When Angolan president Joao Lourenço took office last September he pledged to tackle corruption and nepotism and began by dismantling the family dynasty created by his predecessor, Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, who had been in power for almost four decades.
He not only fired the entire board of Angola’s state oil company Sonangol, he got rid of its chair, Isabel dos Santos, dos Santos’ eldest daughter and said to be Africa’s richest woman.
She had been in charge of her country’s most important corporate entity since June 2016 after being controversially appointed by her father and prior to Lourenço’s presidency there were rumours that dos Santos eventually hoped to hand over the reigns of power to her.
With a net-worth of more than $3bn, dos Santos is Africa’s richest woman after she became 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 during the dos Santos presidency.
In the past month Lourenço has annulled four contracts her father awarded to her worth $22bn, all related to major infrastructural projects. Dos Santos, one of nine children and the daughter of her father’s first Russian-born wife, is now threatening to sue the Angolan state for breach of contract.
But her father’s decision to step down from power to make way for former defence minister Lourenço was in part prompted by mounting allegations that he had corruptly amassed wealth while failing to help the millions of Angolans who still lived in poverty. Angola, which along with Nigeria is one of Africa’s top oil producers, has also been in the grip of an economic crisis since 2014 following the collapse of the oil price.
Lourenço is determined to prove that he is no dos Santos stooge, knowing full well that the success of his presidency is linked to how far he can dismantle the family’s wealth and influence.