Dos Santos family under fire in Angola’s big business: A new path for Angola?

Since taking presidency in September 2017 President João Lourenço has made several high-level dismissals at a number of state-owned businesses. The most high profile of these saw the removal of his predecessor’s daughter, Isabel dos Santos, from her position as head of state owned oil company Sonangol in November. Ms dos Santos had been at the helm of the state owned oil company since June 2016, after being appointed to the role by presidential decree by her father. The dismissal came as a surprise to many, seemingly including Dos Santos herself as she stated to UK newspaper the Financial Terms that she intended to see out her five year term as President of the board at Sonangol less than a month earlier. She has been replaced by Carlos Saturnino, former Secretary of State for Oil. Dos Santos is regularly cited as the richest woman in Africa, but is generally unpopular in Angola, seen to have gained wealth via her father’s nepotism. Critics of the Dos Santos family’s extensive sphere of influence have praised the move as a bold indication that Mr Lourenço plans to carve out his own path as President. Indeed, her removal was not the only dismissal to effect the former president’s circle of familial influence.

Lourenço also closed down government communications department GRECIMA, which held lucrative contracts with an enterprise co-owned by Welwitschia dos Santos, another of the former president’s daughters. The business interests of Jose Filomeno dos Santos have similarly come under fire, as the new administration suspended a contract with food testing laboratory Bromangol, a business associated with the eldest dos Santos son. At present Jose Filomeno dos Santos remains head of Angola’s sovereign wealth fund, although Mr Lourenço has suggested this may be subject to change pending the results of an external enquiry into the fund’s performance and governance.

Given that President Lourenço was seemingly chosen and anointed by his predecessor some critics posited the Dos Santos dynasty would remain untouched by the new President. Consequently the unexpected redistribution of power has been welcomed by many Angolans, and is seen to represent a commitment to campaign promises to tackle corruption and cronyism. However, others are sceptical about the reshuffling of power positions, suggesting this is simply the prelude to the establishment of new patronage networks.  Only time will tell to what extent Lourenço’s actions signal commitment to development or an exercise to consolidate power.

About the Author

Robyn K