Lourenço’s Angola: The winners, the losers and the escape artists

In depth
This article is part of the dossier: João Lourenço’s Angola

By Estelle Maussion
Posted on Thursday, 13 May 2021 20:47

João Lourenço’s ascension to the presidency put an end to the influence of Isabel dos Santos, Manuel Vicente and General Kopelipa, yet other figures had managed to stay put after a regime change. Read on for a quick overview of the post-Dos Santos political landscape.

This is part 4 of a 6-part series

Since João Lourenço took office as president of Angola, the Dos Santos family’s power has been severely curtailed. This break with the past has produced winners and losers, shaking up the power structure within the president’s party, the Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (MPLA). With Angola’s political and economic landscape in full flux, we take stock of a revolution that is far from over.

The winners

  • Vera Daves
Vera Daves, in Lisbon on 15 December 2015 © Orlando Almeida / Global Imagens

An unfamiliar face to the general public until she was appointed finance minister in October 2019, Vera Daves was the first woman to ever hold this position. Now in her 30s, Daves is the leading force within Lourenço’s administration.

In addition to negotiating a debt moratorium, representing Angola at the IMF and controlling Angola’s (official) coffers, she has become part of the MPLA’s politburo. Is she the face of the party’s new generation?

  • Edeltrudes Costa
Edeltrudes Costa in Beijing on 15 April 2015 © Li Tao / XINHUA / Xinhua via AFP

Despite the change in regime, Edeltrudes Costa has pulled off a stunning feat by retaining his influence. A linchpin of the 2008 and 2012 election cycles, Costa was promoted to minister of state by José Eduardo dos Santos.

This legal expert, familiar with sensitive government matters, is now Lourenço’s chief of staff and trusted confidant — as demonstrated by the president’s continued support — even though corruption allegations against him have drawn public ire.

  • Luís Nunes

To put it mildly, Luís Nunes is in the ascendant. Before he got into politics at the behest of Lourenço’, he was a leading entrepreneur in southern Angola, with a diversified company — Omatapalo (operating in sectors such as construction, food and energy) — based in Lubango, Huíla Province.

He was appointed governor in 2018 and praised for his dynamism, which saw promoted in early March, to lead the strategic southern province of Benguela, the country’s second largest business hub.

  • Rafael Marques
Journalist and activist Rafael Marques, in August 2017 © AMPE ROGERIO/AFP

Jailed, facing prosecution and a persona non grata during the Dos Santos presidency, Rafael Marques, in a surprising move, is now in favour with Lourenço. The famous journalist and activist, who has been reporting acts of corruption and violence for years on his website — Maka Angola — was hosted at the presidential palace in late 2018 and awarded a medal of merit at the end of 2019.

This year, he created Ufolo (‘freedom’ in Kimbundu, one of Angola’s official languages), an organisation that works to promote good governance. It is headquartered in Escom tower, one of Luanda’s swankiest addresses.

The losers

  • José Filomeno dos Santos
Jose Filomeno dos Santos before the High court in Luanda on 9 December 2019 © Joao da Fatima / AFP

He was the first Dos Santos to fall after he was sentenced to five years in prison in August 2020 for fraud, money laundering and influence peddling. José Filomeno dos Santos had been running the country’s sovereign wealth fund following his appointment by his father.

However, he is now paying the ultimate price for his involvement in a failed scheme to defraud the Angolan government of $1.5bn. He denies playing any such role and has appealed the court’s ruling.

  • Isabel dos Santos
Isabel dos Santos in Italy on 3 September 2016 © ZUMA/REA

As the eldest daughter of the former president, Isabel dos Santos was once a representation of the Dos Santos clan’s international success, but she has fallen from her pedestal. Currently living between London and Dubai, her assets were frozen in Angola and later in Portugal.

She holds stakes in Angolan companies within the banking, energy, telecom and retail sectors. Now an embattled figure, Isabel is wrangling with Angolan and international courts as she tries to recover her holdings and undo the damage to her reputation wrought by the Luanda Leaks investigation.

  • Carlos Manuel de São Vicente
Carlos Manuel de São Vicente © Twitter

Outside the Dos Santos orbit, Lourenço’s anti-corruption crusade has impacted another leading MPLA family, that of the country’s first president, Agostinho Neto. Swiss and Angolan prosecutors have alleged that Carlos Manuel de São Vicente — who is married to Neto’s daughter Irene — laundered money while serving as head of a now-defunct insurance company, AAA Seguros SA.

The firm, which once had a monopoly position in the oil sector, lost its contracts to a state-owned company, ENSA, and was placed in liquidation in 2016. While investigating a series of suspicious transfers made between 2012 and 2018, a Swiss court froze $900m — a figure that shocked Angolans — in accounts belonging to De São Vicente. In September 2020, an Angolan court had the insurance executive taken into custody until his case is decided, throwing a family, party and nation into turmoil.

  • Manuel Rabelais

Like Augusto da Silva Tomás, the ex-transport minister — sentenced to jail in 2019 on an embezzlement charge — is part of a club of high-profile officials from the Dos Santos era who have been brought to justice.

Manuel Rabelais, a former social communication minister, was found guilty of using his position as director of the Office for Revitalisation of Institutional Communication and Marketing (GRECIMA) — that was dissolved in 2017 — to enrich himself. In April, he was sentenced to 14 years and six months in prison for defrauding the government of around €30m ($36.2m).

The escape artists

  • Manuel Vicente
Manuel Domingos Vicente, in New York, on 27 September 2014 2014 © UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Frequently mentioned in corruption cases in connection with his stint at the helm of Sonangol and his ties to the China International Fund (CIF), Angola’s ex-vice-president (2012-2017) is living peacefully. And though this casts a shadow over Lourenço’s anti-corruption efforts, the two have reportedly remained close.

READ MORE Angola: on the trail of stolen billions

While Vicente enjoys immunity under the constitution in light of his previous service as the country’s second-in-command, he is set to lose this status five years after his term ends, that is in 2022. For many, it is only a matter of time before justice comes knocking.

  • Manuel Hélder Vieira Dias, aka ‘General Kopelipa’
Helder Vieira Dias, known as “General Kopelipa” on 11 November 2021 in Luanda. © 4See/Rea

One of Dos Santos’s right-hand men and his former security chief and minister of state, General Kopelipa has been keeping a low profile.

In an attempt at appeasement, General Kopelipa and his associate Leopoldino Fragoso do Nascimento (‘Dino’), both under investigation for corruption, surrendered assets that had been acquired using public funds; including property, a supermarket chain (Kero), a biofuel company (Biocom) and stakes in various banks. But that hasn’t stopped the general from mounting his defence.

  • Leopoldino Fragoso do Nascimento, aka ‘Dino’


Leopoldino Fragoso do Nascimento, founder and CEO of Cochan © Cochan

Alongside General Kopelipa and former vice-president Vicente, Dino was a member of Angola’s most powerful trio of officials during the Dos Santos era nicknamed Irmão Metralha.

A close adviser to ex-president Dos Santos and owner of Cochan Group, General Dino has come under the scrutiny of an Angolan court in a corruption case involving the CIF. While he may have lost his lustre, he retains a 25% stake in Unitel Telecom, a company in excellent financial shape.

  • Bento Joaquim Sebastião Francisco Bento, aka ‘Bento Bento’

After leading the MPLA in Luanda from 2007 to 2016, Bento Bento, renowned for his ability to mobilise crowds, was promoted to governor of Luanda Province by Dos Santos. He was sidelined in September 2014, however, after becoming embroiled in the May 2012 disappearance of two protest organisers who, as an Angolan court found in 2015, had been kidnapped and killed by the police. Despite this stain on his reputation, the Lourenço-led MPLA put him back in charge of the party in April.

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