Tanzania’s John Magufuli has been hogging the limelight for his unorthodox approach of stemming the purported illicit repatriation of wealth by multinational mining companies. But there is someone doing the real work from the glare of media attention, without fanfare – Angola’s new President, João Lourenço.
Lourenço is tackling what has been regarded as the proverbial elephant in the room that most resource-rich African countries haven’t been brave enough to confront – the misappropriation of revenue by the ruling elite, whose consequences have been colossal.
An archetypal African failed state
It is not an exaggeration that Angola is an archetypal African failed state. Despite earning hundreds of billions of dollars from crude oil exports, it is one of the countries in the world with the lowest infant mortality rates, the majority of its population is dirt-poor and does not have access to clean water and basic facilities for education and health. According to the reports, most of the revenue was channeled to personal accounts of former President Eduardo dos Santos’ family and its circles. Through irregular procurement practices of multimillion public projects, the former president’s daughter, Isabel dos Santos, amassed obscene wealth, even earning herself a slot on the coveted Forbes billionaire list.
Not beyond redemption
Refreshingly, after the departure of dos Santos, there is hope that Angola’s problems are not beyond redemption. Once perceived as his predecessors puppet (yes, some felt that the erstwhile president was going to be pulling the strings from behind), Lourenço has charted his own path, and turning the old order upside down. He has embarked on a mission to restore order by reviewing procurement policies and management structures of the country’s critical quasi-government bodies. Of course, the first priority has been changing the management structure of Sanangol, the country’s parastatal that that oversees oil revenue, and the offshore sovereign fund.
No sacred cows spared
In no time, notwithstanding underlying political pressure, Lourenço has fired Isabel dos Santos, as head of the Sanangol, and her brother, Jose Filomeno dos Santos, as trustee of the sovereign fund. The two used privileged positions they held at the two entities as their personal cash cows, helping themselves to public funds, financing their luxurious lifestyles and amassing personal assets.
And Lourenço is leaving no stone unturned. Ostensibly, demonstrating that there is no personal vendetta, he is ridding the government of corrupt officials who have been complicit in bleeding the country of its funds. Unceremoniously, big names have been given the boot and waiting for their day in the court of law.
The poster boy of good governance?
In awe of his boldness and display of rectitude in his conduct, rare in power-hungry African leaders, some commentators have hastily projected Lourenço as the poster boy of good governance in on the continent.
Hopefully, in the long run, proceeds from export of the natural resources Angola is endowed with will benefit the populace, taking a leaf from neighbouring Botswana.
So far so good….
When asked by African Mining Brief Online for a verdict on Lourenço‘s few days in office, a citizen of Angola resident in South Africa was not carried away. “Let’s wait and see. They all start like that, don’t they?…Let’s give him time?” he mumbled cynically, as if conscious that the big goons of the old order were within earshot.
Indeed, the jury is not yet out on sustenance of his commitment, but definitely, so far so good for Southern Africa’s ‘Mr. Fix-It’, on recent performance at the very least.