Events In Angola Join Those In Zimbabwe In Giving Cause For OptimismNovember 30, 17
The dizzying speed of developments in Zimbabwe in recent weeks has attracted global attention away from no less important advances in another African state – Angola. From a diamond industry perspective, the changes are more important than those in Angola since the West African country is among the leading global diamond producers, with output of just over 9 million carats in 2016, according to the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme.
According to reports out of the country, Angola's new president Joao Lourenco is taking apart the business empire of the dos Santos family, the children of Jose Eduardo dos Santos, the former head of state who stepped down due to old age and sickness. It's safe to assume that when the ex-president – who ruled Angola with an iron fist for 38 years – threw his weight behind Lourenco, who had been a long-standing supporter of the regime, little did he suspect that the new head of state would set about clearing out the stables with such alacrity.
We have not seen in Angola the kind of widespread celebrations witnessed in Zimbabwe earlier this month when the beloved father of the nation was rather unceremoniously dumped and which illustrated so well the reality of the shallow depth of his support. However, one can probably assume that the people of Angola are no less delighted as Lourenco, who has pledged to fight corruption and end monopolies, kicks out the heads and directors of major corporations who have been milking those firms and the state for so long.
Perhaps the dos Santos clan should have seen it coming, since Lourenco promised during his successful campaign ahead of the August 23 election to distance himself from the ruling family. In a period of three months, the new leader has fired none other than his predecessor's daughter as head of the state-run oil company, along with dismantling other parts of the empire built by Jose Eduardo dos Santos.
With a simple presidential decree earlier this month, Lourenco brought about the removal of Isabel dos Santos – notoriously known as the richest woman in Africa – as boss of Sonangol, the country's major financial asset, which supplies 75 percent of its revenue. Lourenco dismissed her, saying: "Sonangol is Angola's golden goose, we are going to take care of it very carefully."
In addition to running Sonangol, Isabel dos Santos also controls Unitel, Angola’s biggest mobile-phone company, owns Candando, a supermarket chain, and has stakes in Angolan lenders Banco BIC and BFA and several companies in Portugal. The Bloomberg newswire estimates her net worth at $2.5 billion. Meanwhile, another of the former president's children – Jose Filomeno – heads Angola’s $5 billion sovereign wealth fund, and was recently severely criticized with claims that he has mismanaged the fund’s assets and is said to be living on borrowed time. And the people of Angola? Incredibly, more than a third of its population of 27 million gets by on less than $2 a day, according to the World Bank.
It's always something of a shock when the mighty fall, all the more so presumably for the poor souls in question. The former president's daughter was long used to jet-setting around the world while millions of her fellow Angolans lived in slums with no running water, let alone power and all the other standard elements of daily life as they scrabbled to eke out the most basic living.
In the capital, Luanda, several years ago, on the way back to the hotel, our bus suddenly came to a stop and waited, and waited, and then waited some more. The cause was, we were told, that His Excellency, the president, would be passing through, so we waited interminably in the mid-day heat. We pampered guests, at least, enjoyed the relative comfort of an air-conditioned bus. From the window, however, one saw the faces of the ordinary people whose lives were, in any case, incredibly difficult, to put it mildly, waiting in the heat, clearly used to being regarded as thin air by the ruling elite as its members eventually passed by in the latest luxury vehicles. People trying to carry out one of many daily chores? Never mind, the people will wait.
Has a new, more promising era started? "No one will be above the law... I will be the only president," Lourenco said during the election campaign. Not surprisingly – given 38 years of one-man rule – he was not widely believed. Everyone, from the man on the street to sophisticated commentators and businesspeople both inside and outside the country, assumed he would simply bring his own people in to milk Angola's many natural resources.
And then something completely different took place: the placemen loyal to dos Santos at the head of the country's main companies, institutions and sectors – from the mighty central bank, oil industry, diamonds and the media as well as the police and intelligence services – found themselves replaced by allies of the new leader. Among those removed was Antonio Carlos Sumbula, the head of state-owned diamond firm Endiama.
As with the situation in Zimambwe, it is clearly too soon to say whether the new leaders are going to bring in authentic and widespread change. Some have claimed that the new president is seeking to win the trust of global financial institutions and foreign governments by pretending that he is attacking corruption. Others are clearly worried that he might actually be doing a good job, as seen in comments to the media by a lawmaker from the ruling party, Joao Pinto, who says that "witchhunts and revenge" – usually double-speak for bringing people to justice – must be avoided.
As 2017 draws to a close, events in Zimbabwe and Angola are giving cause for optimism. Not just for the long-suffering peoples of those countries, but also across the continent, and elsewhere in the world, that even tyrants have their day and that kleptomaniacs keeping their countries under control with secret police and the military while operating via bribery, corruption, nepotism and many other such appalling related means don't have to be tolerated.
Have a great weekend!