Now that Isabel dos Santos, Africa’s wealthiest woman, has been named head of Angola’s oil company she could soon be headed for more power – but this time in politics, experts say.
Her father, President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, appointed her as boss last week of state-owned oil firm Sonangol in a move that some analysts see as the first sign of succession plans for Angola’s longtime ruler.
Nicknamed the “Princess”, 43-year-old Isabel, has been ranked as the richest woman on the continent with a fortune of around $3bn.The ruling MPLA party holds a crucial congress in August to elect its leadership and her father appears to be winding down his own political career after announcing would not seek re-election in 2017.
Her new powerful role at Sonangol may position her for political office in a country ruled by her father for 37 years.“The president wants to establish a dynasty and leave the power to his family,” prominent Angolan writer and human rights activist Rafael Marques de Morais said.“One of the ideas is that Isabel steps up as vice president… and then along the way she takes over,” Marques said.
Paula Roque, University of Oxford researcher on Angola, says the appointment of Isabel dos Santos “is a clear indication that the president wants to put in place a plan… to hand over power and concentrate power in the hands of his family.”
“For the first time, the president has made a very overt move to show what he is planning. This is the first open step in the succession plan,” Roque said.Three years ago President dos Santos appointed his son Jose Filomeno dos Santos to chair the country’s $5bn Sovereign Wealth Fund.He has also been tipped as a potential successor to his father.
Most of Isabel’s wealth is in stocks and shares in Portugal and Angola.According to Marques, Isabel dos Santos owns billions of dollars worth of shares through GALP Energia, an offshore oil and gas giant, which belongs to Sonangol.It is GALP “she used to become the richest woman in Africa,” said Marques, adding she never paid for the shares.
Born in Baku, Azerbaijan in 1973 where her father was studying, she grew up in London, where she studied mechanical and electrical engineering at King’s College. She moved to Angola in 1992 when her father secured a brief civil war truce with rebel leader Jonas Savimbi.