By Tafi Mhaka
How much wealth and influence can a single family have in the leading oil-producing nation in Africa?
You should digest these unsettling facts about Angola before you ponder this question: Although it is classified as an upper middle income country by the World Bank, Angola suffers from very high rural poverty, and roughly 30% of the population lives below the international poverty line. The Southern African nation also has one of the worst infant mortality rates in Sub Saharan Africa. And life expectancy in Angola – at 46.5 years – is one of the lowest in the world.
But do not let the poverty indicators fool you into thinking all Angolans have it rough. Some fabulously wealthy Angolans fly the national flag high for the nation of 25 million in a number of dubious respects. The top man himself is reportedly about to make history this year simply by stepping down from the presidency.
Jose Eduardo dos Santos has decided to call it quits after 37 years in power. He is the second-longest serving leader in the world. And his time in office thus far has outlasted the tenures of Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush, Bill Clinton, George W Bush and Barack Obama of America.
When Dos Santos became president of Angola in September of 1979 – Michael Jackson was riding high on the Billboard charts with a funky disco number titled Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough, the first single released from his fifth studio album Off The Wall.
Dos Santos has had his fill seemingly. So have his family members. And so have some of the people of Angola who have had enough of Dos Santos. Allegations of corruption and a poor human rights record have blighted the Dos Santos administration for a long time.
The civil war in Angola did hinder social and economic development in Angola for 27 years. But corruption at the highest levels of government appears to have dampened any hopes of Angola making the most of its vast oil reserves and rich mineral deposits for the benefit of ordinary Angolans.
In a country where many citizens live on less than $US2 a day, the leaders of Angola are apparently staggeringly corrupt and rich. Not least the son of the president: one Jose Filomeno de Sousa dos Santos.
He is the chairman of Fundo Soberano de Angola, a US$5 billion sovereign wealth fund. His sister Isabel is the CEO of Sonangol – the state oil company – and the wealthiest woman in Africa, allegedly, with a net worth of US$3.2 billion. This is according to Forbes Magazine.
The Dos Santos clan must be phenomenally talented in business – or the CEO of Angola Inc. is plainly nepotistic or morally bankrupt – or both. But Isabel and Jose Jnr. are not the only Dos Santos family members who have been appointed to powerful positions by Jose Snr.
Fernando da Piedade Dias dos Santos – a cousin of President Dos Santos – was Prime Minister of Angola from 2002 to 2008. He has also served as Interior Minister, and held the office of Vice-President of Angola from 2010 to 2012. He is currently enjoying his second stint as President of the National Assembly courtesy of his selfless cousin.
Sindika Dokolo – a Congolese businessman who is married to Isabel – sits on the board of Amorim Energia. It owns a third of Galp, the Portuguese petrol giant. He is also a board member of Nova Cimangola – a massive cement production company.
Transparency International rated Angola 163 out of 167 countries in its Corruption Perceptions Index of 2015.
The Dos Santos regime also ranks notoriously low in the press freedom stakes. The only daily newspaper and national radio station in Angola are run by the state. While journalists are routinely harassed for reporting on corruption and human rights abuses as well.
Should Dos Santos follow through on his pledge to retire, he will leave Angola in the good hands of his family and cronies. The people of Angola might have to wait much longer before they run the country for a change.