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Angola energy: Africa’s richest woman on the spotlight

Africa’s richest woman Isabel dos Santos is under pressure to resign as head of Angolan energy  firm Sonangol amid growing  concerns that president José Eduardo dos Santos of Angola acted against the constitution by placing his daughter in charge of the country’s energy firm after a sudden sacking of the firm’s board.

Rafael Marques, a human rights activist in Angola, has appealed to the country’s attorney general to revoke the appointment of Isabel who according to various research is the richest woman in Africa, as head of Sonangol terming her appointment as unconstitutional.

Isabel dos Santos owns a 25% stake in Unitel, the country’s first private mobile phone operator, and is one of the major shareholders in a number of other big companies in Angola and Portugal.

Angola’s president Dos Santos, who came to power in 1979, appointed his daughter to be the head of Sonangol in June through a presidential decree in a shake-up that cements his dynastic grip on power in the oil exporter.

Angola, currently the top oil producer in Africa because of supply outages caused by Boko Haram attacks in Nigeria’s Niger Delta, said in April it would reconstitute the administration of Sonangol to enhance efficiency and profitability.

The English-educated Isabel dos Santos has a net worth of about $3bn (£2.09bn). Angola’s daily average wage is just below $2. Speaking during an interview with Reuters, the 43-year-old vowed to bring openness and efficiency to the 40-year-old company that is frequently under criticism as opaque and unwieldy.

State media had earlier said that experts from Boston Consulting Group and PricewaterhouseCoopers would be hired to assist in the restructuring of the firm that is a key  pillar of Angola’s economy.

A number of foreign oil companies have welcomed the appointment, brushing off concerns about political motives. “The government has acted. It is clear the direction they want to go. I am always optimistic. I certainly support the direction Sonangol is taking,” Chevron’s managing director for Angola, John Baltz, said last week.

A senior banker based in Johannesburg however told Reuters that the appointment could make it harder for international banks to engage business with Sonangol, given the perception of nepotism created by the appointment.


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