JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Angola confirmed for the first time on Monday that 74-year-old President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, its leader of the last 38 years, was in Spain for medical reasons.
Speaking on French radio station RFI, foreign minister Georges Chikoti admitted that dos Santos had been unwell but played down concerns about his health and refused to confirm local private media reports of a stroke.
“You know that there are moments in everyone’s lives when we don’t feel well. But he is fine. He is in Spain but when he is better he will return,” Chikoti said.
“President Dos Santos has regular checkups in Spain so it is perfectly normal for him to be there.”
Dos Santos, a Soviet-trained oil engineer and veteran of the guerrilla war against Portuguese rule, has presided over an economic boom in Africa’s second-biggest oil producer since the end of a long civil war in 2002.
He left Angola at the start of May for what was officially billed as a private, two-week overseas visit. His failure to return fueled speculation about his health, including a report on an Angola-related Facebook page that he had died.
Before Chikoti, state media and officials had refused to comment, a common response in one of Africa’s most secretive and repressive states. Dos Santos’s daughter Isabel denied the report of his death via Instagram but gave no more information.
Angola is due to hold a general election on Aug. 23 that is likely to see dos Santos replaced as state president by defense minister Joao Lorenco, 63.
However, dos Santos will remain leader of the ruling MPLA party, a position that many Angolans believe will allow him to exert considerable political influence behind the scenes.
(Reporting by Ed Cropley; Editing by Hugh Lawson)