By Lisa Vives*
Colonial powers from east to west all played a role in subjugating the southern African nation of Angola over a stretch of 500 years until independence was achieved on November 5, 1975. Agostinho Neto, a politician, physician and poet, was the first to hold the presidency. After his death in 1979, Jose Eduardo dos Santos assumed the post.
Dos Santos ruled Africa’s second-biggest oil producer for nearly four decades. He received many international awards for his commitment to anti-colonialism and for negotiating with rebel groups but he was also criticized as a dictator, accused of creating one of the most corrupt regimes in Africa with a deeply-entrenched patronage network.
His rule was marked by a brutal civil war lasting nearly three decades against U.S.-backed UNITA rebels—who were defeated in 2002.
Dos Santos stepped down five years ago. News reports from the Portuguese agency Lusa now place the so-called “African Machiavelli” in intensive care at a clinic in Barcelona. The former leader, age 79, has been receiving treatment since 2019.
Under President dos Santos, the economy of the war-scarred nation soared between 2002 and 2014. Prices boomed and Angola’s economy expanded tenfold, from $12.4 billion to $126 billion. But little of that wealth trickled down to the poor, while those closest to dos Santos became super-rich – including his daughter, Isabel, whom Forbes labelled Africa’s richest woman and youngest billionaire, worth about $3 billion.
Last month a Dutch court ruled that a half-billion-dollar stake in the Portuguese oil company Galp linked to Isabel must be handed over to Angola, since its acquisition was “tainted by illegality”.
Dos Santos was replaced in 2017 by President Joao Lourenco who swiftly moved to probe allegations of multi-billion dollar corruption during the dos Santos era, targeting the former leader’s children. Dos Santos, meanwhile, has managed to escape prosecution over his government’s many corruption crimes.