Another dos Santos falls

30 September 2019 | Africa

One year ago, the dos Santos family handed the Angolan presidency over to Joao Lourenco. The new president promised to tackle corruption which crippled the oil-rich nation. Now the ex-president's son has been arrested.

The news hit like a bomb in Luanda: Jose Filomeno dos Santos, the son of former president Jose Eduardo dos Santos, was arrested last week Monday in Luanda and is now in custody. The list of allegations against him is long, among other things, it includes the formation of a criminal organisation, illegal enrichment, money laundering and corruption, according to the Angolan prosecutor.

The authorities are also examining whether overseas transfers of US$500 million were lawful, as instructed by President dos Santos during his time as chairman of the Fundo Soberano de Angola (FSDEA), the country's sovereign wealth fund. 'Zenu,' as Jose Filomeno dos Santos is known in Angola, has fallen deeply from favour.

Only three years ago, he was positioned as a possible successor to his father as president.

However this so-called “dynastic solution” did not materialise. Instead, former defence minister Joao Lourenco prevailed over the committee of the ruling People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). On September 26 2017, Lourenco took over as president of Angola, as well as president of the MPLA.

During his first year in office, it already became apparent that Lourenco was serious about fighting Angola's susceptibility towards personality cults, nepotism and corruption. He swiftly replaced several provincial governors, ministers and senior officials, as well as positions in state enterprises which were largely filled by close confidants or family members of his predecessor. One of his first notable acts as president was to dismiss the former president's daughter, Isabel dos Santos, as head of state oil company, Sonangol.

Lourenco also announced the termination of a number of contracts the Angolan state had with companies linked to the dos Santos clan. Zenu dos Santos was dismissed in January this year as head of the US$5 billion government oil fund. Shortly afterwards the prosecutor began investigations and a formal indictment and remand eventually followed.

“It's crazy. A year ago a development like this would not have been considered possible,” Angolan lawyer Nelson Domingos said. And it's not just the dos Santos family who are being held to account, stresses Domingos. Last week, the former president of the Angolan central bank, Valter Filipe, was formally charged with money laundering. Domingos believes Lourenco and his people are determined to break apart Angola's old, corrupt structures and go about re-building it strategically, step-by-step.

But political analyst and journalist Alexandre Solombe thinks only time will tell whether or not they're successful. “It's still too early to reach a final conclusion,” he said. It's important to remember that the fight against corruption in Angola is nothing new.

“In the 1990s, during the second party congress, [the issue of corruption] was put on the agenda of the MPLA party, which was then under the leadership of dos Santos,” says Solombe. “But the whole thing turned out to be just a flash in the pan.” Solombe believes the recent arrest of Zenu dos Santos does not mean the fight against corruption has been won.