Angola’s head of state José Eduardo dos Santos entered politics at an early age.
The son of immigrants from Sao Tome and Principe, dos Santos joined the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola – or MPLA – in 1958, aged just 16.
He later joined the party’s armed wing in the struggle to free the country from Portugal’s colonial rule.
His political activities soon forced him into exile. First to the Republic of Congo and then to the former Soviet Union, where he studied oil engineering.
In November 1975, Angola declared independence. Agostinho Neto, leader of the MPLA, became the country’s first president and dos Santos its first foreign minister.
With the end of Portuguese rule, a new power struggle began – this time between MPLA and rival liberation movement UNITA.
Cold War dynamics played out in the African country, with Neto backed by Russia and Cuba – and Jonas Savimbi, the leader of UNITA, supported by the United States.
The country slipped into a civil war that would last almost 30 years.
Throughout, dos Santos continued to serve in government until taking over the presidency after Neto’s death in 1979.
Multiple attempts to broker peace were unsuccessful until Savimbi’s death opened a new chapter in Angola’s history.
On August 2nd, 2002, a ceasefire came into effect and the civil war was finally over.
dos Santos has been in power ever since but in 2016 – after 37 years in office – he decided not to run for reelection.
When he steps down after the August election, he will leave behind a mixed legacy: praise for his role in securing independence and peace, and for boosting oil production and infrastructure – but concern about his personal corruption and his failure to help the millions of Angolans who still live in poverty.
Taking dos Santos’ place as presidential candidate is minister of defense, Joao Lourenço. But dos Santos isn’t ready to leave politics altogether – for now, he will be staying on as party leader.