The Fall of Africa's Richest Woman--Isabel dos Santos

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Isabel dos Santos. Photo: Facebook.

Just think for a minute. In a two-year span, a father gave his daughter, among several contracts, four that were worth over US $22 billion. The father is then President José Eduardo dos Santos, and the daughter is Isabel, Africa’s richest woman. These were the golden days of the presidential family’s capture of Angola. Period.

In the past month, with a stroke of a pen, General João Lourenço has annulled the four egregious contracts. The former “princess” is crying foul, and is threatening to sue the Angolan state however, the state is calling out her bluff. Her fortune is about to tumble like a house of cards, just as her father’s power fell flat once he left office after 38 years.

Through her father’s presidential decrees, Isabel built her fortune. Now, ironically, the man her father personally chose to replace him is first and foremost taking away the family’s fortunes that are tied with the state, thus recapturing it from their thieving hands.

Let us just review these four contracts.

The master plan: In 2015, Dos Santos appointed his daughter to lead the Luanda Metropolitan Master Plan, budgeted at US $15 billion, to revamp the capital city. Therefore, her shell company, Urbinvest, had the monopoly of the project.

Back in the day, there was no one smarter and more competent in the country than Isabel dos Santos. Public tender, and transparency became silly anti-development jargon even for foreign investors whose main mission had become to partner with the power gatekeepers. There was an international spin that cast Isabel dos Santos as a positive story for Africa, as she was hailed the most successful businesswoman on the continent. And the reality of her looting of the country under her kleptocratic father was downplayed or outright ignored.

Dams for the Damned: That same year, through Presidential Order 58/15, Dos Santos also awarded Isabel dos Santos the construction of the Caculo-Cabaça dam and hydropower station for US $4.5 billion.

The powerful China Gezhouba Group Corporation (CGGC) had initially entered into a 50/50 consortium with Isabel’s shell company, Niara Holding, to win the contract and build the dam. The Industrial Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) secured the financing for Angolan oil in return. A year later, inexplicably Dos Santos signed another order adding an extra US $500 million for the daughter’s joint venture, thus totaling US $5 billion. Somewhat generous, she lowered her share in the joint-venture to 40%.

What was the rationale for this dam? It will be built 19 kilometers away from the recently built dam and hydropower station of Laúca, which cost over US $4 billion. It will be the fourth dam and hydropower station built along the same River Kwanza in a stretch of some 130 kilometers.

Corimba coastal road: Another one Isabel dos Santos’ contracts slashed by President Lourenço is the planned 7 km coastal road from Luanda’s city center to the Corimba neighborhood, which would include an area of 400 hectares reclaimed from the sea. This is a contract worth over US $700 million, to be financed by the International and Commercial Bank of China and the Chinese Eximbank. Her company Urbinvest S.A had the monopoly of the project, which would include 700 hectares “of high density mixed-use residential and commercial development”.

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