Angola’s “Princess” dethroned

The fall from grace of Isabel dos Santos, the daughter of the former Angolan leader, has put a severe dent in her fortunes.

875-Dos-Santos-634
"The Princess" Isabel dos Santos

Africa's richest woman used to be nicknamed "the Princess" by poorer Angolans, says the Financial Times. But the past few months may have made a severe dent in her fortune.Isabel dos Santos, the daughter of the country's former president, Jos Eduardo dos Santos, was last month stripped of her job as head of Angola's state oil group, Sonangol, by the new man in the presidential mansion, Joo Loureno.

In September, Loureno managed to shunt out dos Santos after 38 years in power. Isabel dos Santos's recent defenestration is viewed as "a bold move to wrest power from the family of the country's former leader".

From Baku to King's College

Loureno has already replaced the heads of the central bank, Angola's state-backed diamond company, and all three state-run media companies. But "this is the big one", says Ricardo Soares de Oliveira, an Angola specialist at Oxford University a sign that it's no longer "just cosmetic changes". As Africa's largest oil producer, control of the energy industry has long been the primary source of wealth in Angola and this is "the first direct assault on the patronage of the dos Santos family".

The fact that Loureno was able to oust his rival's daughter so swiftly "suggests the depth of the dissatisfaction with the old order". In a country where many people struggle by on $2 a day, dos Santos's swelling business fortune estimated at $3.4bn by Forbes has long been an open sore.

Dos Santos who owns a stake in the Portuguese energy giant Galp Energia and has previously held investments in telecoms and banking has always denied allegations of nepotism and corruption, saying she built her fortune herself. But Forbes magazine says its research found that her father "transferred stakes in several Angolan companies to her". And via them, she got into Portugal.

Dos Santos got off to a singular start in life, says The Guardian. She was born in 1973 in Baku, Azerbaijan, then a Soviet outpost that welcomed promising young students from communist-aligned African liberation movements. Her father, one of them, met her mother, a Russian chess champion, while both were studying engineering. There were later rumours, dismissed by their daughter, that they were "introduced by the KGB".

Dos Santos returned to Angola, took power in 1979, and fought a bloody civil war to retain it. His daughter, meanwhile, headed to London, attending St Paul's School for Girls and then King's College London, where she studied electrical engineering and business management.

Her first steps in business

Dos Santos likes to recall that her first business venture, selling chicken eggs aged six to fund her candyfloss habit, established her entrepreneurial credentials at a young age. But on returning to Angola, aged 24, her first businesses (a restaurant in Luanda called Miami Beach and a garbage-collection business) both flopped. Her later accretion of wealth inevitably looked suspicious to many Angolans, says the Financial Times, but "even some critics acknowledge Isabel dos Santos's independent prowess as a business-woman". She always describes her life as "ordinary" and "hints at a life dominated by hard work".

Earlier this year, dos Santos attempted to distance her role at Sonangol from her father's patronage, saying she wanted to push through a five-year turnaround plan. "I mean to keep [the job] to the end," she told a conference. "But we live in a dynamic world." Perhaps a little too dynamic for Angola's "princess" these days.

Recommended

Great frauds in history: Alexander Fordyce and shorting the East India Company
People

Great frauds in history: Alexander Fordyce and shorting the East India Company

Alexander Fordyce's disastrous shorting of the East India Company led to him bankrupting the private bank in which he was a partner.
12 Aug 2020
Sharon White: the economist shaking up John Lewis
People

Sharon White: the economist shaking up John Lewis

Dame Sharon White had no experience of retail when she took the top job at the nation’s favourite department store. Can she turn around an ailing indu…
10 Aug 2020
Great frauds in history: Billy McFarland – the man behind the Fyre Festival
People

Great frauds in history: Billy McFarland – the man behind the Fyre Festival

Around 5,000 people paid Billy McFarland up to $100,000 each to attend the lavish Fyre Festival on a Caribbean island. They arrived to find accommodat…
5 Aug 2020
Stuart Wheeler : the granddaddy of spread-betting
People

Stuart Wheeler : the granddaddy of spread-betting

A lifelong obsession with gambling helped make Stuart Wheeler his fortune. By using that to back the Brexit campaign, he changed the face of British p…
2 Aug 2020

Most Popular

No, the UK did not “plunge” into recession yesterday
UK Economy

No, the UK did not “plunge” into recession yesterday

That the economy took a massive hit due to Covid-19 should be news to no one, says John Stepek. The real question is what happens now.
13 Aug 2020
Inflation spiked in the US last month – is this the shape of things to come?
US Economy

Inflation spiked in the US last month – is this the shape of things to come?

Prices in the US rose much more dramatically than expected in July. Can we expect more of the same, and what does that mean for your money? John Stepe…
14 Aug 2020
The MoneyWeek Podcast: house prices, staycations, and the death of cash
House prices

The MoneyWeek Podcast: house prices, staycations, and the death of cash

John and Merryn talk about the rise in UK house prices and the fact that everybody is holidaying in the UK, plus gold's new highs, the death of cash, …
12 Aug 2020