Africa’s richest woman hints at Angolan presidency

By: Dhipa Palani

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Angolan billionaire Isabel dos Santos dubbed the “petrodollar princess” has suggested that she may seek to become the country’s next president. In a January 16 interview with the BBC in London, Dos Santos declined four times to rule out running for the presidency.

Currently living abroad, she stressed that her life would be at risk if she were to return to Angola. Despite this, Dos Santos did not rule out the possibility of running for president, mentioning that she has a strong sense of patriotism and duty to her country. “To lead is to serve, so I will do whatever my life takes me,” she said.

Dos Santos has also told a Portuguese television channel that “it’s possible” she might run for the presidency in 2022. The announcement marks a dramatic shift for someone who has consistently portrayed herself as an entrepreneur with no interest in politics.

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The 46-year-old is one of the world’s richest women, with Forbes magazine estimating her fortune to be worth $2.1 billion, making her the richest woman in Africa. Dos Santos was named Africa’s richest woman for her many investments in Angola and Portugal – a wealth which was largely amassed during her father President José Eduardo dos Santos’s decades-long rule from 1979 to 2017. 

At 24, she acquired a stake in Miami Beach, a seafood restaurant in Luanda in 1997. In 2013, she became Africa’s first female billionaire. In 2016, during her father’s rule, Dos Santos was appointed as chief of Angola’s state-run oil group Sonangol by her father. However, she was removed when her father left office. 

Dos Santos also reportedly has a 6% stake in Portuguese oil and gas firm Galp, worth around $830 million. She also has an ownership of 42.5% of Portugal’s EuroBic bank, a 25% stake in Angolan mobile operator Unitel, as well as a 42.5% stake in Angolan bank Banco BIC. 

Financial scandal

However, after the alleged corruption charges against the Dos Santos family – which prosecutors say has robbed the state of more than $2 billion – the courts have ordered the freezing of her bank accounts. Dos Santos denies these charges against her, saying they are “politically motivated.” She says: “These are false allegations and this is part of … an orchestrated attack by the current government that is completely politically motivated.”

Her half-brother, José Filomeno dos Santos, also known as Zenu, is currently on trial in Angola on charges of corruption.