Pictured above: Current President and leader of the MPLA, Jose Eduardo dos Santos (on the left), welcomes his candidate for Angola’s new President: Joao Lourenco (on the right).
On Wednesday this week, elections took place in Angola and Africa’s longest serving President, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, announced in February this year that he would not be standing. Rumours are that he was treated for prostate cancer when he was in Barcelona for medical treatment earlier in the year, not returning to Angola until June. Mr dos Santos is 74 and has been in power for almost 4 decades.
Africa’s second longest standing president is from Equatorial Guinea: Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo. He was installed only 7 weeks after dos Santos became president.
Whilst he will step down as President of Angola, dos Santos will remain as leader of the ruling party, MPLA (Popular Movement for Liberation of Angola). BBC Africa say on Twitter that he might be stepping down, but they question his true departure from politics: is he stepping down or is he closing the doors but taking the key?’.
The dos Santos family history
Dos Santos has been in power since 1979. He was Angola’s second president after independence in 1975 and only took over when his predecessor and founder of the MPLA, Agostinho Neto, died. Throughout Angola’s civil war, he and his entourage prospered financially. Dos Santos furnished those loyal to him with government contracts, business opportunities, diamond concessions, land titles, trade licences, trade monopolies and cheap credit’ (Martin Meredith ‘The State of Africa’, 615). When the government started to sell off nationalised businesses in the aftermath of Russia’s involvement with the country, those who were loyal to dos Santos were given state owned properties, farms and businesses for next to nothing or even on some occasions, nothing at all. A system of patronage emerged.
The domestic agenda in the past
Despite a large income from oil revenue, education at home in Angola suffered under the dos Santos presidency whilst the elite were given access to state scholarships for education abroad for their children: both school and university. They were also given access to foreign medical treatment, again whilst those at home suffered. Martin Meredith in his book ‘The State of Africa’ tells us that:
‘Between 1997 and 2001 overseas scholarships accounted on average for 18% of the total government expenditure on education, more than was spent within the country and technical education and higher education combined. Foreign medical expenditure consumed 13% of total government spending on health, almost as much as was spent on healthcare’ (615).
Furthermore, according to Meredith, a large proportion of Angola’s oil revenue was siphoned off for private purposes. An IMF report in 2002, says Meredith, ‘showed that 22% of government expenditure between 1996 and 2001 was ‘unexplained’; a further 16% was listed as extra-budgetary’ (616). Again using IMF figures, a report published by the Human Rights Watch said that ‘between 1997 and 2002 an amount of $4.2 billion went unaccounted for – an average of $700 million a year, nearly 10% of gross domestic product, roughy equivalent to the sum spent on education, health and social services over the same period’ (616).
This is an excerpt from the Report:
‘When a government is the direct beneficiary of a centrally controlled major revenue stream and is therefor not reliant on domestic taxation or a diversified economy to function, those who rule the state have unique opportunities for self-enrichment and corruption, particularly if there is no transparency in the management of revenues. Because achieving political power often becomes the primary revenue for achieving wealth, the incentive to seize power and hold on to it indefinitely is great. This dynamic has a corrosive effect on governance and, ultimately, respect for human rights, the existence of a centrally controlled revenue stream – such as oil revenue – can serve to reinforce and exacerbate an undemocratic or otherwise unaccountable ruler’s or governing elite’s worst tendencies and enrich itself without any corresponding accountability … This happened in Angola’ (quoted in Meredith’s book ‘The State of Africa’, 616).
The hiding of the money so that the rich could amass it
In 2002, dos Santos passed a State Secrecy Act that classified as secret, ‘financial, monetary, economic and commercial interests of State’ (Meredith, 616). In addition, those who did not comply were put in prison. Meredith also tells us the following:
‘When an IMF team, attempting to unravel the government’s oil accounts, asked for an explanation about a discrepancy of up to $215 million between what the government said it has received in oil exploration fees from oil companies and what the oil companies said they had paid, government officials said they could not provide any supporting documentation on those payments because of the confidentiality agreements with the oil companies’ (616).
BP, in 2001, tried to publish the payments that they had made to Angola but when they did so, Angola threatened to cancel their contract. This acted as a warning to any other international investors who may have considered doing the same.
How much money was coming into Angola?
A report by the Economist Intelligence Unit in 2003 said that in Angola, there were 39 people who were worth ‘at least $50 million’ and a further 20 ‘worth at least $50 million’ (Meredith, 618). Of the list of the wealthiest, 6 out of 7 of them were government officials.
This is VERY interesting:
‘Overall, the combined wealth of these 59 people [on the list mentioned above], was at least $3.95 billion. By comparison, the total gross domestic product of Angola, with a population of about 14 million, was about $10.2 billion in 2002’.
According to the IMF (International Monetary Fund), between 2007 and 2010, some US $32 billion went missing from Angola’s oil and gas revenue.
Another observation from Meredith:
‘Half of the city’s [Luanda] population of 4 million had no access to clean water and survived on untreated water from the Bengo river bought by the bucketful from informal vendors. Most Angolans subsisted on less than 70 cents a day’ (618).
Accusations of corruption
In July 2000, former French oil company executive told French authorities that dos Santos was a beneficiary of a massive fund that Elf-Aquitaine, a French company, held to pay African leaders in exchange for influence and oil deals. Dos Santos denied it.
Dos Santos was also accused of a dodgy deal with Russia that involved delaying the debt Angola owed to Russia in exchange for arms purchases from them. This was in 2002. A Swiss magistrate put a freeze on $70 million held in a bank account in which dos Santos was one of the beneficiaries, in addition to some Russians and some Angolans. Dos Santos wrote to the Swiss president and said the Swiss judges had ‘no right to get involved in a bilateral matter between Angola and Russia’ (Meredith, 617). It was later admitted that some state funds had been placed in private Swiss bank accounts but this was justified as ‘commonplace in countries facing exceptional situations’ (617). Angola refused to give the IMF any information on the Russian debt deal on the grounds that it ‘wound infringe on national sovereignty’ (618).
This and a series of other claims became known as the ‘Angolagate’ investigation (Meredith, 617).
It’s not only Angola ….
‘According to official figures published in 2005, Nigeria’s leaders stole $220 million [oil revenue] over a 4 year period. This recent article from Al Jazeera, ‘Nigeria Seizes $21 million linked to Diezani Alison-Madueke’ (28th August 2017) may be of interest to you:
Gabon’s ruler, Omar Bongo, made himself one of the richest men in the world during his 41 tenure in office. 2 years before he died in 2009 a French investigation revealed that he possessed 66 bank accounts, 183 cars and 39 luxury properties in France alone…. Equatorial Guinea’s oil revenues rose to $9 billion in 2010, but remained in the private presence of its brutal dictator, Obiang Nguema, and members of his family; like dos Santos in Angola, Obiang insisted that management of oil revenues be kept state secret.
Libya’s vast oil wealth was controlled by Colonel Gaddafi and members of his family. The Libyan Investment Authority, a $70 billion investment fund with multiple interests around the world, was treated as a family business…’ (Meredith, 698-699).
The Dos Santos family stronghold
Dos Santos may be stepping down as the country’s leader but he’s certainly not handing over ‘the key’, to use BBC Africa’s analogy. His British educated daughter Isabel dos Santos is said to be Africa’s richest woman. According to FORBES magazine, she is worth US $3.5 billion. Isabel has been given control of the state owned oil company, Sonongol, although it is in financial trouble both as a result of the declining price of oil and concerns about money laundering and corruption, thereby meaning that international players are less keen to invest.
Dos Santos met Isabel’s Russian chess champion mother in Azerbaijan when they were both studying Engineering and it was here, in Baku, Azerbaijan, that Isabel was born. When the two divorced, Isabel moved to London with her mother where she attended St Paul’s girl’s school in South West London before embarking on a degree in Electrical Engineering at Kings College, London. At St Paul’s School she took A-Levels in Maths, Further Maths and Physics. She also speaks 6 languages: Russian, Portuguese, English, French, Italian and Spanish.
A conflict of interest?
In addition to being given charge of the state national oil company, Isabel dos Santos also has her own private oil company called Isoil. She has been privately allocated ownership of Blocks KON 9 and KON 17 of the Kwanza basin off the coast of Angola, where a lot of the oil exploration takes place. The Congo basin is adjacent and also within the zone of Angola’s oil fields.
Back in 2015, some Angolan companies were involved in a bidding process for exploration of some of the oil blocks in both basins but Isabel is said to have cancelled the tendering process. The bidding process was supposed to have offered preference to Angolan companies. The injured parties are now demanding some US $80 million in compensation for financial losses incurred as a result of taking part in the bid.
This is one of the reasons for the financial struggles that the state owned oil company are going through right now; that and the drop in the price of oil. In June this year, British owned BP pulled out of Block 24 in the Kwanza basin saying that the drilling results were disappointing, there were high operation costs and unfavourable fiscal terms.
The other reason is that Isabel is finding it hard to obtain credit from international financial markets due to the conflicts of interests that arise between her private business interests and those of the Angolan state.
Some positive benefits to the domestic agenda on the horizon
Isabel recently gave an address at LSE on her projects to improve Angola’s infrastructure, communications network and domestic food production.
Isabel dos Santos is involved in a project called the Luanda Masterplan, which she became part of in 2009 and which she made reference to in her address to LSE. This masterplan is for urban development and involves improving transport links.
Isabel frequently alludes to Angola’s growing middle class. Since she has been involved in politics, domestic food production has gone up to 60%, whereas before a lot of food was imported. This is because much of the agricultural production and been decimated by the civil war. Angola now offers a large number of banks, even in the countryside, and a telecoms service. The next project on the agenda, she says, is energy. If energy is too expensive, Angola can’t be efficient.
Isabel’s other sources of income and personal life
She has a 25% stake in United, Angola’s first private mobile phone operator. She also has a 28.8% stake in Zon, a Portuguese media conglomerate.
In November 2015, the BBC named Isabel as one of the most 100 influential women in the world.
In 2003, she married Sindika Dokolo from Zaire in the DRC who she met whilst studying Electrical Engineering at Kings. He is the son of a millionaire banking tycoon from Kinshasa (DRC) and has a Danish mother. He is a Congolese art collector. Their wedding is thought to have cost US $4 million and many African heads of state attended.
Isabel currently has 4 homes: Luanda (Angola), London, Lisbon (Portugal) and Johannesburg (South Africa).
Any other powerful children?
Dos Santos’s son, Jose Filomeno dos Santos, chairs Angola’s $5 billion sovereign wealth fund. There are others too but these are the main ones in terms of influence.
The Dos Santos family have economic interests not only in Angola and Portugal but in Brazil and China also.
Who is the most likely candidate to win in this week’s elections?
Dos Santos has put forward 63 year old defence minister Joao Lourenco as his candidate for president and as of today, 25th August 2017, the All Africa News website says that the MPLA has taken the lead with 64.57% of the vote. Figures are yet to be confirmed.
What will happen to the current president?
In addition to remaining leader of the MPLA, he has recently been guaranteed lifelong immunity from prosecution. In February 2017, his vice president was placed under investigation in Portugal for bribing a judge to drop an investigation into his money laundering in Portugal which involved buying expensive properties.
Irene Neto, daughter of the first post independent President, Agostinho Neto, has spoken out against the decision of the National Assembly (Angola’s parliament) to grant him the privilege of lifelong immunity, saying that he has amassed so much money during his presidency, he has benefited enough. Neto claims that dos Santos frequently treated the Treasury as his own private bank and bought loyalty.
Who are the political parties who stood in the election this week and how well have they done?
MPLA: The oldest party in Angola, founded in 1956 by Angola’s first president post independence, Agostinho Neto. This is the present ruling party and has been the only party to lead Angola post independence. In 2012 they took 71.84% of the vote and this week, around 64.57%, it is estimated.
UNITA: The National Union for the Total Independence of Angola. Founded in 1966, they fought alongside the MPLA for independence prior to it and once independence was granted, they fought against them in Angola’s civil war. Savimbi was their leader until he was killed in 2002, which led to the eventual end of the civil war. They are the opposing faction and the other main political party. In the last elections held in 2012, they took 20% of the vote. It is estimated that they have taken 24.4% this week.
CASA-CE: A coalition of smaller parties. They won 6% of the vote in the 2012 elections. This week, they have taken around 8.56% of the vote.
PRS: The Social Renewal Party. Founded 1991. In 2012, they took 1.7% and this week, around 1.37%.
FNLA: National Liberation Front of Angola. Founded by Roberto Holden in 1954. In 2012 they took 1.13% of the vote and this week, around 0.95%.
APN: The opposition APN was legalised by the Constitutional Court on 12 August 2015. It was born from the defunct Nova Democracia-União Eleitoral (ND-UE) coalition. (http://www.angop.ao/angola/en_us/noticias/politica/2017/6/30/Election2017-APN-proposes-two-capital-cities,ea07a7c6-6e23-4498-bbcf-207628a08627.html).
This week it is estimated that APN have taken a 0.52% share of the vote.
Participation has been estimated at 76.83 %
Above figures taken from All Africa News Website which alludes to French journalist Sonia Rolley’s twitter account: https://twitter.com/soniarolley/status/900754037586448385?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw&ref_url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.africanews.com%2F2017%2F08%2F25%2Flive-angola-elects-mps-and-president-as-dos-santos-bows-out%2F
How do elections work in Angola?
Everyone over the age of 18 votes and voter registration in Angola is compulsory. They don’t vote directly for a president but the leader of the party with the majority vote takes on that role. MPs are elected for a 5 year term.
How much power is dos Santos’ selected candidate for President likely to have?
Should Lourenco win, and the above figures are indicative of that, there will be limits to his power. The oil company is state owned and in the control of dos Santos’ daughter; the diamond company is state owned; the sovereign wealth fund is in the hands of dos Santos’ son and the military and the police are still loyal to dos Santos. A recent law said that the newly elected President cannot sack the head of the army, police or intelligence for 8 years after they are elected; all of whom will no doubt have been bought off by dos Santos in previous years.
How are the young people in Angola likely to have voted?
Many of them favour the main opposition party, UNITA, the former Angolan rebel group. They haven’t seen many of the trickle down benefits from the oil revenue. More than one third of Angola’s population, which is 25 million, live below the poverty line. UNITA are keen to tap into anger over the economy. The median age is 18, which means that most Angolans are too young to remember the civil war that finally ended in 2002.
What will be Angola’s immediate foreign policy priorities?
According to Alex Vines writing for Chatham House a few days ago, the DRC. Vines says that the DRC is in the throes of mass slaughter. In brief: in 1965 in former Belgian DRC, Mobutu came to power in a coup. His crimes are known to many. The DRC’s current president is Joseph Kabila. His father came to power in 1997 when he ousted Mobutu. In 2001, Kabila’s father was assassinated by his own bodyguard and Joseph took over. He has ben in power now since his father’s assassination and has served two terms. Kabila’s term was supposed to expire in December 2016 but he has said that the DRC can’t afford elections and has refused to step down. Since then, militias have been formed by those who object to his refusal to stand down. The conflict escalated when the leader of one militia that was formed in a local community was killed last year. According to the UN, the worst atrocities are being carried out by Bana Mura, a government sponsored militia sent out to crush those who are objecting and the rebelling militias. The atrocities are horrendous and I will be doing a separate article on that.
Did you know?
According to the BBC in an article written in June 2017, Angola is the most expensive country for expats to live in the world. Hong Kong is now in second place with Tokyo, Zurich and Singapore taking the other top 5 spots. According to the BBC, the cost of renting an unfurnished 3 bedroom house of ‘international standards’ in Angola’s capital city is £10,300 per month. Wow. That’s pretty hefty.
Isabel dos Santos’s address to students at LSE in April 2017:
Africa News, 25th August 2017 (Provides ongoing live coverage of the election):
The Financial Times, 23rd August 2017, ‘Angola has potential, if only it could realise it’:
The Financial Times, 23rd August 2017, ‘Angolans vote in election marking the end of the president’s 38 year rule’:
The Financial Times, 20th August 2017, ‘Angolan President to Step Down’:
The Washington Post, 23rd August 2017, ‘He outlasted Reagan, Castro and Gorbachev. Now Angola’s 78 year old leader is stepping down’:
Bloomberg, 21st August 2017, ‘Angola enters a new political era with its economy struggling’:
The Economist, 17th August 2017, ‘The MPLA’s grip on Angola is weakening’:
BBC, 22nd August 2017, ‘Is Dos Santos really giving up power?’:
The Guardian, 20th August 2017, ‘Angola on the cusp of change’:
The Guardian, 24th August 2017, ‘Angola Ruling Party Claims Victory’:
Oil Price, 17th August 2017, ‘Angolan oil confident ahead of critical elections’:
Alex Vines for Chatham House, 21st August 2017, Angola’s Foreign Policy Priority: the DRC. Chatham House have many other recent and very useful articles about Angola on their twitter feed and web site:
Meredith, Martin, ‘The State of Africa: A History of the Continent Since Independence’, Simon & Schuster, my edition (2013). First edition published 2011.
The Economist Intelligence Unit on Angola:
Some background on Isabel’s brother, ‘Zenu’, who has been appointed head of Angola’s sovereign wealth fund (half brother actually, they have different mothers):
If you want to read more about Isabel’s husband, Somali Update, 3rd June 2017, do an interview with him. The article is mainly about his art collection but there is also some interesting information about the DRC and Angola:
African Arguments, 17th July 2017. Talks about the ‘fake’ allegations against Isabel’s husband after he criticised the DRC president and for said ‘fake’ charges, he was sentenced to a year in prison. He has of course not served this is he lives with his wife and not in the DRC:
For more information on the violence in the DRC:
All Africa News web site, 11th August 2017, ‘Opposition Elites won’t save us’:
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