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Angola's ex-President dos Santos laid to rest

August 28, 2022

Jose Eduardo dos Santos ruled Angola for nearly four decades. His reign was marked by allegations of theft and nepotism as well as an end to a long-enduring civil war.

A poster of Jose Eduardo dos Santos in the Praca da Republica in Luanda
Dos Santos' state funeral which took place on what would have been his 80th birthdayImage: António Cascais/DW

Jose Eduardo dos Santos, the late leader of Angola who was in charge from 1979 until 2017, was laid to rest Sunday at the historical palm lined Praca da Republica in Luanda, the Angolan capital.

Sunday would have been dos Santos' 80th birthday.

The funeral of the late strongman comes just days after his party, the People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), saw its worst results at the ballot box in the country's most open elections since independence.

The MPLA has ruled Angola for almost half a century, and despite its performance in the last election, it still looks set to remain in power.

What happened to dos Santos?

Dos Santos died in July of cardiac arrest in a Barcelona clinic. His children and estranged wife have been embroiled since in a dispute over how and where he should be buried.

A Spanish court ordered dos Santos' body be returned to Angola but the burial was delayed after the family requested an autopsy.

On Sunday, flags flew at half-mast around the Praca da Republica and a choir sang dirges. The founding president of Angola, Agostinho Neto, rests in an imposing, Soviet-style mausoleum in the square.

Portugal's President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and the Democratic Republic of Congo's President Felix Tshisekedi were among the mourners in white and gold seats in the audience.

Namibia's former President Sam Nujoma spoke of dos Santos as a "statesman and devoted pan-Africanist" to the hundreds who gathered to attend the funeral.

One representative of his foundation collapsed during the ceremony.

There was a 21-gun salute as pallbearers brought his portrait into the mausoleum where he was laid to rest, trailed by the coffin.

a portrait of dos Santos carried ahead of the coffin, supported by military-clad pallbearers
A portrait of dos Santos was carried ahead of the coffin, supported by military-clad pallbearersImage: António Cascais/DW

Family members criticize funeral 

Josiane dos Santos, the late dictator's daughter, eulogized the strongman, tearing up recalling his affection for music.

But some family members were not in attendance due to the conflict and controversy surrounding his burial.

Isabel dos Santos, his daughter who is the subject of multiple international investigations over alleged corruption, was not present at her father's funeral. While the funeral was underway, she posted a photograph of herself with her father on Instagram with the message, "Happy birthday papa."

Another daughter, Tchize, who was also not in attendance, opted to wish him a happy birthday on Instagram in a post showing herself on a yacht.

She criticized the choice to hold the funeral on a Sunday that also happened to be his birthday, claiming that it intended to "hide" what she called a fraudulent election.

Dos Santos' legacy

Under dos Santos, Angola became a top African oil producer, but his family benefited far more than Angola's 33 million people. 

Dos Santos' reign was also marked by a 27-year on-and-off civil war against the US-backed rebels from the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), whom he defeated in 2002.

He left office in 2017, appointing Joao Lourenco as his successor, who quickly moved to probe allegations of corruption and nepotism during dos Santos' era. Those investigations landed dos Santos' son in jail and saw assets linked to one of his daughters, Isabel, frozen. 

Lourenco now stands to win a second term. 

Many Angolans with memory of the war credit dos Santos with preserving a fragile peace by ending his tenure and stepping aside.

However, 60% of Angola's population is under 25 and has no memory of the war. Instead, many of them are angry at being left out of decades of growth.

Young voters could decide Angola's elections

ar/fb (AFP, Reuters)