he was one of the world’s most corrupt leaders. He was shown to be a nepotist and a kleptocrat. During the civil war, he had stolen land on a grand scale and since becoming president had seized companies, and sold patronage, honours and government contracts.

The BBC said at the time, “As head of the armed forces and the police, and through his chairing of the government’s cabinet meetings and his appointments of senior judges, he retains a firm grasp on all aspects of power in Angola – and much of the media is under state control.”

The Angolan parliament had passed a law forbidding a sitting president to have outside financial interests – he had merely passed everything over to his daughter Isabel, Africa’s richest woman, and son Jose (Zenu), one of Africa’s richest men.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) complained that $32 billion of Angola’s oil profits had just ‘disappeared’.

In 2016, Jose announced he would retire in the following year. This time he kept his word – to the amazement of the Angolan people.

He appointed his own recently restored Defence Minister and acolyte, Joao Lourenco as President, considering him, “a safe pair of hands.” How wrong can you be?

In his retirement speech, for the first time ever, dos Santos admitted he hadn’t always got things right. “Mistakes are an integral part of the improvement process, so it is said we learn from mistakes.”

He said he left the office of president, “with my head held high – a true patriot.”  He awarded himself the title ‘Emeritus President’.

So, he was stunned when Lourenco turned on him and launched an anti-corruption campaign. He imprisoned Zenu for 5 years for having transferred $500 million from the State Bank of Angola to his private London bank account. Isabel had her assets frozen and tried to flee to the USA. But she was banned from entering the States due to, “involvement in significant corruption.”

A senior economist at the Department of Planning explained why Lourenco had turned on him. “He humiliated people. That’s one of the reasons why support for him collapsed once he left office.”

From 2017, Jose was unwell. On a number of occasions, he flew to Barcelona for treatment, and it was there he eventually settled.

He came back to Angola once more, at the end of 2021, and had two meetings with President Lourenco. By all accounts they didn’t go well.

Despite the fact he was so corrupt, it hadn’t stopped him being given many awards (albeit often awarded by himself). He had been given the award ‘African Man of the Year’ in 2014 by the magazine ‘African World’ for Angola’s “economic and democratic recovery.”

Portugal gave him the ‘Grand Collar of the Order of Prince Henry’ and the ‘Grand Collar of the Military Order of St. James of the Sword’.

The award he was most proud of was being honoured for his work on racial justice by the ‘Unified Church of Christ’ (USA).

There is a university specialising in engineering and information technology named after him in Namibia (known as JEDS). This was a reward for helping  Namibia in its bid for independence.

JEDS Campus, Namibia (courtesy UNAM)

Jose’s son, Coreon dos Santos has become a noted artist.

Coreon dos Santos (courtesy Wikipedia)

Jose died in a Barcelona clinic. It was reported that he had cancer and Covid 19, but it was a heart attack that finally killed him.

His legacy will be corruption and political repression.

Despite all of his crimes, he was awarded a state funeral in Angola.

RIP – Rebellion Isn’t Permitted

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