Angola’s New President Shakes the dos Santos’ Dynasty

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If the recent political moves by Angola’s new President, João Lourenço are anything to go by, they clearly show that the new President is, in fact, not a puppet as many had believed. Single-handedly hand-picked by the former President Eduardo dos Santos, after 38 years in near absolute power, however, just five months after taking over the mantle of leadership from former President dos Santos, the actions of President João Lourenço have caused fear amongst the once untouchable Angolans, including members of dos Santos’ family. Absolutely, the former President and family have every reason to be worried, if President João Lourenço keeps to his words to fight corruption and maintains the momentum.

Immediately after taking over power, President João Lourenço, who was the defence minister, surprised many by dismissing Isabel dos Santos, the billionaire daughter of the former President, as the  head of Sonangol, the state-owned oil company, which critics believe the Santos’ and his close allies have used for more than 38 years to milk the State and enrich themselves. Many have accused Isabel dos Santos, who is the richest woman in Africa, of excessive corruption, but she has always denied the accusation. But the denial is not enough to clear the name of dos Santos from the alleged corruption.

Keeping up his promise to tackle corruption, recently, Angola’s finance minister Archer Mangueira has promised a thorough investigation into the management of Angola’s sovereign wealth fund. Many people believe the fund has been created as one of the many avenues the dos Santos’ and friends use to steal any siphon money outside the country. Archer Mangueira was responding to a question from a journalist over the alleged $41m payment received by Angola’s sovereign wealth fund’s asset manager Jean Claude Bastos. Many believe that the fund, which began with $5bn and was initially managed by former President dos Santos’ son Jose Filomeno is a trick to enrich the former President and family. Although all the accused have denied any wrongdoing, some have argued that with his actions so far, it is clear that President João Lourenço is not only in control, he has so far shown that he can equally dig deep into the dos Santos’ alleged dirty hidden practices.

In his inauguration speech in September, President João Lourenço promised to courageous fight corruption and hold corrupt elements in the government accountable. Many dismissed the promise as a political rhetoric. Even when President João Lourenço criticised the monopolies in telecoms and cement, the industries where the former president and family have financial interests in, few believed he could have the courage to go after Ms. Isabel dos Santos, who has allegedly made billions from those two industries, amongst others. But the new President has so far surprised critics and kept to his words. Mr. Lourenço disposed the country’s central bank governor and abolished a government communications department, the moves seen by many as an attempt to suffocate illicit flows of money overseas by dos Santos’ family and cronies.

The recent appointment of Mr. Carlos Saturnino as the President’s secretary of state for oil was a big blow to Ms dos Santos, who sacked Carlos Saturnino from Sonangol last year. As if that was not enough, Carlos Saturnino was in charge of a 30-day review of the activities of Sonangol. The sacking of Isabel dos Santos is there not a big surprise to those who know the depth of corruption in Angola. While some people have argued that President João Lourenço is serious about fighting corruption, others believe his moves are just theatrical and lip-service, aimed at appeasing ordinary Angolans who voted for the MPLA party on the promise to fight corruption. Yet another group argues the new President cannot push far because few Angolans believe that the new President is a saint, in view of the endemic corruption in Angola, which makes it impossible to separate the business and economic interests of the Angolan elites.

Perhaps, President João Lourenço needs to do more to convince his critics and many Angolans who have hardly benefitted from the enormous mineral resources of the country, that he is fully determined to fight corruption. Unless Angolans and the rest of the world see the alleged corrupt elites, including some members of dos Santos’ family behind the bar, many would see  President João Lourenço as yet another political hypocrite.