Dos Santos, José Eduardo (Angola)

Reference work entry


José Eduardo dos Santos became president of Angola upon the death of the country’s first post-colonial president Agostinho Neto in 1979. He is also head of the ruling Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (MPLA; Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola) and was prime minister from 1999–2002.

Early Life

Dos Santos was born on 28 Aug. 1942 in Luanda and in 1961 he joined Neto’s MPLA rebel movement. As his party standing increased, he founded the MPLA youth movement before being sent to Moscow to study telecommunications and petroleum engineering. He returned to fight for Angolan independence, which finally came in 1975. Under Neto’s presidency, dos Santos served first as prime minister (1975–78) and then planning minister (1978–79). After Neto’s death in Sept. 1979, dos Santos assumed the leadership.

Career Peak

During the first 10 years dos Santos upheld the MPLA’s traditional Marxist doctrine and the government’s single party rule while continuing the war against the UNITA rebels begun under his predecessor. The government received Cuban military help in the conflict and the Soviet Union supplied funds. The USA and South Africa meanwhile backed UNITA’s leader Jonas Savimbi.

A rapprochement began in 1988 when both Cuba and South Africa withdrew their forces. In 1990, following the collapse of communism, dos Santos moved away from Marxism to adopt ‘democratic socialism’. This allowed for the introduction of a free market economy and multi-party elections. The following year, a peace agreement signed in Lisbon culminated in Angola’s first nationwide elections in 1992. In a turnout of 91% of registered voters, the MPLA won 54% compared to UNITA’s 34%. In the presidential poll dos Santos secured 49.6%, while Savimbi polled 40.1%. Before a second round run-off, Savimbi rejected the election, claiming the first round results had been fraudulent. The civil war resumed and elections scheduled for 1997 were postponed indefinitely. In 1999 dos Santos assumed the role of prime minister and took over control of the armed forces. In Feb. 2002 Savimbi was killed by government soldiers and 2 months later a ceasefire was signed with the rebels. Since the end of hostilities, his government has committed substantial resources, financed by oil exports and diamonds, to reconstruction. Nevertheless, much of the population still lives in extreme poverty. Also, it was not until Aug. 2006 that a ceasefire agreement was achieved with separatists fighting for independence of the northern enclave of Cabinda, where much of Angola’s oil wealth lies. The final stage of a United Nations refugee repatriation scheme, involving some 60,000 Angolans, began in Oct. 2006.

In Jan. 2007 dos Santos oversaw Angola’s accession to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), and in Feb. he declared that parliamentary elections would be held in 2008 and presidential polls in 2009. The parliamentary polls took place in Sept. and resulted in a landslide victory for the ruling MPLA. Despite some criticisms of the poll by an observer mission from the European Union and the rejection of opposition demands for a rerun of voting in the capital Luanda, UNITA leader Isaias Samakuva accepted his party’s defeat. In mid-2009 presidential elections scheduled for Sept. were postponed, reportedly to allow more time for the drafting of a new constitution that came into effect in Feb. 2010. Under the constitution the party with a parliamentary majority chooses the president, who is subject to a two-term limit, is responsible for judicial appointments and appoints a vice-president (replacing the post of prime minister). Parliamentary elections in Aug. 2012 resulted in another comfortable victory for the MPLA and so secured another presidential term for dos Santos.

In Feb. 2013 the Constitutional Court rejected an opposition claim that the president had exceeded his powers by creating a US$5bn. sovereign wealth fund, launched in Oct. 2012 to manage the country’s oil wealth, without parliamentary approval. In May that year dos Santos replaced the finance and construction ministers in a government reshuffle and in a further change in April 2014 he named a new defence minister. In May 2014 a national census was conducted for the first time since 1970.

In late 2014 human rights groups accused the government of using excessive force to deter political dissent and in May 2015 a prominent regime critic was given a suspended jail term sentence for linking senior army personnel to corruption and violence in the diamond mining industry.

Meanwhile, as Africa’s second largest oil producer, Angola suffered from the collapse in world prices from mid-2014, which has impacted severely on economic growth and fuelled government unpopularity.

In Aug. 2016 dos Santos was re-elected leader of the MPLA. Earlier, in June, he had appointed his daughter to the prominent public position of head of the state-run oil firm, prompting speculation that he was intending to establish a dynasty. In Sept. he replaced the finance minister following the breakdown of government negotiations with the International Monetary Fund over emergency financing.

In Sept. 2017 the newly appointed chairman of the MPLA, João Lourenço, succeeded dos Santos as president after 38 years in office.

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