Alas Poor Dos Santos, We Knew Him
President José Eduardo dos Santos, growing old sucks, doesn’t it? You lose your looks, your health and eventually your life. And what will you leave behind? A skull and bones in the dirt? What will your legacy be? Did you once dream that generations would revere you as Father of the Angolan nation? (Pause for teeth kiss) Tsk… that ship sailed a long time ago. No, the ‘Father of the Nation’ accolade is reserved for Agostinho Neto. Perhaps he was fortunate not to have lived to see what Angola became.
As you must be all too aware, the clock is ticking. Quite soon now, the Angolan people will be lining up in their thousands, millions even, to pay homage at (or not on) your grave. Sim, senhor. You are a mortal too. Even your friends and colleagues will hasten to betray you in the end: all those erstwhile brave and idealistic youngsters (now decaying and corrupt) who once dared to rise up against a tyrannical regime in the name of freedom, independence and justice. (Rather like the ‘awkward squad’ of present-day dissidents in the “Luanda Book Club”? Whom you currently find so troublesome?) Perhaps they are already ashamed that you, and they, have mutated into something the PIDE (the former Portuguese colonial International and State Defense Police) would recognize without hesitation.
Strange now to reflect when Neto died, you were considered shy and inoffensive when you emerged as the compromise candidate to lead the Peoples’ Movement for the Liberation of Angola, the once-glorious MPLA. Wasn’t it meant to be a byword for idealism, courage and comradeship? Under your 36-year tutelage, it is instead a byword for kleptocracy, corruption and injustice: a degenerate decline that is reflected in your very face. Was there no ‘Dorian Gray’ portrait of you in Futungo de Belas, the old presidential palace?
As you take your last breath will you be hoping to hear the masses chanting “Dos Santos, amigo, o povo está contigo” as they did back in 1992 when for a moment it looked as though the country’s first-ever democratic election might actually mean something? Dream on. Back then, the MPLA seemed the lesser of two evils: better the thieves than the murderers of Jonas Savimbi’s rival UNITA movement.
Picture instead the more likely scene in the weeks and months after they bury you. Your former colleagues and allies, their children and grandchildren, will be clamouring for a greater share of the loot you bestowed so generously on your own, while all your enemies (and they will be countless) will hound your progeny in their search for redress. Did you hope of founding a dynasty to rule over Angola? It’s far more likely that everyone connected with you will head into exile.
And what a gilded exile. In all honesty, I can’t imagine your children will care a jot… to them Angola is just ‘Papa’s private treasure chest’ from which pours the wealth that allows them to live life in the rarefied zone of the uber-rich: private jets, designer clothing, everything that money can buy. Whether their luxury mansion is situated in Luanda, Cape Town or Lisbon is of no consequence. What you have taught them is that their only allegiance is to the counting house.
And what do you, and they, do with the billions of dollars amassed? Is there no end to greed? There is certainly no sign of any beginning to good works. After 36 years, starving waifs still scrabble through fetid heaps of garbage just a few kilometres from your palace – a barely-sensed blur through the tinted glass as your convoy of expensive latest-model vehicles speeds by, forcing everyone else off the highway.
The innate selfishness of the Dos Santos clan was exemplified by your wife commandeering the entire cash resources of your embassy in Washington DC to fund her designer shopping trip, while the staff went unpaid for months. Is the MPLA anything other than a new tyranny, as damaging and despotic to the average Angolan as the colonial regime of the ‘Tuga’?
The only difference is that that darker-hued complexions are the ones wielding the billyclub while they pocket the money. From the point of view of the Mwangolé, the only Angolan beneficiaries of his homeland’s riches are the First Family and the MPLA elite who sustain them in power. Together they have raped his motherland, mortgaged his patrimony to the Chinese and let a new generation of fat-cat Portuguese entrepreneurs steal from his children’s mouths.
Naturally, you had to let them eat some of the scraps from the pot to guarantee their loyalty. And should any MPLA lickspittle fail to show the correct level of obsequious devotion (or worse, become too popular in their own right), he or she would be promptly despatched overseas as an”Ambassador”, to enjoy the gilded life of the modern diplomat (mansion, servants, chauffeur-driven limos, cocktail parties, business opportunities).
And for those critics whose mouths cannot be closed with gravy by the trainload, there is the threat of arbitrary arrest, preventative detention for months (years), endless harassment of themselves and their families and even a show trial on the flimsiest of evidence, presided over by compliant judges, at least one of whom is so embarrassed to be in that courtroom that she tried to conceal her identity by positioning a bad wig over her eyes and nose.
Perhaps like poor Yorick, your purpose is to serve as a warning to future “princes” of their own mortality and that in our short time on Earth, we will be best remembered if we serve others rather than ourselves. To be, or not to be. That is the question.