Connect with us

Africa Exploitation

The Downfall of an Angolan Dynasty



The crumbling of the dos Santos family empire reveals how Western companies allegedly enabled corruption in Africa.

MAY 5, 2021, 11:57 AM

Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Africa Brief.

This week’s highlights: Former Angolan billionaire Isabel dos Santos’s empire is crumbling, Zimbabwe releases fantastical unemployment figures, and will Fela Kuti finally enter the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?

If you would like to receive Africa Brief in your inbox every Wednesday, please sign up here.

From “Princess” to Pariah

Once Africa’s richest woman, Isabel dos Santos has seen her empire crumble after the publication of the so-called Luanda Leaks, a trove of documents that accused her and her associates of corruption.

In January 2020, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) released more than 715,000 emails, contracts, accounts, and other documents showing how dos Santos allegedly used her political connections to build a multibillion-dollar empire. The leaks shone a light on the network of Western companies that allegedly enabled the looting of one of Africa’s largest oil producers.

In the past month, she has begun to engage with the press and social media to maintain her innocence, blaming her financial woes on the scandal’s global fallout and posting inspirational messages to her more than 270,000 Instagram followers.

Downfall of a dynasty. Dos Santos is the daughter of José Eduardo dos Santos, one of Africa’s longest serving leaders who ruled Angola for 38 years as head of the country and the liberation-movement-turned ruling party the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA).

During the last decade of her father’s rule, Isabel dos Santos built an empire that spanned the telecom and energy sectors, a supermarket chain, a brewery, and significant investments in Angola’s former colonizer, Portugal. Amassing a personal fortune of more than $2 billion, dos Santos maintained she was a self-made woman.

“I’ve always said that if my father wanted to privilege his children and make them tremendously wealthy, the easiest option would’ve been to grant oil rights or concessions or trading contracts in the oil sector. I haven’t built anything in oil,” she told Bloomberg in April.

But the “Princess,” as she was nicknamed in Luanda, didn’t need oil. There were other jewels in her crown: a 25 percent stake in Angola’s largest mobile operator, Unitel; part ownership of one of the country’s largest banks, Banco BIC; a 42.5 percent stake in its Portuguese counterpart, EuroBIC; and stakes in Portuguese telecom firm NOS and the recently launched Angolan brewing company Sodiba.

A crumbling empire. Oil may not have been central to dos Santos’s business empire, but her activities in the energy sector have led to serious allegations of fraud. In Angola, she has been charged with embezzlement and money laundering over alleged corruption at Sonangol, the country’s state-owned oil company, which dos Santos briefly chaired between 2016 and 2017.

Of particular concern is a deal in which Sonangol, under dos Santos, sold off a 40 percent stake in an offshore holding company to an entity owned by her husband, the billionaire art collector Sindika Dokolo. (Dokolo died in a scuba diving accident in October 2020.) The national oil company’s lawyers now claim the deal did not benefit Angola but served only to enrich the former first family.

This month, a Dutch court will rule on whether Angolan authorities can seize a stake in the Portuguese firm Galp Energia that is still linked to dos Santos’s family, while in Portugal authorities have nationalized her majority stake in Efacec Power Solutions, an electricity infrastructure company.

Dos Santos denies wrongdoing, saying the Luanda Leaks documents were falsified. “The truth will come out, I had the mission to ‘save Sonangol’ from the years of harmful management that left it bankrupt. Today there are those who want me to be the ‘scapegoat,’” she wrote in a September 2020 Instagram post.

International impact. Allegations against dos Santos have had international ripple effects. A tax practitioner resigned from global auditing firm PwC after the leaks exposed how the company allegedly made $1 million from projects connected to dos Santos.

The company told the ICIJ: “Since then, among other things, a number of senior employees have left PwC or been subject to other remedial measures.” Portuguese regulators are also investigating “the role of Portugal and of Portuguese enablers in the alleged corruption and money laundering schemes,” Karina Carvalho, executive director at Transparency International Portugal told Foreign Policy.

New regime, old tactics. When Isabel dos Santos’s father stepped down in 2017, he may have expected his hand-picked successor, João Lourenço, would allow his empire to survive.

Instead, the new regime cracked down on the dos Santos dynasty. Isabel dos Santos’s half-brother, Jose Filomeno, faces five years in prison for allegedly siphoning funds from Angola’s sovereign wealth fund; and younger sister Welwitschia “Tchizé” dos Santos was suspended from the party for “unjust enrichment” and claims her media company is being targeted by authorities.

But Angola’s rot ran far deeper than the dos Santos regime—earlier exposés have alleged the MPLA and the Angolan military have all benefited from the country’s wealth while most of its citizens live in poverty. Last year, the president refused to fire his chief of staff after he was implicated in corruption; when citizens protested, police responded with violence, a reminder of tactics from the dos Santos era.

Tip of the iceberg? As Africa’s richest woman, dos Santos attracted a slew of media attention—and so has her downfall. But this overshadows what her rise and fall represent: the role of global companies in the corruption that still plagues Africa.

“The Luanda Leaks investigation was never just about one city, one country, or one person. The investigation used leaked records—as well as months of on-the-ground reporting and data analysis—to expose how professionals, especially in Europe and the United States, made good money and ignored warning signs of possible financial wrongdoing,” said Will Fitzgibbon, a senior reporter at the ICIJ.

The Week Ahead

May 4 to May 13: U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman travels to Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan.

May 6: The International Criminal Court will sentence former child soldier-turned-commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda Dominic Ongwen.

May 6: The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs will hold a briefing on South Sudan.

What We’re Watching

Elite corruption in Nigeria. Investigators looking to uproot corruption in Nigeria should look to London real estate. Chatham House researchers have pointed to 800 properties owned by politicians in London and Dubai to trace illicit financial flows of up to $400 million dollars.

Most of these properties are held by families, shell companies, and other proxies, researchers said at a workshop aimed at training Nigeria’s forensic investigators. The British education sector has also become an attractive way to move illicit funds offshore under the guise of educating children in elite schools, according to a separate report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace published early this year.

Women chant slogans during a demonstration calling for the repeal of family law in Sudan outside the Sudanese Ministry of Justice on International Women’s Day in Khartoum, on March 8, 2020.ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Women’s rights in Sudan. Last week, Sudan finally ratified the United Nations’ 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Yet, the majority male ruling transitional council still had reservations, refusing to endorse women’s equal rights in marriage and parenting.

Women were instrumental in the 2018 and 2019 mass demonstrations that led to the ousting of long-time leader Omar al-Bashir. However, women’s rights activists say the transitional government they helped usher in continues to curtail gender equality because it’s unwilling to challenge conservative norms and does just enough to appease the international community.

Zimbabwe’s questionable unemployment data. Despite a crumbling economy worsened by the pandemic, Zimbabwe recorded an official unemployment rate of only 6 percent, on par with the United States. Small to Medium Enterprises Development Minister Sithembiso Nyoni pointed to the large numbers of Zimbabweans making ends meet in the informal sector.

Where Nyoni saw resilience and self-reliance, observers say the country has failed to create jobs in a negative growth economy, and the unemployment rate is likely closer to 80 percent. The country has routinely misreported its unemployment figures in the past as the ruling party blames external forces for a failed economy.

Chart of the Week

Online media may represent the potential for greater freedom, but authoritarian leaders continue to curtail freedom of expression. As the world marked World Press Freedom Day on May 3, digital rights organization Access Now recorded 20 internet blackouts in African countries last year. Only Asia had more blackouts.

This Week in Culture

Will Fela Kuti finally enter the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame? The Nigerian multi-instrumentalist and arguably Africa’s most influential musician may finally be recognized by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Kuti has already been immortalized in the annals of African music, and his performances, musicianship, and political messaging have laid the foundation for a generation of musicians in Africa and abroad.

His fans, however, say the recognition from an institution that’s often slow to recognize the contributions of musicians of color is long overdue, if only to make sure his music travels even further and is heard by a broader audience.

American bass legend Bootsy Collins saw Kuti in Lagos while touring there with musician James Brown in 1970. “Fela would jump off the stage. He would sing. He would dance. Then he’d jump up on the keyboard. He was really deep,” he told Rolling Stone. “It was just mind-blowing.”

African Voices

Will Eritrean troops leave Ethiopia? “It’s not going to happen,” wrote Seeye Abraha Hagos, a former Ethiopian defense minister and senior member of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), in Foreign Policy. “Eritrea’s involvement in the current war in Tigray is not a border or a national security concern. Instead, it is an opportunity for [Eritrean leader] Isaias [Afwerki] to unleash his wrath on his old enemy, the TPLF.”

Nelson Mandela in Cuba. The late South African president’s friendship with Cuban leader Fidel Castro is well documented. In the New Frame, former anti-apartheid activist Raymond Suttner draws attention to Mandela’s 1991 trip to the island soon after his release from prison. The visit left an indelible mark on Mandela, not only influencing his policies but also his stance during negotiations with the apartheid regime a few years later.

The hustlers of Nairobi. “Hustling in Nairobi is born of urban marginalization and underinvestment in infrastructure, resources, and jobs,” wrote Lewis Mwaura in Africa Is a Country. The repression of the city’s informal traders has even deeper roots, and by harassing vendors, Kenyan authorities are perpetuating a dark colonial legacy.

Lynsey Chutel is the writer of Foreign Policy’s weekly Africa Brief. She is a journalist based in Johannesburg. Twitter: @lynseychutel

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Africa Exploitation

Probe Into Who Benefits Most In Nigeria’s Extractives Sector



The Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, NEITI, says that it is forging closer ties with the Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC, to unravel the actual owners of oilfields and other assets in the country. Oil is Nigeria’s main export and a cloud of uncertainty hangs over U.S.$62 billion in outstanding taxes and royalties owed to Nigeria by major oil operators. Executive Secretary of NEITI, Orji Ogbonnaya said: “the exclusion of information about our natural resources was at a huge cost to the Nigerian economy and affects the country’s optimisation of revenue from its natural resource wealth”. Another sector under investigation is the solid mineral sector which is experiencing revenue leakages, waste and other illegal activities.

Continue Reading

Africa Exploitation

James Ibori: UK returns $5.8m stolen by ex-governor to Nigeria



Some $5.8m (£4.2m) recovered by UK agencies that was stolen by a Nigerian former governor and laundered in Britain have now been returned to Nigeria, the Nigerian authorities say.

Former Delta state Governor James Ibori was convicted of money laundering in the UK in 2012.

Prosecutors say he stole an estimated $165m (£117m) from the oil-rich state.

A Bombardier Challenger jet is among the items listed in court documents for a confiscation order against Ibori.

The £4.2m has been recovered from Ibori’s wife, sister and fiduciary agent, who were also convicted of money laundering.

Observers expect more money to be retrieved from Ibori himself.

Nigeria’s Attorney General Abubakar Malami hailed the return of the loot as a “demonstration of the recognition of reputation Nigeria earns” for managing recovered money, according to a statement from his spokesperson.

Who is James Ibori?

James Ibori went from petty thief to Nigerian state governor to convicted money launderer.

He went to the UK in the 1980s and worked as a cashier at a DIY shop in London.

Ibori was convicted in 1991 for stealing from the store but then returned to Nigeria and got involved in politics.

When he ran for Delta State governor, he lied about his date of birth to hide his UK conviction – which would have prevented him standing for office.

He became governor in 1999 and soon began taking money from state coffers. Delta state is the source of much of Nigeria’s oil.

Why did the British authorities convict him?

The British police began to take an interest in Ibori again in 2005 after they came across a purchase order for a private jet, made through his solicitor in London.

He evaded capture in Nigeria after a mob of supporters attacked police, but was eventually arrested in Dubai in 2010 and extradited to the UK.

He was convicted on 10 counts of fraud worth a total of nearly £50m in 2012.

After his release in 2016, Ibori was placed straight into immigration detention.

The publication of the court judgement revealed a Home Office email which had recommended keeping him in immigration detention to buy time to work out how to recover at least £57m.

What happened to Ibori?

Once he was eventually released, he returned to Nigeria and sued the Home Office for unlawful detention.

Ibori won the case but was awarded just £1 compensation.

In 2020 prosecutors in a UK court asked a judge to make a confiscation order against Ibori of £117.7m.

Court documents list several bank accounts owned by Ibori, as well as more than 10 properties around the world, ranging from flats on London’s famous Abbey Road to a £5m mansion in Nigeria’s capital Abuja.

The documents also list a Bentley car and a Bombardier Challenger jet valued at just under £17m.

How have Nigerians reacted?

The UK authorities’ announcement in March about how it promised to return the money to Nigeria provoked outrage.

The agreement laid out that the money would be used to contribute towards building a bridge and two roads.

The bridge, called the Second Niger Bridge, connects Delta state with neighbouring Anambra State.

But the two roads – the Lagos-Ibadan Express road and the Abuja-Kano road – are more than three hours’ drive from Delta state.

“It is bad news that this money is not going back to the victims,” said David Ugolor the Director African network on Environmental and Economic Justice on Tuesday.

Mr Ugolor is among the critics who argued that this money should have specifically gone to people in Delta state instead.

Continue Reading

Africa Exploitation

Africa is not poor, we are stealing its wealth

It’s time to change the way we talk and think about Africa.



Photo: Shutterstock

24 May 2017

Nick Dearden

Africa is poor, but we can try to help its people.

It’s a simple statement, repeated through a thousand images, newspaper stories and charity appeals each year, so that it takes on the weight of truth. When we read it, we reinforce assumptions and stories about Africa that we’ve heard throughout our lives. We reconfirm our image of Africa.

Try something different. Africa is rich, but we steal its wealth.

INFOGRAPHIC: Mapping Africa’s natural resources

That’s the essence of a report (pdf) from several campaign groups released today. Based on a set of new figures, it finds that sub-Saharan Africa is a net creditor to the rest of the world to the tune of more than $41bn. Sure, there’s money going in: around $161bn a year in the form of loans, remittances (those working outside Africa and sending money back home), and aid.

But there’s also $203bn leaving the continent. Some of this is direct, such as $68bn in mainly dodged taxes. Essentially multinational corporations “steal” much of this – legally – by pretending they are really generating their wealth in tax havens. These so-called “illicit financial flows” amount to around 6.1 percent of the continent’s entire gross domestic product (GDP) – or three times what Africa receives in aid.

Then there’s the $30bn that these corporations “repatriate” – profits they make in Africa but send back to their home country, or elsewhere, to enjoy their wealth. The City of London is awash with profits extracted from the land and labour of Africa.

OPINION: Africa’s natural resources – From curse to a blessing

There are also more indirect means by which we pull wealth out of Africa. Today’s report estimates that $29bn a year is being stolen from Africa in illegal logging, fishing and trade in wildlife. $36bn is owed to Africa as a result of the damage that climate change will cause to their societies and economies as they are unable to use fossil fuels to develop in the way that Europe did. Our climate crisis was not caused by Africa, but Africans will feel the effect more than most others. Needless to say, the funds are not currently forthcoming.

If African countries are to benefit from foreign investment, they must be allowed to – even helped to – legally regulate that investment and the corporations that often bring it.

In fact, even this assessment is enormously generous, because it assumes that all of the wealth flowing into Africa is benefitting the people of that continent. But loans to governments and the private sector (at more than $50bn) can turn into unpayable and odious debt.

Ghana is losing 30 per cent of its government revenue to debt repayments, paying loans which were often made speculatively, based on high commodity prices, and carrying whopping rates of interest. One particularly odious aluminium smelter in Mozambique, built with loans and aid money, is currently costing the country £21 for every £1 that the Mozambique government received.

British aid, which is used to set up private schools and health centres, can undermine the creation of decent public services, which is why such private schools are being closed down in Uganda and Kenya. Of course, some Africans have benefitted from this economy. There are now around 165,000 very rich Africans, with combined holdings of $860bn.

But, given the way the economy works, where do these people mainly keep their wealth?

In tax havens.

A 2014 estimate suggests that rich Africans were holding a massive $500bn in tax havens. Africa’s people are effectively robbed of wealth by an economy that enables a tiny minority of Africans to get rich by allowing wealth to flow out of Africa.

So what is the answer? Western governments would like to be seen as generous beneficiaries, doing what they can to “help those unable to help themselves”. But the first task is to stop perpetuating the harm they are doing. Governments need to stop forcing African governments to open up their economy to privatisation, and their markets to unfair competition.

OPINION: Investment in Africa – There’s room for everyone

If African countries are to benefit from foreign investment, they must be allowed to – even helped to – legally regulate that investment and the corporations that often bring it. And they might want to think about not putting their faith in the extractives sector.

With few exceptions, countries with abundant mineral wealth experience poorer democracy, weaker economic growth, and worse development. To prevent tax dodging, governments must stop prevaricating on action to address tax havens. No country should tolerate companies with subsidiaries based in tax havens operating in their country.

Aid is tiny, and the very least it can do, if spent well, is to return some of Africa’s looted wealth. We should see it both as a form of reparations and redistribution, just as the tax system allows us to redistribute wealth from the richest to the poorest within individual societies. The same should be expected from the global “society”.

To even begin to embark on such an ambitious programme, we must change the way we talk and think about Africa. It’s not about making people feel guilty, but correctly diagnosing a problem in order to provide a solution. We are not, currently, “helping” Africa. Africa is rich. Let’s stop making it poorer. 

Nick Dearden is the director of UK campaigning organisation Global Justice Now. He was previously the director of Jubilee Debt Campaign.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

Continue Reading