A president, his daughter & business success in a country whose name starts with ‘A’


nepotism So what do you know about Angola?

Most people will know only the following:

  • that it is in Africa
  • and that it was once a Portuguese colony

Some others might also know that Angola has been ruled for a long time by a man named Jose Eduardo dos Santos. But even they would probably find it hard to remember when he took control of the country. Angola, you see, doesn’t seem to matter very much to people who don’t have a good reason to keep tabs on it.

But it does matter and it should matter and I’ll tell you why. It is a lesson in the nepotism and corruption that can make powerful leaders and their families very rich at the expense of ordinary people.

So here’s what you need to know about Angola:

  • President dos Santos took charge in the late 1970s, within a few years of independence from Portugal
  • President dos Santos’s favourite daughter is his oldest girl, Isabel
  • She is the richest woman in Africa

Can you still say that you don’t need to know that on Friday, January 6, Ms dos Santos took over Angola’s largest bank, Banco de Fomento Angola (BFA)?

And that you don’t need to know that she already heads the national oil company? And that she has a controlling stake in Angola’s largest phone operator? And that Forbes put Ms dos Santos’s worth at $3.2 billion?

The dos Santos brigade seems very adept at what we now call “post-truth” politics, which is really another word for lying and deception. They deny there is any nepotism involved in Isabel dos Santos’s startling success.

To which one might vulgarly say, “bollocks”.

Herewith, I quote you Daniel Donovan’s blog in Foreign Policy from February 2013:

“While it is no secret that Isabel tried her hand in several enterprises early in life, these entrepreneurial explorations failed to yield much success. Her first business, a restaurant called Miami Beach, was definitely not considered a (sic) lucrative. In fact, several business enterprises that she attempted early on did not pan out. That still does not mean that corruption was involved, many of the wealthy fail before achieving the stalwarts of success. However, many of the businesses that achieved success, including her investments in Portugal were bought and approved by either her father or by a state firm called Sonangol. These endeavors point squarely to the misappropriation of state funds, especially since the majority of her success has mirrored the success of the Angolan oil boom.”

That oil boom, for the record, occurred in the noughties and within the next decade (at the beginning of 2013) Forbes was announcing that Ms dos Santos had become the first African woman billionaire.

As Mr Donovan, who appears to have done quite a bit of work on developmental strategies for rural Sub-Saharan Africa, points out in his blog, the oil boom meant a runaway average growth rate of 15 per cent for Angola between 2002 and 2008. Meanwhile, the average Angolan continued to live on just about $ 2 per day and Angola did not rank well on the United Nation’s Human Development Index and on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index.

So is the story in the country that starts with ‘A’ about nepotism? Is it about the corruption that comes when the big beasts briefly emerge from the swamp in order to get glitter sprinkled on their eyelashes?

You bet.

And it can happen anywhere.

Some of you may have thought that with the impending inauguration of Donald Trump and with all the talk about his conflicts of interests and family matters, that the country whose name starts with ‘A’ was America. And that this was all about Mr Trump and his favourite daughter Ivanka. No, my friends, it is about Angola and President dos Santos and Isabel. Two different continents. Two different families. Apologies for the confusion.