AFRICANGLOBE – The January announcement by Forbes magazine that Angola’s Isabel dos Santos is the first female African billionaire received worldwide coverage.
Only the state-owned newspaper, Jornal de Angola, missed a key biographical fact: she is the daughter of the second-longest- serving president in Africa: José Eduardo dos Santos.
This missing detail is crucial. It speaks of the fact that the only way to make big money is through membership of the distribution networks presided over by the president.
It also conveys the extent to which the economy has become a mere extension of politics.
At the age of 24, after finishing her studies in electrical engineering and business in London, Ms Dos Santos returned to Luanda and opened her first business: the restaurant Miami Beach.
She later moved into garbage collection. On the eve of her 40th birthday, her business portfolio now includes oil, diamonds and communications, with an international reach including Portugal.
Some people doubt that Dos Santos could have legitimately amassed such a fortune so rapidly.
They point to the fact that her investments in Portugal converge with the public interests of Sonangol, the Angolan state-owned oil company, suggesting that what has been calculated as ‘her’ fortune may be situated in this murky zone between private resources and public capital.
If this is the case, this is just the way Angolans do business.
There was no local bourgeoisie in Angola when the Portuguese left in 1975.
Nor was it needed, as the country was starting its march towards socialism.
When socialism failed the country’s leaders enthusiastically embraced capitalism.
They determined that nurturing the bourgeoisie was a state responsibility and allowed a few nationals to pursue unlimited wealth.
From such a birth, Angolan capitalism acquired some indigenous specificities.
There is no separation between public and private affairs.
Angolan millionaires conduct state business and their own dealings from the same office.
There are many cases of state clerks who found their personal bank accounts the safest place to keep public funds.
Some win tenders through their own companies, placing them in the dubious position of doing business with themselves.
The anti-corruption campaigner Rafael Marques has arrived at the conclusion that to research corruption there is no need for fine-grained techniques.
It suffices to read the Diário da República, the publication where business ventures are officially announced.
It is too early to know whether Dos Santos’s wealth is floating in the grey zone between public and private.
It would be prudent to wait another five years, until her father retires from politics, if he does indeed retire.
At that point, Ms Dos Santos may just have to pass her crown to the next first daughter.
By: Antonio Tomas