‘Luanda Leaks’ is the name that has been given to a series of investigations made by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) concerning the alleged appropriation of money made by Isabel dos Santos and her half-brother José Filomeno de Sousa. Isabel dos Santos is well-known for being the wealthiest women in Africa and the daughter of the former president of Angola, José Eduardo dos Santos. Her fortune lies in the great number of stakes she possesses in companies doing business in Angola. Isabel dos Santos is currently facing accusations of having stolen more than 1 billion dollars from Angolan’s public funds.
What makes this story so important is not only the gravity of the accusations, but also that the personalities involved were once considered to be untouchable. Isabel dos Santos’ father, José Eduardo, ruled Angola for almost forty years after the country gained independence in 1975. Under his presidency, political corruption in the country was rife and drove the economy into a deep depression. In 2017, he left his seat to João Lourenço, who previously was the Minister of Defence and a militant from the same party as dos Santos, the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA).
From the beginning of his mandate, Lourenço appeared eager to fight corruption at all costs. One of the first significant actions he took was to fire Isabel dos Santos from her role as head of the state’s main oil company. He also dismissed José Filomeno de Sousa who was head of the country’s sovereign wealth fund. As these high positions were the result of their father’s meddling, by driving the family away Lourenço was taking a symbolic step towards a more transparent democracy. More recently, Lourenço has also been promoting the ‘Luanda Leaks’ investigation, he promised two things; that the truth will be revealed, and the perpetrators will pay back what they own to Angolan citizens.
However, there is a high degree of skepticism over Lourenço’s anti-corruption campaign for many reasons. Local elections will be held in Angola in 2020 and Lourenço needs to convince citizens that the past has been left in the past, especially if he wants to be re-elected in the national elections of 2022. The country which he came to rule in 2017 was torn apart by decades of political strife. There was a clear lack of trust towards the ruling party, and the inquiry of Transparency International still indicated Angola’s as 146th out of 180 countries in the Corruption Index of 2019. One of the motives that may have pushed Lourenço to advocate media actions such as ‘Luanda Leaks’ is the need to attract foreign investment. If Angola strengthens its reputation at the international level, it could raise investments and consequently revive the economy. This could be seen as beneficial, but there are some facts playing against Lourenço’s good intentions.
In 2018, Lourenço’s government actively helped former Vice President Manuel Vincente after he was accused of bribery by a Portuguese court in regard to the national oil company he used to manage. Lourenço’s government was able to transfer the case to their national jurisdiction, but as of today Vincente has still not faced trial. And yet you would think that a case like Vincente’s would be essential to demonstrate that the political structure has truly changed. In reality, when Lourenço make choices of this sort, it shows that he is using his political power to benefit a small élite in the same way former president dos Santos did.
Indeed, there were some red flags from the beginning. Many believe that the 2017 elections that brought Lourenço to power may have been falsified. The preliminary results of the elections, that predicted a MPLA win, arrived very early, with a majority of people saying that the votes hadn’t even been tallied yet. As absurd as the situation seems, the following period was also defined by several violent encounters between opposite parties’ activists and government’s law enforcement. Non-observance of human rights along with a plausible falsification of basic political freedom aren’t positive signs for the future of a democracy.
We may question: does it matter if the President has ulterior motives if he is making productive structural changes in the country? And the truth is that it matters. If the Angolan president’s intentions aren’t true, the population will probably continue to live in poverty it has been stuck in for decades. By only fighting one side of the corruption in the country, the situation will never progress, it will only slide from one kleptocracy to one designed for new beneficiaries. Furthermore, increasing foreign investments could even allow the government to exploit more assets and ruin the country’s international reputation even further.
Most importantly, if there aren’t positive changes for the population of Angola between now and 2022, citizens should have the right to express their issues during the elections. In order to do so, the elections have to be transparent and democratic. They should possibly even be supervised by international bodies. If Lourenço will prove to be a fairer governor, the citizens will be the ones to know and show their support.