By GIN and INPS Africa Correspondent
NEW YORK | LUANDA (IDN) – President José Eduardo dos Santos, who has ruled oil-rich Angola for the last 37 years, has found a new and lucrative job for his daughter, Isabel dos Santos, ranked Africa’s richest woman by Forbes magazine.
President dos Santos, 73, tapped his daughter this month (June 2016) to head Sonangol, a parastatal that oversees petroleum and natural gas production in Angola. Using a presidential decree, he sacked the company’s directors, in a move some have called unconstitutional.
“With matters of natural strategic resources, the president cannot change the rules as he pleases,” said Rafael Marques, who is a human rights activist and the editor of Maka Angola, a popular blog that exposes the endemic corruption by Angola’s political class. “He must make a request from parliament. He didn’t do that and therefore Sonangol’s reforms are unconstitutional.”
On June 9, a group of lawyers challenged Isabel dos Santos’ appointment and presented their concerns to the Supreme Court. The main opposition party, the Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita) has also requested an inquiry into the company shake-up.
Gary van Staden, an analyst at NKC African Economics in Paarl, near Cape Town, concurred. “In this day and age, I don’t think leaders in countries like Angola should be appointing their children to head key parts of the economy and key parts of government. I think it will be perceived as very negative and I think there will be some fallout for them from this.”
Isabel dos Santos already owns a 25% stake in Angola’s first private mobile phone operator and is a major shareholder in other big companies in Angola and Portugal. Her wealth is estimated at $3.4 billion, according to Forbes.
In her first interview, Isabel dos Santos also pledged to bring openness and efficiency to the 40-year-old company that is frequently criticised as opaque and unwieldy. “We’re very committed to transparency. We’re very committed to improving our profits at Sonangol and to improving our organisation,” she told Reuters in the staff canteen at the company’s headquarters in central Luanda.
Dos Santos dismissed suggestions that it was her family connections rather than business acumen that led to her appointment last week after the surprise dismissal of the Sonangol board.
As of 2006, Sonangol – now headed by Isbael dos Sonatos – had over 30 subsidiaries and maintained overseas facilities in: Brazzaville, Congo; Hong Kong; Houston, USA (Sonangol USA Co. – SonUSA – has its head office in the Energy Corridor area in Houston; London, UK (Sonangol Limited has its head office in the Merevale House in Kensington, RBKC, London); and Singapore.
Over the years, the company has created subsidiaries servicing its needs, such as telecommunications, retail network support, trucking, shipping, data management, scientific, engineering, seismic, and others. Sonangol and its many subsidiaries have continued to expand into other lines of business. Among the more important subsidiaries are Sonair and MSTelcom.
Sonangol is one of the major shareholders of the Portuguese energy company Galp Energia through its indirect participation in the capital of Amorim Energia, which holds one third of GALP’s shares and on which board sits Sindika Dokolo the son-in-law of the Angolan President.
Sonangol is an important sponsor of the arts, sports and humanities in Angola and in Africa. On December 12, Reuters reported that Sonangol won the rights to develop Iraq’s Najmah oilfield in a bid held that day.
The company’s plateau production target for the field in the volatile province of Nineveh is 110,000 barrels per day and the remuneration fee is $6 per barrel. Sonangol had proposed a per-barrel fee of $8.50, but then accepted the Oil Ministry’s lower amount.
Angola vies with Nigeria as Africa’s biggest oil producer and also produces diamonds.
The Russian-educated dos Santos, Africa’s second-longest serving president, has said he will quit “active politics” in 2018 after leading the country since 1979. His son Jose Filomeno dos Santos already runs Angola’s $5 billion sovereign wealth fund.
Despite the questionable appointment of Isabel dos Santos, who studied in London and opened her first business at 24, experts from PricewaterhouseCoopers and Boston Consulting Group are said to be ready to assist in the company’s reorganization.
But they may be cautioned by the current court case against Goldman Sachs for that company’s trading advice to a Libyan fund that wound up losing its shirt while the U.S. banker made many millions in profits.
Meanwhile, Luaty Beirao, a rapper known as Ikonoklasta, was moved to a prison hospital where he is said to be on a hunger strike. The rapper is an outspoken critic of the dos Santos’ government and has called for a fairer distribution of state’s oil wealth. [IDN | INPS – 21 June 2016]
Photo: from Isabel dos Santos’ Facebook
IDN is flagship of the International Press Syndicate.