Running Angola Like A Family Business: Meet The New Sonangol Boss Isabel Dos Santos
Africa’s second longest-serving president, Jose Eduardo dos Santos has appointed his daughter, Isabel dos Santos, as chairwoman of Sonangol, the country’s state-run oil company, and a group of lawyers wants to sue, DW reports.
Already the richest woman in Africa according to Forbes, Isabel claims to be an entrepreneur in her own right, but many believe her powerful and influential father helped enrich her with his political connections.
Isabel said in a press release she had resigned from her duties on the boards of directors of the multiple companies that run her key investments in Portugal, effective the end of July. She said this will avoid conflicts of interest, Angola Press reported. The companies include NOS, SGPS, Portuguese BIC Bank and Efacec Power Solutions.
Isabel’s new title: chairwoman of the board of Sonangol
Angola is Africa’s No. 2 oil producer after Nigeria, and almost all the country’s revenue comes from oil. President dos Santos has been in power since 1979, making him Africa’s second longest-serving president.
Dos Santos runs Angola as if it’s a family business, DW reported. He appointed his son Jose Filmeno head of the Angolan Sovereign Wealth Fund in 2013. Worth $5 billion plus, the fund is supposed to ensure that the country’s oil revenue is invested profitably for the benefit of the people.
“Angola is on its way to becoming an absolutist monarchy,” said Angolan human rights lawyer David Mendes, DW reported. Almost all key positions are occupied by the president’s relatives. This includes the customs service, water and energy utilities. “Angolans are starting to realize that dos Santos regards the whole country as his private property,” Mendes said.
Mendes and other Angolan lawyers are thinking about challenging the president’s latest appointment in court. Angolan legislation passed in 2010 prohibits putting people in public office who could be exposed to a conflict of interest, DW reports.
“The daughter of the president has many private interests which would conflict with those of the state-run oil concern Sonangol,” Mendes told DW. He worries Isabel could direct Sanangol to make deals with companies she already owns.
In addition to the 30-plus companies Isabel already manages, she is in charge of three major public projects, according to Maka Angola. These include:
- The Urban Redevelopment Master Plan for the capital city, Luanda
- Restructuring the National Oil Company Sonangol (the largest state-owned company)
- Commission for the Restructuring of the Oil Sector.
These projects will give her control over control over $15 billion US in funds, Maka Angola reports:
If past experience is a guide, there will be a lack of clarity over actual ownership: what belongs to the president, his daughter, the state or (as the Constitution would have it) the Angolan people.
U.S.-based Boston Consulting Group and Portuguese legal firm Vieira de Almeida are working to restructure Sonangol, Maka Angola reported. Staff at Sonangol suspect the consultants’ work may be a smokescreen to allow further diversion of funds that could benefit the first daughter or her father.
Some international analysts have described the way dos Santos runs Angola as “kleptocracy” mainly benefiting the president and his close family.
In April, Sonangol’s board of directors was fired and the government said it would restructure Sonangol to increase efficiency and profitability, The Guardian reported.
“The case can certainly be made that this is a political move whereby the president is strengthening his grip. But the news that global consulting firms will be assisting with the reform strategy is at least a step in the right direction,” said Cobus de Hart, an Angola analyst at NKC African Economics in Cape Town.
Putting the 43-year-old Isabel in charge could mean Dos Santos is serious about reforms, but it could also be seen as laying the groundwork for the dos Santos family to control the central pillar of the economy when he leaves office, according to The Guardian.
Dos Santos said he’ll leave office in 2018. He has promised this before.
“Sonangol was always regarded as one of the more effective African national oil companies, but governance has slipped quite considerably over the past decade,” said Antony Goldman, an independent, Africa-focused energy analyst. Isabel has a track record of getting deals done, but she is not an energy expert, Goldman said.
Isabel’s appointment could make it more difficult for international banks to do business with Sonangol from a compliance standpoint, given the perception of nepotism, a senior Johannesburg-based banker told TheGuardian.
Critics accuse dos Santos of mismanaging Angola’s oil wealth and making his family and political allies rich in a country with widespread poverty.