LUANDA, Angola (AP) — Relatively low-key commemorations are taking place in Angola to mark the death of former longtime President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who died last week in Spain where his family is taking steps to prevent his body from being returned to the southern African country.
As part of five days of national mourning, declared by President Joao Lourenco, Angolan government officials and ordinary citizens are paying their respects to dos Santos, who ruled the country for 38 years until 2017.
Members of parliament, military officials, judges, religious leaders and ordinary Angolans lined up in the capital city, Luanda, to view candlelit portraits of dos Santos and to sign a condolence book.
Fernando Da Piedade Dias dos Santos, president of the National Assembly and a cousin of the former president, praised him for helping Angola establish peace after a prolonged civil war.
“We worked together until we reached peace in the country. We started national reconciliation. National unity was established and he (dos Santos) began the national reconstruction of our country,” he said. “These are remarkable and unforgettable moments.”
In Spain, where dos Santos died in a Barcelona hospital, a court has approved that an autopsy be carried out, after an application by one of his daughters, Tchize dos Santos. The former president’s family wants his body to be interred in Spain to prevent his burial in Angola from being used for political campaigning by the current president, according to a statement by the daughter.
Dos Santos’s children have been accused by the government in some corruption cases. When dos Santos stepped down from power in 2017, he chose Lourenco as his successor. But soon after becoming president, Lourenco started an anti-corruption drive in which dos Santos’s children were targeted.
During dos Santos’s long rule large amounts of the country’s oil and diamond wealth were siphoned off. More than $4 billion in oil revenue vanished from Angolan state coffers between 1997 and 2002 when dos Santos was in power, New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a 2004 report, based on an analysis of figures from the International Monetary Fund.
Dos Santos appointed a son, Jose Filomeno de Sousa dos Santos, nicknamed Zenu, to run a sovereign wealth fund worth $5 billion. After dos Santos retired the son was charged with embezzlement and in 2020 was jailed in Angola for five years.
The most prominent of dos Santos’s children is daughter Isabel, named “Africa’s richest woman” by Forbes magazine which estimated her fortune at more than $3 billion. Her father appointed her to run the state-controlled oil company Sonangol but she was dismissed by Lourenco shortly after he became president.
The daughter leading the effort to have an autopsy and to have dos Santos buried in Spain is Tchize, who once controlled a leading media company in Angola, an advertising agency and a major soccer team.
She has written that she does not want Lourenco to use the burial of dos Santos in Angola to boost his campaign for reelection in Angola’s upcoming polls in August.
The subdued reaction in Angola to the death of dos Santos and the efforts of the family to bury him in Spain is not surprising considering the anti-corruption efforts of the current government, according to Maka Angola, an investigative journalism website.
“Jose Eduardo dos Santos’s political heritage is the looting and kidnapping of a country, bent on the interests of an oligarchy created by it,” the website wrote. “It will take a long time for Angola to free itself from this heavy legacy of corruption and moral destruction of an entire society, of Angolans in general.”
AP journalist Ciaran Giles in Barcelona, Spain, contributed.