José Eduardo dos Santos, 79, was one of Africa’s longest-serving rulers who fought the continent’s longest civil war and turned Angola into a major oil producer and one of the world’s poorest and most corrupt nations. He died at a clinic in Barcelona, Spain, following a long illness. The U.N. Secretary-General recalled his participation in the struggle that led to Angola’s independence and his leadership through the signing of the peace agreement that put an end to the civil war in 2002. The U.N. Security Council stood in silent tribute to dos Santos at the start of a meeting Friday.
The MPLA had financial and military support from the Soviet Union and Cuba in its war against UNITA, while Savimbi was backed by the United States and South Africa. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Dos Santos moved closer to Western countries and became Angola’s second-largest oil producer, producing close to 2 million barrels per day and unearthing more than $1 billion worth of diamonds each year. However, the wealth never reached the Angolan people, who were at risk from minefields and had little access to basic amenities. Dos Santos held on again, narrowly outpolling Savimbi for president and leading the MPLA to a parliamentary majority in the simultaneous legislative election.
When Savimbi rejected his defeat, Western support gradually swung behind him. The end of Angola’s civil war in 2002 brought an opportunity for economic development, but corruption became an issue. Dos Santos announced legislative elections in 2008 and a presidential election the following year, but then altered the constitution so that the president is chosen by the party which wins the parliamentary elections. He was replaced by Lourenço, an MPLA stalwart, who has made an anti-corruption drive his flagship policy. One of his daughters suspects that a conspiracy was behind her father’s illness and death.