In Angola the same party has been in power since independence. Ditto Mozambique.
New leaders now blame their predecessors for graft and incompetence. But there are just as many fingers pointing back.
On Monday 20 January, the BBC Panorama program exposed what many had long suspected: that Africa’s richest woman, Isabel dos Santos — known locally as IDS — had made her money by swindling Angola, aided by her father while he was president.
Papers flipped across the screen, each one signed by “the first daughter”, and authorising millions of dollars to be paid from state companies into accounts allegedly held by Miss dos Santos and her associates.
The papers had come not from some undercover sting, but from the new government of Angola, via an NGO.
It was the latest effort by President João Lourenço, just two years in the job, to free himself from the family that looted the state for nearly four decades.
Isabel dos Santos says the claims are a “politically motivated witch-hunt by the government.”
At independence from Portugal in 1974, the ruling MPLA nationalised everything including land, business and the Portuguese firm Angol that ran some of Africa’s richest oil fields. The company, renamed Sonangol, was technically a parastatal but run as an arm of the MPLA.
When founding president Agostinho Neto died from cancer in 1979, Eduardo dos Santos took charge, ruling with absolute power until he retired voluntarily in 2017.
A crude theft
Angola is Africa’s largest oil producer after Nigeria, and in his final year, dos Santos put his daughter, Isabel, in charge of Sonangol where, according to Panorama, she channelled company revenues to her holdings in the United Arab Emirates. Before that, she had allegedly been given land and tenders by her father, often at a fraction of the market price.
President Lourenço fired Miss dos Santos from Sonangol within days of taking over, and replaced ministers loyal to her father. Her assets and bank accounts in Angola have been frozen and she could face criminal charges.
She is now based in London.
The Angolan government says it wants the money returned but that could be difficult.
Analysts believe the funds went to Moscow. Isabel’s mother is Russian and she holds joint nationality. Article 61 of the Russian constitution protects citizens and their assets from prosecution by foreigners.
Eduardo dos Santos stepped down in 2017 after almost four decades in power
The tale of Eduardo dos Santos is not unusual in Africa.
• When Paul Biya first took office in Cameroon, Elvis was on stage in Las Vegas and Richard Nixon was only a year out of the White House. Now 86, he stands accused of genocide against minority tribes in a country that, on any human rights index, is poor, corrupt and short on freedom.
• Djibouti on the Horn has had only two presidents: the incumbent Ismaïl Guelleh and his uncle.
• Tanzania has been ruled by the same party since independence in 1961. (Tanzania’s Chama Cha Mapinduzi or CCM has changed its name but remains the same entity)
• Of the world’s 10 longest-serving leaders, six are in Africa.
So is change possible?
When Robert Mugabe was overthrown in 2017, his deputy, Emmerson Mnangagwa took over and things have grown worse with shortages of fuel and power, and UN predictions that, in 2020, millions face starvation in a country whose farms once fed the subcontinent.
Zambia, Malawi and Kenya have swapped parties at the ballot box, but levels of graft, poverty and unemployment have barely moved.
The reasons are complex, as President Filipe Nyusi has discovered in Mozambique.
Nyusi won his second and last term in November 2019 with allegations of fraud and vote-rigging. Even in districts where his ruling Frelimo party is unpopular, they won a huge majority, aiding the message of rebel groups that change will only come “through the barrel of a gun”.
There’s already a war in the north where extremists loyal to al-Shabaab have killed hundreds in the name of Islam, demanding Sharia law along the lines of the Taliban, with no education for girls and a ban on television.
In a nation where corruption has been the byword since Frelimo took power in 1975, Nyusi’s predecessor, Armando Guebuza, took it to new levels, awarding his family control of harbours, farms and tenders.
In Angola, it’s the former “first daughter” who is under investigation. Here, it’s Guebuza’s son, Ndabi, arrested last year for his alleged role in a $2bn scandal over the purchase of a fishing fleet and some patrol boats where funds have allegedly gone missing.
The deal involved Guebuza’s finance minister, Manuel Chang, who has spent more than a year in a South African jail while both Maputo and Washington demand his extradition. The Americans want him to answer questions over corruption involving US dollars; Mozambique has not charged him with any crime.
More on that in a moment.
Former finance minister, Manuel Chang, at a court hearing in Johannesburg
In Angola, Isabel dos Santos has become a hate figure, the poster girl for past excess, even though João Lourenço and most of his cabinet served in her father’s government (he was defence minister).
On the BBC, she pointed out how “the government” and not just her father signed off the deals, including her appointment as boss of Sonangol.
Perhaps that’s why she’s so confident, and talks about one day going home and even standing for president. The real people of Angola are among the poorest anywhere, and there’s little sign of what’s happened to almost half-a-century worth of oil revenue since independence, apart from in distorting GNI statistics.
Having spent her life in the presidential palace, IDS could wake any number of sleeping dogs Lourenço and his cabinet would rather let lie.
In Mozambique, there’s no one figure. Guebuza still has sway among some of the key people in both Frelimo and the military, though Nyusi has dumped foreign minister José Pacheco from his cabinet.
Why is that important? Because, until 2005, Mr Pacheco was governor of Nyusi’s home province of Cabo Delgado on the border of Tanzania where the war with al-Shabaab has broken out.
And on Pacheco’s watch, a crime syndicate headed by Pakistani-Mozambican, Momade Rassul, took over the region, building an empire based on ivory, rubies, counterfeit goods, people-smuggling and drugs, including bulk shipments of heroin from Afghanistan, warehoused and repackaged into smaller parcels then sent on to the US and Europe via the northern ports of Nacala and Pemba.
For years, Mr Rassul was untouchable and a major donor to Frelimo.
Two years after Nyusi came to power, the local tax office sent him a bill for just under US$1m. Rassul, they allege, has “repeatedly understated his income”.
Next, he was charged with money laundering, but when witnesses failed to testify the case was dropped. (It’s a tough neighbourhood: in 2017 when the mayor of Nampula, Mahamudo Amurane, launched a campaign against crime and corruption, he was gunned down outside his home. No arrests have been made.)
In 2019, a Hong Kong firm demanded payment of $20m for machines it had sold Rassul to process kernels at his palm-oil plant at Nacala. The Nacala district court seized the factory and settled the debt.
This would have been unthinkable under Guebuza.
Like Lourenço, Filipe Nyusi was defence minister in the previous government. And for eight of Guebuza’s 10 years at the top, he was in cabinet.
When Manuel Chang signed the deal to buy patrol craft and trawlers to set up a fishing industry and keep poachers out of the Mozambique Channel, Nyusi not only knew about it, but accepted a donation from the ship builder, Privinvest, to fund his election campaign. (Privinvest paid the money after winning the tender and investigators have therefore agreed that it was not a bribe.)
This emerged in December when Lebanese national, Jean Boustani, who works for Privinvest, was acquitted by a New York court of all charges relating to the case.
Problem is, the so-called “boat saga” is just one example of what took place while Armando Guebuza was in power. And Momade Rassul is only one of the godfathers who run drug and smuggling networks along the coast.
President Filipe Nyusi and his predecessor, Armando Guebuza
If there’s a thread between them, it will be Chang who, as treasurer, would have known about the finances of both the state and the Party. He may also know of other military deals approved by Nyusi when he was defence minister.
In Maputo, the Attorney General’s office has already paid $1.6m to South African law firm, Mabunda Incorporated, in an effort to stop Chang being sent to America.
But the US gets its way and puts him on trial, his testimony could dwarf the claims against Eduardo dos Santos and his daughter.
And coming clean would likely mitigate Chang’s sentence should he be found guilty.
Angola is at peace, the government is stable, and there’s little to stop President Lourenço pushing out the dos Santos family and their cronies.
By contrast, Mozambique has a war in the north with al-Shabaab, and a network of drug lords along the coast with money enough to bribe the police and the army … and to hamper development.
Mr Nyusi is trying to break with the past. But his own part in the story could yet bring him down.