Saturday, January 26, 2013


Isabel dos Santos, dubbed 'princess', named Africa's first female billionaire
Daughter of Angola's president of 33 years, Dos Santos is 'no role model' in an oil-rich state where most get by on $2 a day

José Eduardo dos Santos, Angola's president, left, next to his third wife, Ana Paula dos Santos, in Luanda. Isabel dos Santos, his eldest daughter, and her husband, Sindika Dokolo, are in the second row. Photograph: Bruno Fonseca/4See/Eyevine
The clue was in the wedding. When Angola's Isabel dos Santos married a Congolese art collector in 2003, there were reports that a choir was flown in from Belgium and two charter planes delivered food from France. African presidents were among 100 guests at the extravaganza, which cost an estimated $4m (£2.5m).

Evidently, Dos Santos was a woman of means. Just how high her fortune has soared in the subsequent decade is now revealed by Forbes, the US financial magazine, which has named her as Africa's first female billionaire.

Critics were quick, however, to dismiss the 40-year-old as a role model for either Africans or women. She is the eldest daughter of President José Eduardo dos Santos, the continent's second longest-serving leader at 33 years and an autocrat accused of enriching his family at the expense of ordinary Angolans. His daughter is sometimes referred to derisively as "the princess".

Forbes found that Isabel dos Santos's shares in several Portuguese firms, including a cable television company and an Angolan bank, put her on the billionaires' list for the first time. Most of the population in the southern African nation live on about $2 a day.

Dos Santos was born to the president's first wife, Tatiana Kukanova, in Baku, Azerbaijan, where he was studying at the time. As the child of a guerrilla fighting for Angolan independence from Portugal, she had few prospects of fabulous wealth.

She attended a state school in the capital, Luanda, at a time when there was no private school alternative, according to the journalist and anti-corruption campaigner Rafael Marques de Morais.

"She was very humble," he said. "People liked her because she was very simple and down to earth and didn't want to be seen as the privileged one."

Her father became president in 1979, and Dos Santos and her divorced mother eventually moved to London. According to a 1991 British newspaper report, she spent two years at St Paul's public school in London. She is then known to have studied electrical engineering and business management at King's College London.

Back in Angola, aged 24, her first business venture was a restaurant in Luanda called Miami Beach. Not a success, said De Morais. "Her restaurant was badly managed. Even today it still takes two hours to be served and an hour to get the bill."

He added: "Then she set up a garbage-collection business and it didn't go anywhere. I have a list of her failed ventures."

According to Forbes, Dos Santos is the biggest shareholder in Zon, a Portuguese media conglomerate, with 28.8% of the stock, worth $385m; she also owns 19.5% of the Portuguese bank Banco BPI, worth $465m; and 25% of Angola's Banco BIC, worth an estimated $160m.

In addition, she is said to be a 25% shareholder in the Angolan telecoms company Unitel. The state-owned newspaper Jornal de Angola awarded her the title of entrepreneur of the year for 2012.

De Morais believes these are mere manifestations of her father's reach and that Dos Santos is no feminist icon. "Most of her businesses in Angola are approved and transferred by her father, the president," he said.

The investments in Portugal, De Morais added, were made first by the state firm Sonangol, which manages Angola's oil and gas reserves, with Dos Santos receiving shares.

"When someone shows up with a billion dollars you have to ask what is the origin of the wealth? This is not explained."

The anti-corruption organisation Transparency International recently ranked Angola 168th out of 178 countries in its corruption perception index.

Peter Lewis, an African studies professor at Johns Hopkins University in the US, told Forbes: "The source of funds and corporate governance are very murky. The central problem in Angola is the complete lack of transparency. We can't trace the provenance of these funds.

"When you tease out the ownership and controlling interests in Angola it reads like a Who's Who of family members and party and military chiefs."

In 2003 Dos Santos married Sindika Dokolo, Congolese art collector the son of the tycoon Sanu Dokolo, founder of Bank of Kinshasa. The couple, who have three children, divide their time between Luanda, London, Lisbon and Johannesburg, where Dokolo has relatives.

Dos Santos speaks several languages but never talks to the media, preferring, like her father, to maintain a low profile. Her spokeswoman in Portugal insisted all her investments have been presented with maximum transparency from publicly listed companies.


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