Skip to main content

Socialism, capitalism, globalization, the judicialization of politics, and the politicization of justice. The rise and fall of Isabel dos Santos’s empire synthetizes the contradictions of our times.

In 2013, Forbes magazine reported that Isabel dos Santos, the eldest daughter of Angolan president José Eduardo dos Santos, was Africa’s first woman billionaire. She has always claimed that her fortune is the product of hard work and entrepreneurship, but, two years after her father stepped down in 2017, her empire began to crumble.

On December 30, 2019, the Luanda Provincial Court ordered the freezing of her Angolan bank accounts and the seizure of her shareholdings in local companies Unitel, Banco de Fomento Angola, ZAP, Finstar, Nova Cimangola II, Condis, Continente Angola and Sodiba. The order also applied to her husband, Sindika Dokolo, and their business associate Mário Leite da Silva. The government is hoping to recover US$1.1 billion in losses from the couple and their associate.

Following the release of a trove of more than 700,000 leaked emails and other documents—known as the Luanda Leaks—the Angolan attorney general charged Isabel dos Santos with money laundering, influence peddling, and document forgery. The Portuguese judicial authorities have also opened an investigation against her on suspicion of money laundering.

 

Socialism: The Origins

“Once upon a time there was a princess whose father ruled a socialist country.” If Isabel dos Santos’s story were a fairy tale, this is how it would start. Whereas Isabel’s business skills are undisputable, she didn’t start her fortune by selling eggs on the streets.

The remote origins of her empire date back to the centralism and dirigisme implemented by the once Marxist–Leninist MPLA (People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola). Like other liberation movements, after coming to power the MPLA combined this statist approach and socialist rhetoric with the sacralization of liberation credentials and the centralization of power in the “comrade president” and “architect of peace”, José Eduardo dos Santos. Economic restructuring and diversification were indefinitely delayed in the name of primitive accumulation and rent seeking, benefiting a ruling elite in general and the presidential family in particular.

With the end of José Eduardo dos Santos’s rule, Angola seems to be—albeit slowly and painfully—entering a new era. President João Lourenço has made the restructuring of the economy and the war on corruption his top priorities, and on the corruption front his efforts are paying off. In 2019, the country moved up 19 places in the Corruption Perceptions Index.

Some people who were close to the former president are cooperating with the Asset Recovery Service, including former vice president Manuel Vicente; General Manuel Hélder Vieira Dias Jr, known by the nickname Kopelipa; and Leopoldino Fragoso do Nascimento, a.k.a. General Dino.

 

Capitalism: Building an Empire

Isabel dos Santos wanted more than a lavish lifestyle, unlike María Gabriela Chávez Colmenares, daughter of the former Venezuelan president; Chatunga Mugabe, son of the former Zimbabwean president; and Teodorin Obiang, son of the former president of Equatorial Guinea. She wanted to have it all, and so the story of her empire is also a story of contradictions. What made her fortune possible was, first and foremost, a centralized economy where the state, embodied in the president, played the leading role in the economy. However, this fortune was multiplied thanks to the logics and institutions of capitalism.

Isabel constructed the image of a woman embodying initiative, entrepreneurship, and hard work. She talks about creating wealth, jobs, opportunities, and empowering women (which, to be fair, she also did), and making Angola a prosperous and competitive economy. In a recent interview with the BBC, she defined herself as an economically oriented woman coming from the private sector, and not an insider in Angolan politics.

In fact, Isabel not only extended her operations to every relevant sector of the Angolan economy, including telecommunications, mining, oil, banking, and retail, but also became a key investor in Portugal.

In 1997, in her early twenties, she created Urbana 2000 and won a contract to manage Luanda’s urban cleaning and sanitation systems. In the late 1990s, José Eduardo dos Santos declared that licenses to operate in the (promising) telecom sector could be granted without a public tender, provided it was a joint venture with the state. The license was given to the recently founded Unitel, where Sonangol had a 25 percent stake and Isabel dos Santos—one of the founders—another 25 percent. Later, Unitel would grant more than US$350 million in funding to Unitel International Holdings (a company controlled by Isabel dos Santos). Part of that money was used by Isabel to enter into the Portuguese telecom market, through the creation of the media company Nos.

The relationship between Isabel and Angola’s state oil company the Sonangol Group—a key focus of the Luanda Leaks—dates back to 2006, when she and her husband became partners of Sonangol through a Netherlands holding company called Esperaza. Esperaza controlled 45 percent of Amorim Energia, which acquired 33.34 percent of the Portuguese Galp Energia, a position worth over US$700 million. However, while Amorim Energia paid US$126 million in dividends to Esperaza (transferred to a Deutsche Bank holding account in the Netherlands), Sonangol allegedly did not receive its share. In 2015, following pressure from Deutsche Bank, the money was transferred to an account at EuroBic (formerly known as Banco Bic) in Lisbon. Banco Bic had been created in 2008 by Isabel dos Santos, Fernando Teles and Américo Amorim. In 2014, Isabel dos Santos had secured a 42.5 percent majority stake in the bank.

In 2010, José Eduardo dos Santos decided to start selling Angolan diamonds abroad. In 2012, the state-owned Sodiam established a partnership with Melbourne Investments (controlled by Sindika Dokolo) to buy the Swiss luxury jeweler De Grisogono. However, whereas Melbourne Investments retained control of the operation, Sodiam paid US$79 million for the acquisition. In order to finance the operation, Sodiam got a US$120 million loan from EuroBic, guaranteed by the Angolan Treasury. According to the Sodiam chairman, the Angolan state has not profited from the venture.

 

Globalization: Luanda, Dubai, Budapest, Paris, and Gaia

The story of Isabel dos Santos’s fortune is also a product of globalization. Back in the Cold War times, money would often travel the world in suitcases. But four decades later, in a world of globalized capital, money can travel around the world through multiple vehicles in a sequence of rapid and volatile flows that challenge regulators’ capacities. Isabel’s businesses were assisted by top consultancies and legal firms, many of them with a global footprint. Between 1992 and 2019, Isabel dos Santos and Sindika Dokolo held stakes in 423 companies and their subsidiaries. Many were Portuguese (155) and Angolan (99), but their empire was global.

What shook this empire was a decision taken in Luanda in 2016 by the central committee of the ruling MPLA and José Eduardo dos Santos himself: to start a process of leadership change in Angola.

In June 2016, about one year before exiting the presidency, José Eduardo dos Santos appointed his daughter non-executive director and chairwoman of Sonangol, at a time when the company was in deep financial trouble. In November 2017, less than two months after taking office and amid growing political tension, new Angolan president João Lourenço fired Isabel dos Santos from Sonangol.

During the last six months of her tenure, US$115 million was allegedly transferred from the Sonangol account to Matter Business Solutions, a consulting firm in Dubai controlled by Isabel dos Santo’s right-hand man, Mário Leite da Silva. She claims the money was to pay for services provided within the company’s major restructuring plan, as Matter Business Solutions was in charge of coordinating the process that involved services provided by Boston Consulting Group, PricewaterhouseCoopers, McKinsey & Company, and the Portuguese law firm Vieira de Almeida.

But as the dos Santos saga is far from over, a new dilemma—of a juridical, political, and moral nature—is emerging. A substantial part of the information used to accuse Isabel dos Santos comes from a “leakage of information” contained in more than 715,000 files allegedly delivered by a Portuguese hacker to the Paris-based Platform to Protect Whistleblowers in Africa (PPLAAF), chaired by Edward Snowden’s lawyer William Bourdon. The information was then passed to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). A whistleblower, according to PPLAAF, is “a person who discloses information regarding actions that are unlawful, illicit or against public interest, that he/she has witnessed, especially in the context of his/her work.”

From Paris, let us go to the Portuguese cities of Lisbon and Gaia. A couple of years ago, one of the main Portuguese advocacy firms that provided legal services to Isabel dos Santos was the victim of a cyberattack. Gaia is the city where, at the age of 23 and operating from his personal computer in his family house, Rui Pinto managed to sack €264 million from a bank based in the Cayman Islands. Rui Pinto is known for the “Football Leaks”, which exposed corruption in European football and tax fraud by stars like Cristiano Ronaldo and José Mourinho. Searched by the Portuguese Police, he was extradited from Hungary in 2019. Rui Pinto is now in pre-detention and will be judged for 90 crimes in the “Football Leaks” process, including extorsion attempt, illegitimate access, undue access, violation of correspondence, and computer sabotage. Rui Pinto’s lawyer William Bourdon has declared that Rui Pinto is the only informant behind the Luanda Leaks, as he “accidentally” found information related to Isabel dos Santos’s companies.

 

Dilemmas of the 21st Century

Tempting as it may be to define Rui Pinto as a martyr fighting for transparency and accountability in Africa, this narrative—which is the one his legal team is trying to construct—lacks credibility. In the meantime, Isabel dos Santos has announced that she will launch legal action against the ICIJ and its media partners assisted by Schillings, a law firm with experience in politically motivated hacking and whose team includes intelligence experts, investigators and cyber specialists.

 And so the story of Isabel dos Santos’s empire, whose origins date back to the post-Cold War period, brings us to great dilemmas of the 21st century. First, the judicialization of politics and the politicization of justice. Isabel dos Santos claimed that this was a coordinated and politically motivated attack. In a scenario where it is proved that Rui Pinto didn’t act alone and was moved exclusively by a hunger for justice and transparency, she may score a victory that could negatively impact the image of the post-dos Santos Angola. So far, however, the Angolan executive has the upper hand, as Isabel dos Santos seems willing to negotiate a return of the funds, an outcome which, at the end of the day, would represent a win-win situation.

Second, the Luanda Leaks reveal the urgency of profound reflections, so that we don’t risk being run over by events. Cyber-piracy is a crime punishable by law. In a politically polarized world where hacktivism is on the rise, transforming hackers into heroes may create a dangerous precedent, as offences are judged by their consequences or alleged intentions. Moreover, in constitutional and democratic states, to what extent must the rule of law be sacrificed in the name of what PLAAF describes as “international public interest”? And who, in a world where the local, the national, and the global are in permanent tension, should define what “international public interest” means?

It is too soon to tell how this story will end, as there is a long judicial, political, and information war ahead. What is certain is that we should all take an interest in the Luanda Leaks, given its origins, developments, and potential consequences.

 

CHRONOLOGY

1997 – Isabel creates Urbana 2000 and ventures into Luanda’s urban cleaning and sanitation systems.

2000 – José Eduardo dos Santos pushed for the establishment of Ascorp, a company with the exclusive rights in the commercialization and export of Angolan diamonds. Sodiam controls 51 percent of Ascorp, whereas Trans Africa Investment Services controls 24.5 percent (Isabel dos Santos and her mother, Tatiana Kukanova, control 75 and 25 percent, respectively, of Trans Africa).

December 2006 – Isabel and her husband, Sindika Dokolo, through Exem Energy, become partners of Sonangol in the Esperaza Holding. The Holding had acquired a 45 percent share of Amorim Energia BV, which controlled one-third of the Portuguese Galp Energia.

Sonangol sold 40 percent of its position in the joint venture to Exem (a deal valued at US$99 million).

JANUARY 2007 – Exem pays US$15 million to Sonangol for the 40 percent stake in Esperaza.

2008 – Through a participation in BIC Angola, Isabel dos Santos, along with Américo Amorim and Fernando Teles, founds Banco BIC in Portugal.

2007–2014 – During this period, Amorim Energia paid €126 million in dividends to Esperaza. The money was transferred to a Deutsche Bank account in the Netherlands.

2011 – Isabel dos Santos establishes a deal with Sonae to take the Continente supermarket chain to Angola. Isabel eventually exited the deal and created her own chain, Candando.

May 2012 – Unitel grants the first of several loans (totaling 460 million) to Unitel International Holdings.

2014 – Isabel dos Santos becomes the main shareholder of the EuroBic through Santoro Financial Holdings.

2015 – Niara Holding is awarded part of a contract worth US$4.5 billion to construct the dam and hydroelectric station in Caculo Cabaça. The company belongs to Isabel dos Santos, who enters the project in a partnership with the China Ghezouba Group Company (CGGC).

2015 – Through Winterfell 2 Limited, a company based in Malta, Isabel dos Santos acquires a 65 percent position in the Portuguese Efacec Power Solutions, with operations in Angola and Mozambique.

2015 – After pressure from Deutsche Bank, €124 million from an Esperaza account is transferred to a EuroBic account in Lisbon.

June 2, 2016 – Isabel dos Santos is appointed chairwoman of Sonangol.

June 30, 2017 Exem Energy sends a letter to the chairwoman of Sonangol informing her of the company’s willingness to pay the total value of the debt (estimated at €72.8 million), on the condition that the payment be made in kwanzas.

August 2017 – The Sonangol board accepts the payment proposal.

November 2017 – Isabel dos Santos is fired from Sonangol.

November 2017 – Esperaza orders a payment of 67 million to Sonangol, a transfer from the EuroBic account in Lisbon.

November 2017 – US$58 million is transferred from a Sonangol account to the Dubai-based Matter Business Solutions.

December 30, 2019 – The Angolan Provincial Court communicates the preventive seizure of Isabel dos Santos’s assets.

January 2020 – The Luanda Leaks information is disseminated by international media.

January 23, 2020 – Isabel dos Santos is formerly accused by the Angolan attorney general.

January 27, 2020 – William Bourdon declares that his client the Portuguese hacker Rui Pinto is the only informant behind the Luanda Leaks.

January 27, 2020 – Isabel dos Santos announces that she is launching legal action against the ICIJ and its media partners.

February 1, 2010 – According to Portuguese media, a source close to the Angolan attorney general says Isabel dos Santos’s legal team is negotiating with Luanda to pay debts contracted with Sodiam and Sonangol.

 

Teresa Nogueira Pinto is a Phd Candidate in Global Studies and an African Affairs analyst. 

Twitter: @Teresa_np

Kwaluseni, Eswatini. “Bullets were flying everywhere,” remembers Sifiso. © Alessandro Parodi.
Kwaluseni, Eswatini. “Bullets were flying everywhere,” remembers Sifiso. © Alessandro Parodi.

The Southern African country of Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) is in military lockdown as a result of violence and brutal retaliation, which escalated in the last two weeks in the Manzini district. The civil unrest opposes pro-democracy protesters and King Mswati III’s army, which defends the royal family through the barrel of the gun.

The marches started at the University of Eswatini (UNISWA) in Manzini, the country’s second biggest city, to express the dissatisfaction of the young generations with the authority and the excesses of the last absolute monarch in Africa. For weeks, the government ignored the rallies organized in the country’s four districts by students and political parties. The uprising took an unexpected turn as the disheartened rioters started destroying and looting businesses owned by the King and by foreigner entrepreneurs.

 

“The protest was peaceful until the police arrived,” commented Sifiso, who witnessed an intense stand-off on June 29. “They threw tear gas bombs and were shooting to kill.”

 

“The protest was peaceful until the police arrived,” commented Sifiso, who witnessed an intense stand-off on June 29. “They threw tear gas bombs and were shooting to kill.”

The rioters replied with petrol bombs and set the Kwaluseni police station alight. Hell broke loose.

“Suddenly we were in the crossfire,” added Sifiso, showing a bullet shell he found on the street. “They beat up people and shot them down. Somebody tried to run and cut his leg with barbed wire. There was blood everywhere, and the whole block was burning down.”

The Kwaluseni constituency was one of several areas targeted during the protests. The district of Manzini and the city of Matsapha were the hardest hit, with entire neighborhoods destroyed by fire, looting, and the brute force used by law enforcement officials.

“It was Thursday, at 4 o’clock in the morning around the brewery area,” remembered Thando (not his real name), a protester from Matsapha. “The police and the army came to stop our riot. My brother Sicelo was in the front. They shot, they shot -- I think they shot him three times, while he was running away.”

“We took his body to the hospital and he died there,” continued Thando. “In the night, the soldiers came to steal the body from the morgue to burn it. Fortunately a friend tipped me off. I went to the hospital and got the body back with the help of the secretary of PUDEMO [Peoples' United Democratic Movement] to go ahead with the autopsy.”

Thando is no longer afraid for his life. “When you talk the truth, here, you’re going to die. I’m already dead. It’s just a matter of how it happens,” he said.

Silencing the opposition seems to be the modus operandi of the regime, as several “accidents” reportedly resulted in the death or disappearance of political analysts, journalists and dissidents. The Swazi government also refused to address the public, denying interviews and media accreditation in the country. However, rumors talk of an imminent Sibaya, a general assembly called by the monarch to address his subjects on Friday 16.

The Covid-19 pandemic has also become an excuse to restrict the citizen’s freedom with the enforcement of a 6pm curfew and the temporary jamming of internet connections. Most of the killings and torture reportedly happened at night.

One of the alleged accidents caused the death of Thabani Nkomonye, a law student at the University of Eswatini who was killed and mauled by the police on May 8. In the academic circles, his memory still provokes pain and resentment. His murder ignited a revolutionary sentiment among his peers, who flooded the Tinkhundla Centres with thousands of petitions. The Tinkhundla Centres are 55 administrative establishments where the population can express their democratic rights and petition the undertakings of the royal family and its government.

The students demanded inclusive governance and a transition to a parliamentary monarchy with the support of three vocal MPs, who questioned the authority of a puppet Parliament. The government’s response was marked by dismissal and repression. The Tinkhundla Centres were shut down and military cordons were established around them.

“What we were doing was guided by the Constitution of Swaziland,” commented student leader Bongumenzi Dlamini. “They were wrong to ban the submission of petitions, which were given to the rightful Member of Parliament.”

“The protests are not going to stop, simply because the government doesn’t want to listen to us. Our parents are used to solving issues in a more peaceful way, our culture is based on that. We have seen that this attitude doesn’t work. We are taken for granted because we employ respect and it backfires on us. When we engage ourselves in strikes, instead, we are taken as hooligans because they use the Swazi culture as a shield,” concluded Dlamini.

 

“I don’t know what to think, I lost everything,” asserted Rambo Maziya, the owner of two pharmacies in Matsapha and Manzini. “But I need to reopen, no matter what, because the people in my community need my medicines. My people are dying.”

 

Despite the peaceful intentions, the protests turned into bloodshed and fratricide. As violence erupted, looting and shoplifting were at large.

“I don’t know what to think, I lost everything,” asserted Rambo Maziya, the owner of two pharmacies in Matsapha and Manzini. “But I need to reopen, no matter what, because the people in my community need my medicines. My people are dying.”

“I didn’t expect things to be that bad,” added Ali Tasty, who owns several shops in Kwaluseni. “I only went back after two days and found all my businesses were burned down. Now what can I do?”

Supermarkets and car dealers were also destroyed, for an estimated damage of 3 billion Emalangeni ($208 million). 5,000 jobs went up in smoke.

“In any situation like this there are casualties. I am one of them,” commented a shop employee, who requested to remain anonymous. “They are protecting the regime at our expense.”

The Swazi population now faces a serious shortage of basic goods such as food and medicines. The supply of petrol, which is a monopoly of Southern Star Logistics, has become erratic and resulted in endless lines at filling stations. The Swazi business community is also disillusioned with the monarch’s attitude toward the free market, which he is accused to dominate with unfair competition and insatiable greed.

As the country attempts a painful return to normality, dissident MPs Bacede Mabuza, Magawugawu Simelane and Mthandeni Dube are in hiding, with police on their trail. A mandate of arrest justifies the manhunt, although their defense has not had any clarity about the charges against them.

“The Inkundla system opposes the existence of democratic voices in Swaziland,” stated their defense lawyer Adv. Thulani Maseko, director of the Institute for Democracy and Leadership in Mbabane.

“Whilst we have the elections of MPs in the 59 constituencies, the executive remains a prerogative of the King, in particular the choice of a Prime Minister. The second fundamental point is that political parties are not allowed to contest political power as a block.” Political parties were banned in 1973 by King Sobhuza II.

“These MPs who today are facing arrest have come out asking for elections to be held. That is the reason why the system is upset,” concluded Maseko.

His colleague Emmanuel Mabuza is concerned about his safety and fears for retaliation: “If the protests fail, we are all dead. They will find us and make us disappear,” he affirmed.

On July 4, a fact-finding mission of observers from SADC countries (Troika) met government officials in Mbabane. The international inquiry was dismissed as the delegation could not engage with civil society and other stakeholders.

The mission returned on July 12, despite the eruption of unrelated violence in neighbouring South Africa.

While awaiting the results of the inquiry, the Swazi population is bracing for new protests scheduled for July 16, in occasion of the King’s Sibaya. The alert levels are on the rise, amid increasing fears of further violence, destruction and death.

 

Kwaluseni, Eswatini. Trying hard to return to normality. © Alessandro Parodi.
Kwaluseni, Eswatini. Trying hard to return to normality. © Alessandro Parodi.
Matsapha, Eswatini. “I need to reopen, no matter what, because the people in my community need my medicines,” said Rambo Maziya . © Alessandro Parodi.
Matsapha, Eswatini. “I need to reopen, no matter what, because the people in my community need my medicines,” said Rambo Maziya . © Alessandro Parodi.
Matsapha, Eswatini. The uprising exacerbated the difficulties caused by the Covid pandemic. © Alessandro Parodi.
Matsapha, Eswatini. The uprising exacerbated the difficulties caused by the Covid pandemic. © Alessandro Parodi.
Manzini, Eswatini. Several ATMs were assaulted during the riots. © Alessandro Parodi.
Manzini, Eswatini. Several ATMs were assaulted during the riots. © Alessandro Parodi.
Matsapha, Eswatini. Arson at HB Motors caused damage for 13 million Emalangeni ($883,000). © Alessandro Parodi.
Matsapha, Eswatini. Arson at HB Motors caused damage for 13 million Emalangeni ($883,000). © Alessandro Parodi.
Kwaluseni, Eswatini. Angry students did not spare the book shop at the University of Eswatini. © Alessandro Parodi.
Kwaluseni, Eswatini. Angry students did not spare the book shop at the University of Eswatini. © Alessandro Parodi.
Matsapha, Eswatini. Thabo (not his real name) lost his brother in the protests. “When you talk the truth, here, you’re going to die.” © Alessandro Parodi.
Matsapha, Eswatini. Thabo (not his real name) lost his brother in the protests. “When you talk the truth, here, you’re going to die.” © Alessandro Parodi.
Lobamba, Eswatini. A young supporter of the King reads the daily news © Alessandro Parodi.
Lobamba, Eswatini. A young supporter of the King reads the daily news © Alessandro Parodi.
Lobamba, Eswatini. King Mswati III surrounded by his escort © Alessandro Parodi.
Lobamba, Eswatini. King Mswati III surrounded by his escort © Alessandro Parodi.

 

Ivorian president Alassane Ouattara
Ivorian president Alassane Ouattara (Photo by Sia Kambou/via AFP)

After weeks of speculation, President Alassane Ouattara has confirmed that he will stand as the candidate for Côte d'Ivoire’s ruling RHDP party, taking the place of his chosen successor Amadou Gon Coulibaly, who passed away suddenly last month. Opposition parties claim Ouattara’s announcement is a violation of the Ivorian constitution, which limits a president to two consecutive terms. But the RHDP argues the constitution adopted in 2016 effectively reset Ouattara’s term limits, so his first term didn’t count.

Though this decision is seemingly an about-face from prior statements made by the incumbent, Ouattara had warned that should Laurent Gbagbo and Henri Konan Bédié run as candidates he would consider seeking a third term.

Former Ivorian president Henri Konan Bédie
Former Ivorian president Henri Konan Bédie (Photo by Issouf Sanogo/via AFP)

Bédié was president of Côte d’Ivoire from 1993 to 1999, and implemented changes to the country’s constitution that barred Ouattara from running for president in 1995 and 2000. The changes stipulated that both parents of a presidential candidate must be of Ivorian birth, which Ouattara and his supporters said was designed to specifically exclude him given that one of his parents was rumored to be from Burkina Faso. Another stipulation that barred him from running was the prohibition of ever having claimed citizenship of another country; Ouattara held Burkinabe citizenship for a while.

Ouattara was formally granted Ivorian citizenship in 2002, and in 2004 the National Assembly voted in favor of changing the constitution to specify that Ivorians with at least one parent who was Ivorian at birth would be allowed to contest presidential elections. The change was not immediately ratified, however, but was finally adopted in the 2016 constitution.

 

A Third Candidate

As for Gbagbo, his refusal to step down after the 2010 elections was one of the catalysts for the Ivorian Civil War, which claimed more than 3,000 lives. Gbagbo’s party, the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), declared former prime minister Pascal Affi N’Guessan as its candidate. Both the FPI and Bédie’s party, the PDCI, declared they would run a joint ticket should the presidential election go to a second-round runoff.

The election is set to be held on October 31, 2020.

 

A fire burns in north-west Algeria. (Photo via STR/AFP)

It has been a troublesome past few days for Algeria, with power outages and drinking water shutoffs impacting the capital Algiers and several other cities during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, celebrated on Friday. Moreover, the banks had a liquidity problem, and country has seen a sharp economic downturn due to lower revenue from its energy industry. Capping this all off were forest fires that have destroyed hundreds of hectares of vegetation.

The combination of these misfortunes prompted President Abdelmadjid Tebboune to launch an investigation into what his administration believes were targeted actions meant to destabilize the country. Prime Minister Abdelaziz Djerad, speaking to reporters, blamed the water shortages on the deliberate sabotage of a desalination plant. Djerad also said people were caught setting the fires, but he did not provide any further details.

 

The greatest contributors to the forest fires were desertification and rising temperatures

 

The geography journal Méditerranée published a study in 2013 that found the greatest contributors to the forest fires were desertification and rising temperatures accelerated by climate change. The underlying problem was poor urban planning processes that led to population-dense regions burning forests to clear space for agriculture and housing.

Depicting these setbacks as deliberate actions could be a way for the Algerian government to lend itself legitimacy in cracking down on public protests, especially as the Hirak movement continues to gather in the streets demanding the complete overhaul of the Algerian political system.

 

Eddie Komboïgo, president of the Congress for Democracy and Progress Party (CDP), is his party’s candidate for Burkina Faso’s November presidential election. (Ahmed Ouoba/AFP)
Eddie Komboïgo, president of the Congress for Democracy and Progress Party (CDP), is his party’s candidate for Burkina Faso’s November presidential election. (Ahmed Ouoba/AFP)

The Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP), the Burkinabe opposition party of former president Blaise Compaoré, has designated party president Eddie Komboïgo as its candidate for the November presidential election. Komboïgo had been the party’s candidate for the 2015 election, but his candidacy was subsequently rejected owing to a law that excluded politicians close to Compaoré who supported the former president’s attempt to modify the Burkinabe constitution. This move spurred a popular revolt and led to Compaoré’s overthrow in 2014.

 

The opposition parties are hoping to ensure the defeat of Kaboré’s MPP party

 

The CDP will be facing off against not only incumbent president Roch Marc Christian Kaboré but also Zéphirin Diabré, the opposition leader and head of the Union for Progress and Change (UPC) party. Diabré was nominated for the presidency a day before Komboïgo.

The CDP and UPC have agreed to run a joint ticket should the presidential election go to a second round, hoping to ensure the defeat of Kaboré’s People’s Movement for Progress (MPP).

 

Tundu Lissu, former Tanzanian member of parliament with the Chadema main opposition party, reacts to supporters as he returns after three years in exile to challenge President John Magufuli in elections later this year. (Photo by STR/AFP)
Tundu Lissu, former Tanzanian member of parliament with the Chadema main opposition party, reacts to supporters as he returns after three years in exile to challenge President John Magufuli in elections later this year. (Photo by STR/AFP)

Tundu Lissu, a principal political rival to Tanzanian president John Magufuli, flew home after spending nearly three years in Belgium receiving medical treatment for gunshot wounds he had sustained in September 2017. Lissu, who was an opposition member of parliament at the time, was hit by five bullets out of about thirty-two shots aimed at his car as he was returning home from a parliamentary session.

Welcomed by a few hundred of his supporters as he alighted from the aircraft, Lissu intimated he would be challenging Magufuli in the presidential election set to be held on October 28.

 

Observers are worried the country is backsliding into authoritarianism

 

The attack against Lissu was one of the most egregious examples of political intimidation and harassment against opposition figures under President Magufuli’s administration, a trend that has observers worried the country is backsliding into authoritarianism.

The top opposition parties are considering joining forces behind one candidate to stand against Magufuli, who will be seeking a second five-year term.

 

Patrick Chinamasa
Patrick Chinamasa (Alexander Joe/AFP)

Patrick Chinamasa, spokesperson for Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party, accused United States ambassador Brian Nichols of “engaging in acts of mobilizing and funding disturbances, coordinating violence and training insurgents” in an effort to topple the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa. “Diplomats should not behave like thugs, and Brian Nichols is a thug,” he said. He provided no evidence to back these serious claims, and the US embassy in Harare did not immediately respond to the allegations.

Former president Robert Mugabe frequently invoked similar rhetoric during his 42 years in power, accusing the United States and Great Britain on several occasions of aiming to institute regime change.

 

More than 105,000 people have been arrested since March for violating lockdown regulations

 

This latest accusation comes a few days ahead of a planned mass demonstration on July 31. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Alliance and Zimbabwean civil society organizations have urged Zimbabweans to take to the streets to protest against government corruption, the declining Zimbabwean economy, and harsh COVID-19 lockdown measures.

The authorities have warned against the demonstration, claiming concerns of spreading COVID-19. However, opposition leaders accuse the government of using the lockdown measures as cover to stifle political dissent and target the opposition. The police have confirmed that more than 105,000 people have been arrested since March for violating lockdown regulations.

 

Hichem Mechichi, Tunisia’s minister of the interior and advisor to President Kais Saied, has been designated as the new prime minister following the abrupt resignation of Elyes Fakhfakh more than a week ago. The transfer of power was formally conducted on July 25, and the president tasked Mechichi with forming a new government within a month.

Forming a government is one thing; maintaining one will be much more difficult.

In this handout picture provided by the Tunisian Presidency Press Service, Tunisian president Kais Saied (R) appoints Interior Minister Hichem Mechichi as the country's new prime minister, tasked with forming a new unity cabinet, at the Carthage Palace on the eastern outskirts of the capital Tunis on July 25, 2020. (Tunisian Presidency/AFP)
Tunisian president Kais Saied (right) and new prime minister Hichem Mechichi, photographed at the presidential palace in Carthage on July 25, 2020. (Tunisian Presidency/AFP)

The new government will need parliamentary approval, which requires an absolute majority. This means that the kingmaker will once again be the largest party in Tunisia’s legislature: Ennahda, an Islamist political movement that gained significant influence following the 2011 Arab Spring. Should the parliamentary vote of confidence fail, new elections must be held three months later.

During the political tug-of-war between the presidency and Ennahda over Fakhfakh’s appointment, the prospect of holding new elections finally convinced the party to form a coalition government, as their majority was not guaranteed given the months of political crises and economic downturn caused by COVID-19.

 

An still photo taken from a video shows Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s former leader, arriving at a courthouse in Khartoum on July 21. (Mohammed Abuamrain/AFP)
An still photo taken from a video shows Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s former leader, arriving at a courthouse in Khartoum on July 21. (Mohammed Abuamrain/AFP)

Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president who ruled with impunity for thirty years before being ousted last year following weeks of civilian protests, entered a Khartoum courthouse on Tuesday, July 21, to face charges over his involvement in the 1989 coup that brought him to power.

Bashir has already been sentenced to two years in prison for corruption, after he confessed to taking bribes to the value of US$90 million from Saudi Arabia during a trial held last year. He faces a possible death sentence if convicted. His court appearance was brief, as the judge adjourned the trial until August 11 with the intention of continuing in a larger venue that could seat the defendants and their relatives while also being mindful of COVID-19 containment measures.

In the meantime, the International Criminal Court in The Hague is still waiting for the dictator to be transferred to its jurisdiction, having indicted Bashir in 2009 and 2010 for crimes against humanity linked to ethnic cleansing campaigns in the Darfur region. Sudan agreed in February that Bashir should be brought before the ICC, but has since done little to make this happen.

 

Zambian health minister Chitalu Chilufya
Chitalu Chilufya

Nearly a month after his arrest, Zambian health minister Chitalu Chilufya appeared before a Lusaka magistrate, where he pleaded not guilty to four counts of corruption. Chilufya, who was appointed as health minister in 2016 by President Edgar Lungu, is accused of using funds suspected to be the proceeds of criminal activity to buy business shares, property, and a speedboat from the United Arab Emirates between 2016 and 2018.

Zambia opposition parties have called for Chilufya’s removal while the case was in court, whereas members of the ruling Patriotic Front party have rallied around the health minister, with some even accusing the opposition of using the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission  to attack the presidency. Chilufya’s case highlights Zambia’s ongoing struggles to fight corruption, a key pillar of Lungu’s successful 2016 presidential campaign.

 

Graft and cronyism have become much more common

 

The Southern African nation, heavily dependent on its mining industry, has incurred a debt-to-GDP ratio of more than 60 percent, as it still has high-interest Eurobonds to pay off on top of Chinese-sourced loans for mega infrastructure projects. Graft and cronyism have become much more common at the local as well as federal levels of government.

 

Daily Picks
Jul 27, 2021