Angola: The end of Isabel dos Santos at Unitel

By Estelle Maussion

Posted on Sunday, 6 November 2022 11:45
Angolan businesswoman Isabel dos Santos, in Maia, northern Portugal, on February 5, 2018. MIGUEL RIOPA/AFP

The nationalisation of Unitel, the country's main telephone operator, as decided by president João Lourenço, signals the exit of Isabel dos Santos and the general 'Dino' from a pillar of the Angolan economy.

Lourenço, the successor of José Eduardo dos Santos, announced on 26 October the nationalisation of the stakes of the eldest daughter and the former Angolan president’s ex-right-hand man.

The president said all possibilities of an agreement had been exhausted with the two shareholders each holding 25% of the capital of the operator.

The move, the administration said, is the “adequate, necessary and proportionate” way to safeguard “the legal situation of the company and the guarantee of the interest of the state”.


In detail, it is the Instituto de Gestão de Activos e Participações do Estado, Igape (Institute of Management of Assets and State Holdings), a body attached to the Ministry of Finance and the linchpin of the privatization plan launched by Lourenço, which must take control of the holdings held by Isabel via the company Vidatel and by General Leopoldino Fragoso do Nascimento, known as ‘Dino’, through the entity Geni.

The two shareholders did not immediately react to this announcement.

The nationalisation, which should pay for compensation, confirms their loss of influence.

Formerly owned equally (25%) by four entities – the Brazilian group Oi (through its subsidiary PT Ventures), Isabel, ‘Dino’ and the oil company Sonangol (via Mercury) – Unitel came under the control of Sonangol at the beginning of 2020, which bought out Oi’s stake.

This move, coupled with a lengthy legal process between PT Ventures and the Angolan shareholders that ended in favour of the former, led to the departure of Isabel from the Unitel board in August 2020.

READ MORE João Lourenço’s Angola

Targeted by several investigations and exiled abroad, the Angolan businesswoman whose assets were frozen in Angola at the end of 2019 and then in Portugal in early 2020, is accused by the Lourenço presidency of embezzlement of public funds, which she disputes.


General ‘Dino’ transferred to the state some assets built up with public funds, including real estate, a supermarket chain (Kero), a biofuel company (Biocom) and bank holdings.

He is known to have associated with two other former strongmen of the dos Santos regime, General Manuel Hélder Vieira Dias, “Kopelipa”, and former Vice President Manuel Vicente.

At the beginning of July, he was, just like General “Kopelipa”, indicted for fraud and money laundering.

General ‘Dino’ was also suspected of having taken advantage of Chinese lines of credit, pledged on Angolan oil and intended to finance the reconstruction of the country to enrich himself.

It remains to be seen how the state intends to ensure the future of Unitel, a pillar of the Angolan economy that is now 100% public but destined to return to the private sector.

Claiming a market share of 80% and 12 million customers, the operator, now headed by Portuguese Miguel Geraldes, has a business volume of nearly $1bn dollars a year, investing some $300m annually in its network and services, according to the latest figures published in the Angolan press.

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options