The top five presidents worldwide who have held on to power the longest and who are still ruling are all Africans, mostly known for their various misdeeds: rigged elections, embezzlement, ill-gotten wealth and human rights violations. One of those five is the President of Angola, José Eduardo dos Santos.
Dos Santos has been ruling Angola since 1979. During his tenure, several local and international NGOs have denounced many human rights scandals and corruption cases connected to his reign. J.R. Mailey, a researcher at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies working on natural resources, corruption and security in Africa, points out that:
For decades, a tiny clique revolving around the president of Angola has deftly used anonymous shell companies to loot billions in state assets. These shell companies are incorporated in ‘offshore‘ financial centres known as ‘tax havens’ or ‘secrecy jurisdictions’.
The website cabinda.net estimates Dos Santos’ personal wealth at more than 20 billion US dollars for 2013. Angola’s 2013 budget for the president's expenses increased 50 percent over the 2012 budget, taking the overall budget to a record high of 6.6 trillion Angolan kwanza (around 69 billion US dollars).
Meanwhile, 70 percent of Angolans live on less than two dollars a day.
Rafael Marques de Morais wrote about this increase in a blog post entitled “A Record Budget for the Presidency, the Military and the Spooks“:
The Presidency alone has a budget of US $1.8 billion, which is more than the funds for the Ministry of Health (US $1.5 billion).
For comparison's sake, for the year 2013, British taxpayers were taxed 53.4 million US dollars for the expenses related to the royal family's spending. French tax payers will contribute 101.6 million euros (140 million US dollars) in 2014 for the expenses related to President François Hollande's activities.
Presseurop.eu reveals that additional “dubious” capital transfers implicating Dos Santos’ family can be traced to recent investments in Portugal:
His “own family”, and above all his eldest daughter. Isabel Dos Santos, aged 40. A graduate of King's College in London, and the only female billionaire in Africa, Ms Dos Santos is one of the key figures in this steamy post-colonial saga. […]
The heiress, from an earlier marriage of Dos Santos, holds a breathtaking portfolio of assets in Portugal. In just a few years, she has taken over half the capital of the telecom giant created by the merger between ZON and Optimus, and a good chunk of Portuguese bank BPI, in which she is the second-largest shareholder with a stake of 19.4 per cent. She is also on the board of directors of another financial institution, BIC Portugal, and has shares in Amorim Energia, which controls nearly 40 per cent of Galp, one of Europe’s leading petroleum and gas groups.
The origin of Isabel Dos Santos’ wealth was investigated at length by Forbes in 2013. Oddly enough, a few months later, Forbes magazine established a partnership with a company a company of which Isabel Dos Santos owns 70 percent to start a new magazine for Portuguese-speaking Africa.
Jean-Paul Marthoz, a Belgian journalist and senior adviser at the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), wrote on the organization's blog about Angolan investments in Portugal:
One source of concern is the Newshold media group, a company owned by Pineview Overseas, a Panama-based offshore company, whose shareholders are powerful Angolan figures including tycoon Alvaro Sobrinho. Newshold controls Sol, Portugal's third largest weekly, and owns stakes in two leading magazines, Visâo and Expresso, as well as Correio da Manhâ, the largest-circulation Lisbon tabloid, and the business paper Jornal de Negocios. It has also expressed interest in case the Portuguese government eventually decides to privatize the public service broadcaster RTP (Radio e Televisâo Portuguesa).
Many Angolan investors are known to be closely linked to Angola's presidential entourage and the MPLA (People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola), which has ruled the country without interruption since independence in 1975.
In 2013, Luanda, the capital of Angola, was ranked for the second time in three years as the most expensive city in the world. Yet the majority of its population live in slums and are economically excluded from the modern sector. Blogger Aminata, a correspondent for Cross Worlds in Luanda, recalls [fr] her own experience with the cost of living in Luanda:
Vivre à Luanda du côté de la Force, c’est pouvoir sortir le soir du réveillon et débourser au moins 30 000 kwanzas (300USD) pour avoir accès à une soirée. Ce soir-là j’ai malheureusement du me résoudre à sombrer du côté obscur, étant donné que le prix de la soirée représentait un peu plus de la moitié de ma gratification mensuelle de stagiaire…
Vivre à Luanda du côté de la Force, c’est aussi pouvoir se loger dans un building tout juste sorti de terre pour la bagatelle de 7 500 USD par mois (prix moyen pour un T3), y apprécier le confort de l’habitat moderne et la charmante vue sur les musseques (bidonvilles).
Vivre à Luanda du côté de la force, c’est également prendre rendez-vous chez son coiffeur à Lisbonne, effectuer l’aller-retour en un week-end (après tout une nuit d’avion pour aller chez le coiffeur, ça vaut le coup !) et en profiter pour faire un peu de shopping.
To live in Luanda on the side of the Force [in reference to the “Star Wars” trilogy] is to be able to go out on New Year's Eve and spend at least 30,000 kwanza (300 US dollars) to have access to a party. That evening, I unfortunately had to sink to the level of the “dark side”, since the price of the evening was a little more than half of my monthly intern fellowship …
To live in Luanda on the side of the Force is also to be able to afford a flat in a newly built building for a whopping 7,500 US dollars per month in rent (the average price for a flat with a living room and two other rooms), enjoying the comfort of modern living and the “charming” view of the “musseques” (slums).
To live in Luanda on the side of the Force is also making an appointment with your hairdresser in Lisbon, make the round trip for a weekend (after all, a red-eye to go to see your hairdresser must be worth it ) and take the opportunity to do some shopping.
Cláudio Silva recently wrote a post for Global Voices entitled Fighting the Poor Instead of Poverty in Angola. The post provides additional information on the daily struggle for survival in the streets of Luanda.