DW/DPA/Guilherme C. da Silva/Pedro B. Ndomba/Sifa News
Isabel dos Santos (43) is the oldest daughter of Jose Eduardo dos Santos, the President of Angola. She is Africa’s richest woman, with a fortune estimated at US$3.2 billion, according to Forbes. Angola, which is currently Africa’s biggest oil producer, has a poverty rate of about 40%.
Born in Europe – and to enjoy
Isabel was born in Baku, the capital of Arzebaijan, from a Russian mother Tatiana Kukanova, whom her father married when he was studying in the former Soviet Union. She studied electrical engineering at King’s College in London.
She is married to a DRC man Sindika Dokolo, who happens to be the son of a late Congolese millionaire from Kinshasa born from a Danish wife. Reports said the 2002 wedding in Luanda cost US$4 million and was attended by close to 1 000 guests, including heads of state and ministers and half of them relatives of the couple.
Huge business empire
While the majority of Angolans are said to be struggling to put food on the table, Isabel is enjoying herself and has over the years built up a huge business empire, much of it in the capital Luanda – one of the world’s most expensive cities.
And she continues to rise to the country’s summit, climbing faster and higher than anybody in the history of this former communist nation. Her father has recently appointed her chairperson of the board of Sonangol, the state-controlled oil company. Some are now predicting that she could be the country’s next president.
When you’re walking around Luanda, the capital of Angola, it is hard not to bump into at least one of Isabel dos Santos’ investments. She owns stakes in many of the country’s strategic business sectors, ranging from diamonds to banking, media and telecommunications, satellite TV and sports.
She owns 7% of the Portuguese oil and gas company Galp Energia, and controls Unitel, Angola’s largest cellphone company, with 81 stores in the capital alone and over 10 million clients in the country.
She also owns Candando, the country’s first supermarket and has stakes in banking groups BIC and BFA and in the cement company Nova Cimangola.
“We could talk about the health sector as well and her connections to the country’s big clinics, not to mention diamond businesses,” said Angolan opposition member Nelito Ekuikui.
Merit or privilege?
Some see Isabel as a positive example of African entrepreneurship, providing Angola with much-needed jobs in a country with a 24% unemployment rate. Youth unemployment is even higher. Other Angolans, like Nelito Ekuikui, do not look at it that way. “The dos Santos empire in Luanda is a monopoly,” he said.
“And that’s bad for the country because it is more difficult for other entrepreneurs to penetrate the market. If we had new entrepreneurs, we would have more jobs,” he added.
Angolan activist Benedito Jeremias thinks that being the president’s daughter made it easier for Isabel dos Santos in comparison with other investors.
“Everything she has comes from her father’s favoritism and privileges. It is not based on merit,” he told Deutcshe Welle (DW).
Angolan journalist Rafael Marques has been investigating the origins of Isabel’s fortune for many years. He said that her father, the head of state, played a crucial role in the construction of her empire.
Everything Isabel wants, her father makes possible, he told DW’s Portuguese for Africa service earlier this year. “Her interest in Luanda, as in other [businesses] related to the Angolan state, is to find easy ways to give her financial responsibility over big contracts through presidential decrees”, Marques said.
He believes that Isabel’s businesses give the president a means to extract money from the country. She has seven half siblings but it is unclear whether or not they share in the profit from the businesses as animosity among the family members has been well documented.
What’s her next move?
Opposition member Nelito Ekuikui thinks the 43-year-old businesswoman might now be looking for a new challenge. “Sonangol is Angola’s biggest company. After heading Sonangol, where will she go?”
Her reach even extends to Portugal, Angola’s former colonial ruler, where she is a major investor in the energy, financial and telecommunications sectors.
There isn’t much left for her to do in business, Ekuikui says, so “she might give politics a try.”
Activist Benedito Jeremias agrees, predicting that the daughter of the Angolan president might even be planning a future as her father’s successor.
“I believe she may already be giving orders backstage. The only thing left for her is to become president,” Jeremias said.
However, on Wednesday, Reuters news agency reported that Angola’s Supreme Court had asked President dos Santos to respond to an enquiry as to why he appointed his daughter head of the state oil firm Sonangol in June this year. The request was in response to a case filed by 14
Angolan lawyers who accuse the president of nepotism and abusing the country’s probity laws.
It seems that, for some Angolans, Isabel’s seemingly unstoppable acquisition of power has gone on for long enough.
But who cares about the country’s courts, when judges and magistrates are in the state’s pockets and some are reportedly hold membership cards of the party,” one legal expert said, on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter and also fearing arrest for criticising the government.
“The court case is a waste of time and resources, and it’s just like water under the bridge. It will lake noise and will disappear, gone far away.”
(additional reporting and final editing by Issa Sikiti)
Photo: Isabel dos Santos, Africa’s richest woman. credit: DW/DPA