Dos Santos: Angola's 'eternal' president
Only one man has held presidential office in Angola since 1979. But now Jose Eduardo dos Santos has said he will step down after this year's elections. DW looks back at his 37-years at the top of Angolan politics.
The fight for Angolan independence
At the age of 19, Jose Eduardo dos Santos joined the People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), a Marxist-inspired party fighting for Angola's freedom from Portuguese colonial rule. In 1963, dos Santos received a scholarship to study petrochemistry in the former Soviet Union, where he later went on to train in military communications. In 1970, he returned to Angola.
A place at the Cabinet table
After independence from Portugal was declared in 1975, civil war broke out between the three independence movements: the MPLA, UNITA and FNLA. The capital city Luanda was under MPLA control. The party leader, Agostinho Neto (pictured), became the first president of an independent Angola and established a one-party system. Dos Santos was appointed foreign minister and later planning minister.
Alliance with the Eastern Bloc
In September 1979, Neto died in Moscow. The MPLA chose dos Santos to be the new president of Angola. He strengthened alliances with communist countries in the Eastern Bloc - such as the Soviet Union, Cuba and East Germany. In 1981, he visited East Germany and was received by Erich Honecker (pictured, left), the general secretary of the Socialist Unity Party.
A divided world: East versus West
During his stay in East Germany, dos Santos visited the Brandenburg Gate and the Berlin Wall - both symbols of the Cold War and the divide between East and West. In Angola, the Cold War had turned into a "hot" proxy war. The West - particularly South Africa and the United States - supported UNITA, while the East stood with the MPLA.
Side-by-side with Cuba
Cuba took the militarily weak MPLA government under its wing. It sent 40,000 soldiers to fight in Angola, for example in 1988 in the battle of Cuito Canavale - one of the deadliest in the Angolan civil war. Three years later, an initial peace accord was signed in Portugal.
The peace deal breaks down
The first free elections took place in 1992. The MPLA won a parliamentary majority but dos Santos did not secure an outright victory in the first round of the presidential election. The runoff against Jonas Savimbi, the leader of UNITA, never took place. War broke out again after UNITA rejected the elections, casting allegations of vote-rigging.
The West loses interest
Once the Cold War was over, the West lost interest in the Angolan civil war. In 1993, the US recognized the MPLA government, which was increasingly embracing capitalism. After Apartheid had come to an end in South Africa, UNITA lost its most important ally. A 1994 peace deal in Angola also broke down, and dos Santos went into full-on military mode.
Wading into the Congo Crisis
In 1998, the Angolan military came to the aid of Laurent-Desire Kabila (pictured) during the Congo crisis. By helping Kabila become president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, dos Santos was able to remove one of UNITA's areas of refuge. This move also established Angola as a leading military power in southern Africa.
Taking down Savimbi
An international weapons embargo weakened UNITA, which was becoming increasingly isolated. On February 22, 2002, government troops killed UNITA's leader Jonas Savimbi (pictured). In the same year, UNITA and MPLA signed another peace deal. This brought one of Africa's bloodiest civil wars - in which 1 million people died and 4 million fled the country - to an end.
Reminders of war
Many years after the end of the civil war, the destruction is still evident across the country. The armed forces continued to play an important role in the Angolan president's leadership. Clashes between government forces the separatist group FLEC still occur regularly in the northern enclave of Cabinda.
The second parliamentary elections, planned for 1997, did not take place until 2008. The MPLA emerged victorious, with 81.6 percent of the votes, while UNITA secured 10.4 percent. There were complaints of voter intimidation and poor organization. The 2009 presidential election was called off and dos Santos stayed in power.
An uncertain partnership
In 2011, German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Angola and even signed a "strategic partnership" with dos Santos. German companies initially showed interest in investment opportunities in Angola - but few projects actually came to fruition in subsequent years.
Stifling the opposition
Inspired by the Arab Spring, young Angolans took to the streets in 2011 to protest against dos Santos. The police used force to suppress demonstrations and activists were arrested. In 2013, the presidential guard shot two opposition activists. Members of the Adventist sect "Luz do Mundo" (Light of the World) were also targeted. Human rights observers accused the police of extrajudicial killings.
In 2010, parliament changed the constitution and abolished direct presidential elections. The leader of the party with the most votes in the parliamentary elections would become president. In 2012, the MPLA took 71.9 percent of the votes. After 32 years in office, dos Santos had democratic legitimacy for the first time. Observers argued that the opposition did not have a fair chance.
Family is also a powerful driving force behind the dos Santos leadership. He met his third and current wife, former model Ana Paula dos Santos (pictured), when she was working as a stewardess on the presidential plane. They married in 1991 and had four children. Ana Paula dos Santos will be put forward as an MPLA parliamentary candidate this year.
The richest woman in Africa
Dos Santos' daughter Isabel - who he had with his former wife, Russian chess champion Tatiana Kukanova - was named the richest woman in Africa by Forbes magazine in 2011. She has invested in businesses ranging from telecommunications to sports. Dos Santos' son José Filomeno - from his second marriage, to Filomena de Sousa - leads the state investment fund.
Scratching China's back
China is dos Santos' new best friend. The country is the main buyer of Angolan oil and Chinese credit has funded Angolan infrastructure projects. With this money, Chinese firms have built whole districts in Angola, like Kilamba Kiaxi (pictured). Unlike the IMF and western lenders, China does not impose any loan conditions based on transparency or human rights.
Poverty and development
Despite the country's oil wealth, many Angolans still live in extreme poverty. The country has the highest global rate of death among infants. Even in the middle of the capital city, Luanda, there are neighborhoods without waste water disposal. Health services, which are often only offered privately, are too expensive for many people. The education system is similarly underdeveloped.
Keeping a low profile
It is rare to see dos Santos in interviews or press conferences and he seldom gives speeches. In recent years, the president has traveled regularly to Spain for medical treatment. Only one African leader - Teodoro Obiang of Equitorial Guinea - has been in office longer than dos Santos.
A successor for dos Santos
Once dos Santos announced that he would not be standing again for office in August 2017, the MPLA put forward Defense Minister Joao Lourenco (pictured) as its main candidate for the parliamentary elections. However, Dos Santos will remain the leader of the party, ensuring his continued presence in Angolan politics.