We can benchmark Angola as a very positive story, a positive transition that was peaceful
Isabel dos Santos – First I would like to say I don’t work with my family, I never have. I’m an established business person, I started my own company at the age of 21. I’ve always been extremely independent. When I started working, I started off with a very small business. A very small business with very little capital and it grow, as I went along, as I invested more, and my business became more successful.
CNN – There are some people who believe that nepotism played a huge role in your success. Can you honestly say that the main reason for your success was not your father’s influence?
Isabel dos Santos – When you work in a private environment like I do, it really doesn’t matter who your parents are. The question is: are you able to deliver: a product or a service of quality and at the right price. When we opened the bank and we were issued a banking license, we were the 16.ª banking license to be issued ?in Angola?. We setup a retail bank system, we were the best at what we did and we’re now the second largest bank ?in Angola?. No one forced any of those consumers to open a bank account at our bank. In that sense my answer is: look, it’s a competitive market, there’s competition, people have the right to choose and choose whatever product, whichever service they prefer.
CNN – So the fact that you believe that you earned your success, you worked hard for it, you delivered the right product, as you said, and the current president waltz in and essentially removes you from you position at Sonangol. I’m just curious, giving that the current president was basically mentored by your father, groomed by your father, did that feel like being stabbed in the back?
Isabel dos Santos – We came into Sonangol, the new board of Sonangol was appointed in June of 2016, with a very specific purpose: the company was in pre-bankruptcy state. It was very much an issue of balance sheet. Let’s look at the balance sheet and let’s get that balance sheet more solid, more robust. And we did that. We had 17 months to do it. Could’ve we done better if we had 24 months? Probably. But I think we left the company in a good place.
CNN – You have a sense of achievement, but how did it feel, what was your reaction to the fact that you were, just like that, removed from your position; and a position you said you worked very hard at?
Isabel dos Santos – At some point perhaps the vision of transformation changed, and the new government had other priorities and their priorities are aligned elsewhere. And undoubtedly, we did lose the shareholder support, and to transform a company such as Sonangol without shareholder support is very difficult. In that sense, it was best for a new board to step in and to follow the new vision of the government had going forward.
CNN – So, the current president, your father’s successor, essentially wants to open up the telecommunication sector in Angola to foreign bidders. What do you make of that? Especially since there will be competition for your firm.
Isabel dos Santos – I always welcome competition. And looking at the Telecom sector in particular there are already 3 mobile operators in Angola, so this will be the 4th mobile operator. So, if you look at, statistically, 24 million population for 4 mobile licenses. Is there a business case? Probably. Probably not a great business case but apparentely there might be one out there.
CNN – Obviously your father was in power for about 38, almost 40 years. Another long-serving African president, Rob Mugabe, from Zimbabwe, was just ousted. What is your reaction to that and to the fact that we’re seeing much more democracy sweeping across Africa?
Isabel dos Santos – It’s important to understand that peace in Angola started in 2002. We’ve had peace for the last 15 years, but the democratic process in Angola actually started in 1992. So, Angola has really a good track record of democratic elections and democratic process. President dos Santos could’ve stood up for elections if he had wanted to. He did not. So, he decided not to go for elections through his own decision, there was nothing in the Constitution or the law that was stopping him from doing so. And we really can benchmark Angola as a very positive story, a positive transition that was peaceful. There were elections that were carried out and we see the results. We have a parliament; the parliament is working. We have a new government; the government is working. And we’re moving forward.