Much has been written and much has been said about corruption in Angola. Spend one day in Luanda and you will see for yourself how obviously rich some of us Angolans are. One day in Lisbon and Cascais and you will see the same. The wealth of the richest Angolans has never been officially quantified, but rest assured that people such as Isabel dos Santos, Manuel Vicente, Kopelipa, Dino do Nascimento (General Dino), and others – those names that keep popping up whenever Angolan wealth, companies or corruption cases in Portugal are mentioned, have very wealthy portfolios. But how does this actually translate to the average Angolan’s life on the ground? How is corruption felt? How does the average Angolan consumer, or even foreign nationals living in or visiting Angola, line the pockets of the country’s “elite”? Let’s look at just how prevalent is the ruling elite’s financial influence in your day-to-day activities in Luanda. Let’s pretend you’re an expat/business traveler – this is from your perspective.
Say you’ve just landed in Luanda, made your way through our state-of-the-art airport (just kidding about the airport), waited an hour or so for your luggage and paid your driver to safely navigate your way through Luanda’s beautiful, fast-flowing streets (just kidding about the streets). Destination: your hotel. If your hotel is the HCTA in Talatona, Manuel Vicente will gladly say thank you, as him and a few of his friends illegally hold financial interests there. If not, well then, welcome to Luanda.
Meanwhile, you need to get a phone. Ideally even two phones. There are only two phone operators in Angola – UNITEL and MOVICEL. Either one you choose, you’ll be lining the pockets of our favorite corrupt Angolans. Movicel, which used to be a State company, was bought by a consortium of private companies with no known commercial activities. Their shareholders are either directly employed by the Presidency or have direct links to it. The three most prominent shareholders are Manuel Vicente, Kopelipa and General Dino.
Nevermind, you say. You want to use Unitel instead – their adverts are funnier. Well, you’re in luck: you’re now lining the pockets of Isabel dos Santos, one of the main shareholders of Unitel, and the company GENI, owned by prominent MPLA stalwarts. You pay for your phone with your new Banco BIC Multicaixa card, and suddenly remember who one of the main shareholders at Banco BIC is: The lovely Isabel dos Santos.
All this shareholding talk is making you hungry. You’ve heard a lot about some great restaurants in the city. One of them is Oon.Dah, regarded by many as the best in Luanda. You decide to check it out and have your meal there. Congratulations – you’ve just lined the pockets of Isabel dos Santos, Oon.dah’s owner. For dinner, you decide you want a change from the delicious Asian fusion cuisine at Oon.Dah and are in the mood for some fine Brazilian steak – a rodízio, perhaps. So you call your business mates (on your Movicel/Unitel phone– Manuel Vicente, Isabel, and their friends say “cha-ching!”) and make your way to Esplanada Grill on the Ilha. Owned by…Isabel dos Santos!
You’re getting a bit tired of the traffic and don’t want to go back to the “city” just yet. “Let’s stay at the Ilha!”, you say. “Where can one hear live music?” It being a Thursday, your Angolan business mates will tell you about a great spot on the Ilha called Miami Beach. Nice breeze, great caipirinhas, and live music. When you leave there, having paid your bill, you’ll have added some more of your Kwanzas to Isabel dos Santos’ bottom line – it’s her restaurant.
“To hell with this,” you exclaim. “If I cook my own meal I bet I can have lunch without lining the pockets of the Angolan elite”, you reason, remembering that one of your friends was lucky enough to get an apartment in Kilamba. You call your Angolan mates (on your Unitel/Movicel) and ask them about a good place to do groceries near you. “Kero Supermarket”, they say. And there’s one in Kilamba! Happily having completed your purchases for your first home-cooked meal in Angola, you head over to your friend’s apartment, where you ask, “By the way, who owns Kero? It’s great in there!” “Well,”, he responds “Manuel Vicente, Kopelipa and General Dino are ultimately the main shareholders! They also own Delta Imobiliária, the only company allowed to sell Kilamba apartments and the one that got me mine!” You continue your meal in silence, stunned.
A few hours after dinner you’re watching some program about kuduro on state channel TPA 2, owned and managed by two of the President’s kids. There are two state-owned channels – TPA1 and 2; the only private Angolan channel is TV Zimbo, which you are not too surprised to know is owned by a group called Media Nova in which Kopelipa, Manuel Vicente and General Dino have significant interests. By now you’ve stopped caring. Your Unitel/Movicel phone is ringing and your Angolan friends want to take you to a night out on the town, to precisely the hottest club in Luanda. Destination: Kasta Lounge. Owner: Coreon Dú, the President’s son.
You end your day in bed, thinking “how is this even possible.” Your head is pounding. As is customary, you like to doze off to the sound of the television, and thankfully your hotel room is equipped with ZAP Cable. You land on some boring documentary that is perfect to fall asleep to.
It’s only then that you remember: Isabel dos Santos is a major shareholder at ZON Multimedia, parent company of ZAP.
Welcome to Angola.
*The title comes from a famous MCK lyric on the song ‘O País do Pai Banana’:
Também quero a paz no prato, dignidade e paz no prato./ Prefiro morrer a tiro do que morrer a fome, irmãos./ A disparidade é enorme, vivemos presos nesta armadilha, condenados a sermos escravos de três famílias./ Tudo é deles, do Talatona à Ilha, os diamantes são deles, o petróleo é deles, a imobilária é deles/ (…) para nós só temos o Zango e o Panguila./ O patrão é o colono, na terra do pai banana”.
“I also want peace on my plate, dignity and peace on my plate./ They rather shoot me than starve me, brothers./ The disparity is enormous, we are caught in this trap condemned to be slaves of three families./ Everything is theirs, from Talatona to the Ilha, the diamonds are theirs, the oil is theirs, the real estate is theirs/ (…) we only have Zango and Panguila./ The boss is the colonizer, in the Banana Republic”.