Angola’s ruling family is worth billions. What happens when dad steps down?
After nearly four decades in office, President José Eduardo Dos Santos is due to hand over power after Angola’s 23 August elections.
After 38 years in power, Angola’s José Eduardo dos Santos finally looks set to step down from office. The president has stated his intention to relinquish power before, but as the 23 August elections approach, everything is pointing in the direction of his imminent departure following the polls.
Many expected that when the time came, dos Santos would elevate one of his children to replace him. But instead, he handpicked Defence Minister João Lourenço to be his successor.
Lourenço has the backing of the ruling People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and is certain to win. The pressing question therefore is of what will happen to dos Santos and his powerful family once he is no longer president.
Over the past four decades, dos Santos has not only consolidated an impressive amount of political power in his hands, but also seen close family members become the leading players in Angola’s economy.
The dos Santos economy
It is well known that economic power in Angola is concentrated in the hands of a few. But the extent to which it is controlled by close members of the ruling family may come as a surprise.
The dos Santos’ most famous business dealings are those of the president’s eldest daughter, Isabel dos Santos. Africa’s richest woman, she currently heads the national oil company Sonangol, which forms the heart of Angola’s economy. She also has private interests in a wide range of other sectors, from telecommunications, to banking, cement and supermarkets. Whilst the majority of her businesses are based in Angola, Isabel is known to have sizeable investments overseas, most notably in Angola’s former colonial power Portugal.
Jose Filomeno dos Santos, the president’s son, is also heavily involved in Angola’s economic life. He serves as chair of the country’s $5 billion sovereign wealth fund; he has been active in the banking sector since at least 2008; and he recently acquired 49% of Standard Bank Angola, which is part of South Africa’s Standard Bank Group.
The president’s daughter Welwitschia José dos Santos Pego (Tchizé) and his artistic son Jose Paulino (Coreon Dú) are not left out either. Tchizé is a member of the MPLA central committee, a manager at state channel TPA 2 and shareholder in Banco Prestigio. Meanwhile, together, the two siblings run the production company Semba Comunicação, which has benefited from several multi-million-dollar contracts with the Angolan state.
First Lady Ana Paula dos Santos, President dos Santos’ third wife, is a shareholder of Banco Sol and owns a number of smaller business ventures in Luanda, including the exclusive Deana Spa.
Finally, Eduane Danilo dos Santos, the first couple’s eldest son, part-owns that spa and has various other investments, including in Angola’s newest bank, Banco Postal de Angola.
In short, the business interests of the First Family are vast and touch on almost every area of the economy.
Can Lourenço go after his friends?
Wealth in Angola may be even more concentrated in the hands of the few than in comparable countries. But its economy operates in similar ways to other places where state institutions are weak. Business deals and the exercise of power are typically based on relationships, and economic success comes down to whom you know.
What happens then when the person you know leaves power? What will happen to the dos Santos fortune when the head of the family steps down?
Some indication may come from the fact that, earlier this year, Lourenço promised to crack down on corruption in order to repair Angola’s crisis-ridden economy. In answer to a question about how his administration would be different to that of dos Santos, the presidential candidate told the Washington Post: “We are going to make every effort to have a transparent administration. We are going to combat corruption.”
This may indeed be his plan. But going after political comrades will not be easy for Lourenço. He has been part of the ruling party that has overseen corruption for decades, and he will know that any disruption to prevailing economic arrangements is likely to alienate important allies.
Mozambique’s recent experience gives a sense of how such a scenario might play out. In 2014, Filipe Nyusi was elected on an anti-corruption platform. But since in office, he has been troubled by leaks connecting him to prominent fraud cases during his time as a minister. As in Angola, the Mozambican elite are connected by webs of patronage and business interests, making them vulnerable to exposure. Nyusi seems to be learning the hard way that even seeming to turn on a system from which you yourself have benefited can backfire.
Lourenço has done similarly well from the system in Angola, though he is not notorious for his wealth, holding only a small share in Banco Sol with his wife. He has so far also avoided corruption allegations.
However, should he pursue an anti-corruption agenda further, it is not implausible that stories might emerge as vengeful elites retaliate with their own revelations. Already reports are coming out alleging that Lourenço may have benefited from opaque business dealings.
Protecting the family
When dos Santos steps down later this month, it will be a momentous symbolic moment for the country after 38 years of his rule. But that will not mean the end of his control.
The hand-picked Lourenço is generally depicted as candidate for continuity, while dos Santos can in effect continue on as president of the MPLA until at least 2021. This grants him considerable powers, including power to chose parliamentary candidates.
Earlier this month, parliament also passed legislation safeguarding dos Santos’ picks at the head of defence and intelligence services. This makes it difficult for Lourenço to exercise control in matters of national security in the near future.
Yet while dos Santos will continue to assert considerable political power after 23 August, it is less clear what effect the transition will have on the family’s business interests. The blunt takeover of the country’s post-war economy by the president’s inner circle has stirred opposition within the MPLA. And except for a recent proposal from the ruling party to make Angola’s President and Vice-President immune from prosecution for life, no legislative measures have been taken to protect the family’s assets.
Although unclear what such protections would look like, and whether they would mean anything in the long term, we know from other cases that legal and social guarantees could be extended to family members. This was the case in Russia in 2000, when the newly-appointed president Vladimir Putin offered generous protections to outgoing president Boris Yeltsin and his family.
Importantly, Lourenço will find it hard to govern without sufficient economic independence. Regimes need resources to survive, and as the new president seeks to consolidate his power base, he will want to carve out business opportunities for himself and his supporters.
Because of the sheer scale of the dos Santos’ financial interests, it is difficult to see this happening without it being at the ruling family’s expense. The dos Santos clique is no doubt aware of this. They will know that the informal guarantees that made their accumulation of wealth possible could be overturned at any time. It would come as little surprise therefore if a large proportion of their assets have already been transferred abroad, far beyond the reach of Angola’s internal politics.
comrades Isabel is epitome of modern European colonialism in Africa. Her family for decades have catered to Europeans while leaving Buntu citizens mired in hopeless misery plus poverty despite fact Angola wealth could have plus should have easily provided modern Live Well conditions as a minimum of living conditions for all of its citizens capable plus willing to work. Thoughts of Santos family selfish actions sickens me as should all other Buntu. Worst of all they subscribe to European culture plus religion that was used to colonize Buntu plus it do not acknowledge Buntu existence even in Buntu held territories. Despite Angola contributions to assist at ending apartheid its modern cultural plus religious conduct promotes a dangerous anti-Buntu existence while promoting European culture plus religion that instilled undue selfishness in Buntu for hundreds of years. I believe Europeans did not teach that at European schools Isabel attended. Angola leadership as a whole should have their European instilled selfishness shockingly bought to their attention for it have them plus all of Angola teetering on brink of unforseeable calamity. Isabel need find her way to being a good Buntu businessperson as much as she have found her way to being a good European businessperson. To be a good European businessperson you need perform with malice unnecessary business acts which prevent Buntu from rising in business world plus challenging Europeans for business dominance in Buntu held territories. For a Buntu to take like actions proof it is puppet to Europe desires. This will not continue much longer in Africa. For Isabel to be a good Buntu business person she would focus at developing widespead Buntu business ability at every important aspect it could exist plus she would promote Buntu doing high level business with Buntu which include establishing plus maintaining oil processing in Africa along with production of various products oil is used to produce. Is that to much for Mrs. santos or do she dislkie us Buntu that much? Very much sincere, Henry Price Jr. aka Obediah Buntu IL-Khan aka Kankan aka Gue.
God will not fail to punish the entire family of José Eduardo Dos Santo for their corrupt practice in Angola.
everything has the time order the sun, them doesn’t or read the bible, the bible says when you were born you born necked, what did you bring on earth nothing, when you died what are going to take nothing. but they make fellow citizens suffer and make their family rich one day Good will answer.
Its a golden opportunity for Angolans to relieve themselves of the immense injustices that the ruling MPLA under Do Santos and his family have gone through for over a generation.
Lourenço may try hard cleanup the mess his comrades have created, of course to which he has benefited from. Consequently, it will not
be easy to turn against his colleagues, but this is what he inevitably needs to do in order to bring sanity to Angola.
Alternatively Angolans should kick out the MPLA so as to bring fresh minds into the running of government affairs, surely this will make the MPLA gvt accountable for all corrupt activities they have been doing.
They can leave…their money is not in angola…we will do just fine without them even if they move their business outside of angola. They the ones that brought misery and hunger to our people. They are not true angolans. They put out of service other business when the others tried to competer with theirs. So now the doors are open for any business to come.
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