from PEDRO AGOSTO in Luanda, Angola
LUANDA, (CAJ News) – THE death of sitting and former African presidents dying abroad is a long running phenomenon but for one to be buried overseas would be unprecedented.
The possibility of that following the death of Angola’s ex-president, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, highlights the extent of the fallout between the now-deceased and his successor, Joao Lourenco.
The demise of dos Santos (aged 79) in Spain after an illness has further driven a wedge between his family and the current president has been a sideshow as the Southern African country mourns a leader who was at the helm for 38 years until 2017.
So tense have been the relations that it has degenerated into a row over the burial of the late statesman.
A state funeral seemed a foregone conclusion. Lourenço decreed the establishment of a government commission to arrange the funeral.
Lourenco had wanted the family of the deceased, including sisters, Isabel and Welwitschia, to accompany the body for the burial.
They have been exiled for years amid fears they, especially Isabel, would be arrested on charges of corruption once they returned to the country.
“No authority in the country has the power to prevent an Angolan citizen who is living abroad from returning to his (or her) own country, no matter what the circumstances,” Lourenco assured.
However, the dos Santos family has rejected the plan, saying he had wished to be buried in Barcelona, Spain.
The family is adamant a burial elsewhere will be disrespectful of his wishes.
Even the “invitation” of the family angered Welwitschia.
“Who gave you (Lourenco) permission, the effrontery, to be inviting me to my own father’s funeral?” a voice message attributed to her, sent to journalists, is quoted.
Angola has reportedly engaged a law firm in the battle to have the former head of state buried locally.
Welwitschia (44) is a businesswoman, media personality and legislator.
She has been central in the latest spat with Lourenco’s administration.
After her father’s death following cardiac arrest, the family suspected foul play.
Welwitschia demanded an autopsy and filed a legal case in Spain against the ex-president president’s widow, Ana Paula, and his personal physician for “attempted murder.”
Ana Paula also wants her husband buried in Angola.
Sources were quoted as saying an autopsy Institute of Forensic Medicine and Forensic Sciences of Catalonia revealed dos Santos died of “natural causes”, thus ruling out any foul play.
Attorney General of Angola, Hélder Pita Gróz, also told state media the autopsy excluded the possibility of poisoning.
The deceased who had been living in Spain since 2019, had been unwell for some time.
Two years earlier, dos Santos had handed over the reins to his defense minister, Lourenco, his preferred successor.
The former head of state remained head of the ruling People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA).
No sooner had Lourenco assumed power than he initiated a crackdown against corruption, blamed as a legacy of dos Santos.
Some of the ex-president’s children were targets of the blitz.
Among these is Isabel (49), once considered the richest woman in Africa. She was most prominently head of the state-owned oil company, Sonangol Group.
It is alleged her wealth came almost entirely from her family’s power and connections. She faces legal action in Angola and former colonial master, Portugal.
Her brother, Jose Filomeno (44), is serving five years for fraud, money laundering and trading in influence following his conviction in 2020.
He was the chairman of Angola’s sovereign wealth fund (FSDEA).
The siblings lost their positions after the Lourenco administration assumed office.
While it was largely welcome, critics saw the corruption crusade as selective and tact by the new president to consolidate his power and limit the influence of his predecessor.
Dos Santos’ legacy is mixed. He is accused of presiding over an administration that was tolerant to corruption.
Dos Santos is hailed for overseeing Angola’s reintegration and transition to peace during the complex post-colonial era.
That era includes one of the longest-running civil wars in Africa, which ended in 2002, having started after independence in 1975.
An estimated 800 000 people were killed and 4 million displaced.
The trend of African sitting and ex-presidents dying abroad is seen as a reflection of the failure of the continent’s leaders to invest in healthcare provision.
Agostinho Neto, dos Santos’ predecessor and first post-independence president of Angola, died in the then-Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) having travelled for surgery for cancer and hepatitis.
“For an ex-president to be buried abroad will be a new low,” said local socio-political commentator, Maico Borba.
– CAJ News