Dos Santos, José Eduardo 1942–

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José Eduardo dos Santos 1942


At a Glance


José Eduardo dos Santos became president of Angola in 1979 and was one of the African continents longest serving leaders at the onset of the twenty-first century. Dos Santos heads the Movimento Popular de Libertçaão de Angola (MPLA), the party that led the country in its prolonged and contentious struggle for independence from Portugal in the 1960s.

The son of a bricklayer, dos Santos was born in Luanda, the capital of what was then Portuguese West Africa, on August 28, 1942. As a teen, he won admittance to the prestigious Liceu Salvador Carreia, where the Portuguese elite sent their offspring and which admitted only a small number of African students. The Angola in which dos Santos grew up was an overseas province of Portugal, but there was widespread dissatisfaction, and several resistance groups emerged in the late 1950s, inspired and aided by other African nations successful campaigns for independence. In 1961 dos Santos joined one of these groups, the MPLA, as the opposition movement in Angola grew in strength and fervor. For his role in the movement, he was forced to flee the country, and in Kinshasa, Zairelater the Democratic Republic of the Congohe became a key player in the formation of the MPLA Youth organization.

The MPLA was a dedicated Marxist organization at the time, and in 1963 dos Santos won a party scholarship for study in the Soviet Union. He trained as a petroleum engineer at the Institute of Oil and Gas in Baku, graduating in 1969, and returned to Angola the following year. He immediately resumed his political activities there, joining a guerrilla unit of the MPLA that was active in the oil-rich area of Cabinda. The war against Portuguese colonial rule finally ended in 1974, when a coup in Lisbon ousted the military dictatorship and the new government declared a truce with the Angolan rebels.

In 1974 dos Santos went from a post as second in command of telecommunications services in Cabinda to the MPLAs coordinator for foreign affairs. That same year he was elevated to the MPLA Central Committee, and became an active participant in the formation of the first Angolan government. The country formally became the Peoples Republic of Angola on November 11, 1975, and dos Santos became the first minister for foreign affairs in the new government of President Antonio Agostinho Neto. In 1978 he also

At a Glance

Born José Eduardo dos Santos, on August 28, 1942, in Luanda, Angola; son of a bricklayer; married Ana Paula dos Santos; three children. Education: Institute of Oil and Gas in Baku, graduated, 1969.

Career; Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (MPLA), Youth organization leader, early 1970s, second-in-command of telecommunications services in Cabinda, 1974, coordinator of the Foreign Affairs department, 1974; Angolan government, foreign minister, 1975-78 minister for economic development and planning, 1978, president, 1979-.

Addresses; Office Cabinete do Presidente, Luanda, Angola.

became minister for economic development and planning.

The road to independence had been a long one for Angolans, but the various resistance groups remained at odds after 1975, and the conflict quickly turned into a civil war. The country was a strife-ridden, dangerous place when dos Santos became president after Neto died of cancer in September of 1979. The National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA) and the Uniao Nacional para a Independencia Total de Angola (UNITA) took control of various parts of the country, and over the next decade the worlds superpowers, specifically the United States and the Soviet Union, provided aid to the warring factions and turned the country into a Cold War battleground. The MPLA received assistance from the Soviets, and a large Cuban military also battled UNITA forces, which were receiving covert aid from the United States as well as from South Africas apartheid regime. For years, dos Santos and UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi were avowed mortal enemies.

In 1991 dos Santos announced that the MPLA was abandoning its Marxist platform, and elections were held the following year. He was one of 11 candidates for the presidency, but his main opponent was Savimbi, whom he beat in the polls by nine percentage points. In response, Savimbi claimed vote fraud, and refused to take part in a runoff election. The civil war resumed, and by law dos Santos remained as interim president. He and Savimbi continued their mutual enmity, despite the signing of the 1994 Lusaka Protocol between the two and the subsequent government of national unity formed between the MPLA and UNITA in 1997. Savimbi died on the battlefield in February of 2002, and the following month UNITA and Angolan army commanders announced a cessation of the fighting, which by then had endured for some four decades.

Dos Santos is president of a nation of ten million inhabitants, which exports oil, coffee, and diamonds. Its economy, however, remains in shambles and it must import food to feed it citizens. The offshore oil reserves of Cabinda provide about 85 percent of government revenue, but observers charge that the government skims about $1 billion of the $7 billion it receives annually. The 1992 election remains the only one ever held in Angolan history, but dos Santos has said that when the country stabilizes, he will set a date for new elections. In late 2003 he asserted that elections would take place before 2005. Having dismissed his prime minister some years earlier, dos Santos has served in that role, as well as that of president and head of the MPLA party. That situation could leave a potentially disastrous power vacuum if dos Santos should step down prematurely. If I were to nominate someone for the position of prime minister, the current government will consider itself dismissed and this prime minister would propose his own government to the head of state, he was quoted as saying in 2001 in a BBC News report by Justin Pearce. It is evident that not all people that have the confidence of the prime minister are the same ones that have the confidence of the head of state.



Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations: World Leaders, Gale, 2003.


African Business, April 1995, p. 29.

Christian Century, March 22, 2003, p. 8.

Economist, June 8, 1996, p. 45; September 23, 2000, p. 52; November 10, 2001.

Nation, April 29, 2002, p. 7.

Time, September 29, 1986, p. 47; October 17, 1988, p. 43; July 3, 1989, p. 28.

U.S. News & World Report, October 5, 1992, p. 56.


Biography of the President the Republic of Angola, Republic of Angola, (December 31, 2003).

Profile: José Eduardo dos Santos, BBC News, (December 26, 2003).

Carol Brennan

José Eduardo dos Santos

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José Eduardo dos Santos

José Eduardo dos Santos (born 1942) was a leader of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and the second president of Angola following independence in 1975. He guided the country from a Marxist to a democratic socialist form of government.

José Eduardo dos Santos was born on August 28, 1942, in Luanda, the capital of Angola, where his father was a stonemason. Even in school he was an ardent nationalist and worked clandestinely among students for the overthrow of Portuguese colonial rule.

In 1961, at the age of 19, he joined the African nationalist organization, Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), although it had been banned by the Portuguese authorities and its members persecuted by the political police. Later that same year he fled into exile in Léopoldville (now Kinshasa, Congo) where MPLA had an office. His ability was soon recognized in his appointment as deputy president of the party's youth wing. Two years later he was attached to the MPLA office in Brazzaville, capital of French Congo (now Republic of the Congo).

In 1963 dos Santos, together with several other young Angolans, received a scholarship for study in Moscow at Patrice Lumumba University. In 1969 dos Santos graduated with a degree in petroleum engineering. Mindful of the struggle to which he was returning at home, he stayed another year in the Soviet Union and took a military course in telecommunications and radar. During his student years he also married a Soviet woman.

Young Military and Political Leader

Dos Santos returned to Angola in 1970, and for the next three years he served in the liberation army of MPLA on the war front in Cabinda, a northern territory of Angola. He was appointed as second-in-command of telecommunication services. In 1974 a coup in Lisbon toppled the dictatorial regime, and the independence of Portugal's African colonies at last seemed possible. The rise of dos Santos to the top ranks of MPLA continued. In 1974 he was recognized as number five in the leadership and was appointed to the party's executive committee and to its political bureau.

At the independence of Angola in November 1975, President Agostinho Neto appointed José Eduardo dos Santos as minister of foreign affairs in his first government. For Neto, close colleagues like dos Santos were essential, for they provided a link with the old days when MPLA was chiefly a military organization. In addition, they had the education and skills to turn the party into a governing body which could direct the political and economic reconstruction of the country. In 1977, in a cabinet reshuffle, dos Santos received the important assignment of planning minister and secretary of the National Planning Commission. He also served briefly as first deputy prime minister.

Thrust into Presidency

In September 1979 Angolans were shocked by the death of Agostinho Neto after a battle with cancer. The ruling Central Committee unanimously approved the appointment of José Eduardo dos Santos as the country's second president, as head of MPLA, and as commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces. The appointment was confirmed by a party congress in May 1980. At 37 years of age, dos Santos was one of Africa's youngest presidents.

Although relatively unknown outside of his country, the appointment of dos Santos was less of a surprise in Angola itself. He had been a close adviser of Neto; he was a Kimbundu from Luanda, the ethnic group that had dominated MPLA; he had a wide range of administrative experience compared to many colleagues; his loyalty and service to MPLA over the years were unquestioned; and he was not closely identified with any of the factions within the party.

Reformer Sought Peace, Challenged by War

As president, dos Santos continued the task of economic and political reconstruction begun by his predecessor. His biggest problem was the continuing war against the National Union for the Total Integration of Angola (UNITA), a rival liberation movement during the period of Portuguese rule which never recognized MPLA as the legitimate government of Angola. Many of the human and material resources which Angola desperately needed for internal development had to be diverted to the war against UNITA led by the rebel Jonas Savimbi, who was supported by South Africa and the United States. Within his government, President dos Santos, generally considered to be a moderate, had to balance different viewpoints between those who were committed to supporting Marxist ideology and those who were more pragmatic and willing to sacrifice some ideological purity in order to achieve peace.

Despite dos Santos' efforts to negotiate an end to the war, it raged on. Angola's fate was to be positioned geographically in the midst of other turmoil that fueled continued insurgency within. In 1984 the Angolan and South African governments agreed to a cease-fire to the nearly two-decade-long war along the Angola-Namibia border. An agreement by dos Santos and Cuba's President Fidel Castro to withdraw Cuban troops from Angola quickly followed. The proposition was based on the withdrawal of South African troops from Angola, South African recognition of Namibian independence, and an end to support of Savimbi and UNITA.

New Political Philosophy Emerged

Even though Angola and South Africa maintained their cease-fire agreement, negotiations for Cuban troop withdrawal from Angola and Namibian independence dragged on for years. Meanwhile, Angola's civil war took hundreds of thousands of lives and decimated the economy. As the 1980s went by, the government gradually began to change its Marxist philosophy, established a free market economy, joined the International Monetary Fund, and announced that Angola would adopt a multiparty system and hold elections within three years after reaching a peace settlement. These steps led the United States to join Portugal and the former Soviet Union in actively brokering negotiations between the MPLA and UNITA. Savimbi and dos Santos first agreed to stop fighting in 1989—in what became an off-and-on again cease-fire—which, after a cooling off period, led to free elections.

The long awaited elections took place September 29 and 30, 1992 under United Nations supervision. Dos Santos was the undisputed winner with almost 50 percent (49.7%) of the popular vote versus 40.1 percent received by Savimbi. Savimbi claimed the vote was rigged, and by October 30th UNITA had taken the country into civil war again. More killing and economic devastation followed, further depleting the country of its rich natural resources. The United States continued to hold peace talks to work out an acceptable power-sharing arrangement between UNITA and the dos Santos government. Savimbi refused to give up the territory won through battle, and in so doing lost the United States' support as the U.S. officially recognized the dos Santos government in the Spring of 1993.

Dos Santos addressed the United Nations on its 50th Anniversary, October 22, 1995, expressing appreciation for the understanding and assistance given Angola, particularly its humanitarian aid to refugees and economic assistance to restructure the country. He also praised UN peace keeping forces in Angola for their continued role in disarming UNITA guerillas, as well as for monitoring the long process toward reconciliation within the country.

A good-looking man who smiled easily, José Eduardo dos Santos was reported to be somewhat reserved and not given to speaking or appearing in public more than necessary. One commentator noted, however, that the apparent shyness masked an inner sureness and indefatigable spirit.

Further Reading

Recommended for general background on Angola are Lawrence W. Henderson, Angola: Five Centuries of Conflict (1979) and Basil Davidson, In the Eye of the Storm (1972). On the liberation struggle in which dos Santos participated, see John Marcum, The Angolan Revolution, two volumes (1969 and 1978). Also, Michael Wolfers and Jane Bergerol, Angola in the Front Line (1983) gives an excellent account of events since independence. Shorter articles in periodicals that offer additional details of the Angolan conflict include: Time (April 2, 1984 and October 17, 1988); The Economist (July 1, 1989, September 28, 1991, October 10, 1992, and November 7, 1992); the US Department of State Dispatch (September 23, 1991 and October 5, 1992); (November-December 1992); and Presidents & Prime Ministers (January/February, 1996). □

dos Santos, José Eduardo

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dos Santos, José Eduardo (1942– ) Angolan statesman, president (1979– ). Dos Santos' succession to the presidency was marked by escalating violence between the Cuban-backed People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) government, and the South African-backed National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi refused to recognize Dos Santos' narrow election victory in 1992 and fighting resumed. The Lusaka Protocol (1994) paved the way for a unified government which was inaugurated in 1997, headed by Dos Santos. In 2002, after the death of Savimbi, Dos Santos declared an end to the civil war.

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