The president of Angola, Joao Lourenco, recently fired the daughter of his predecessor as head of the country’s state oil company Sonangol. The move is seen as a bid to clean up Angola’s endemic graft, tackle nepotism and revive its listless economy. Angola, which along with Nigeria is one of Africa’s top oil producers, has been in the grip of an economic crisis since 2014 as the global price of oil has remained flat.
According to Alex Vines, an analyst at the Chatham House think tank in London. “A number of international oil companies wrote last month to President Lourenco asking for reform… structural reform of Sonangol is the result,” he said.
Isabel Dos Santos had been in charge of her country’s most important corporate entity since June 2016 after being controversially appointed by her father, José Eduardo dos Santos. At the time, she dismissed criticism of her appointment telling BBC Focus on Africa radio that, “The key reason for my appointment is because I come from the business sector and I’ve had a track record of building business.”
With a net-worth of more than $3 billion, dos Santos is Africa’s richest woman as the only African woman named in Forbes’ list of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women in 2017. However, much of her wealth is linked to her family’s near-total control of the country’s resources for the past four decades. dos Santos’ assets range from stakes in the Angola’s largest telecoms company to one of its largest banks. Beyond the country’s shores, dos Santos also owns lucrative stakes in Portuguese companies.
Having served as defence minister under president dos Santos, Lourenço wasn’t expected to go against the family’s interests. But the first indication came when Lourenço appointed Carlos Saturnino; who’d been sacked from Sonangol by president dos Santos last year; as his secretary of state for oil and removed the central bank governor.
The success of Lourenço’s presidency is inextricably linked to Sonangol as the company manages Angola’s vast oil wealth. Over the past two years, with the company hit hard by the global drop in oil prices, the government has cut public spending. The company’s operations have also been shrouded in secrecy and allegations of corruption throughout former president dos Santos’ regime. Those allegations are given more credence due to the poverty rates in Angola despite being Africa’s second largest oil producer. In fact, in 2016, a Legatum Institute report found that Angola has been “under-delivering” prosperity to its citizens.
It’s unclear if Isabel dos Santos’ sacking will be the first move to wrest control from her family as Jose Filomeno, dos Santos’ brother, remains in charge of Angola’s $5 billion sovereign wealth fund. Should he decide to, Lourenço might find going after his predecessor tricky as, three months before leaving office, former president dos Santos was granted a seat on the Council of the Republic, a presidential advisory body whose members enjoy immunity from prosecution.