by Rui Faro Saraiva
In a recent controversial article by Forbes magazine, Isabel dos Santos, businesswoman and daughter of the Angolan president José Eduardo dos Santos, was described as a billionaire who may have abused her public powers for her own illicit enrichment.
“For the past year FORBES has been tracing Isabel dos Santos' path to riches, reviewing a score of documents and speaking with dozens of people on the ground. As best as we can trace, every major Angolan investment held by Dos Santos stems either from taking a chunk of a company that wants to do business in the country or from a stroke of the president’s pen that cut her into the action. Her story is a rare window into the same, tragic kleptocratic narrative that grips resource-rich countries around the world.”
Isabel dos Santos, promptly denied Forbes’ allegations of unlawful enrichment and accused one of the co-authors of the article, Rafael Marques, of political activism. He is a renowned human rights activist and also the head of the Angolan anti-corruption NGO, MAKA Angola.
Additionally, some other important African personalities came to Dos Santos' defense. Donald Kaberuka, president of the African Development Bank, said, “Isabel is an example for all African women, and not only that, she is an example for all Africans”. This statement was delivered at the meeting of the 'BRICS Business Council' held in Johannesburg 19-20 August, gathering businessmen and investors from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, where measures and specific initiatives to boost ties, negotiation, trade, industrialization and investment among BRICS countries and Africa were discussed. Isabel dos Santos was present in the BRICS Business Council as a representative of Unitel, the Angolan mobile phone Company, and Banco BIC, Angola’s biggest private bank.
Isabel dos Santos also seems to be a key figure in the relations between China and Angola. She was recently interviewed by the China Daily, where she underlined that the industrial Chinese investors that want to create new factories and mines in Angola are the key players in the next developments of the deep relations between the two countries. Indeed, if we compare with the 1980’s, the current commercial trade between China and Angola is one thousand times bigger, as noted by Gao Kexiang, the Chinese ambassador in Luanda.
Isabel dos Santos may be Africa’s richest woman and one of the most important key players in the intricate Angolan power web. “Who is Isabel dos Santos?” seems to be a question with an easy answer. But the Forbes magazine may be triggering different questions.
Angola seems destined to be one of the most relevant and influential actors in Africa, particularly in the Southern African region. However, its political stability, economic growth and social development may face considerable challenges as a result of widespread corruption and embezzlement. Additionally, José Eduardo dos Santos, remains the planet’s third-longest-serving non-royal head of state, while “70% of Angolans live on less than $2 a day, and 10% of the country’s population is scrambling for food due to drought and bureaucratic neglect”.
So where’s the money going? This seems the most crucial question and its answer may have wide political, economic and social implications in Angola.