After decades of civil war and colonial rule, Angola has seen a major turnaround. The capital, Luanda, is lush with 5-star hotels and wealthy businessman driving Lamborghinis. But, what isn’t shown to the world is the multitudes starving and living on a less than a dollar a day, just kilometers from the rich.6 Angola and the state-run oil company, Sonangol, boast huge numbers for their annual export revenue. Last year they exported $34.2 Billion in crude oil, which accounted for more than 75% of their total exports. The recent president, who stepped down last year, José Eduardo dos Santos, has repeatedly asked for loans from the International Monetary Fund to help improve the poverty and child mortality rate in Angola. The lingering question that everyone asked was, if the government and Sonangol reported such high numbers of revenue; where did all of the money go?
Angola gained independence from Portugal in 1975, the country broke out into a deadly civil war between 4 political powers, the MPLA, FNLA, UNITA, and FLEC. The MPLA was victorious and their leader José Eduardo dos Santos became the ruler of their one-party nation. He would hold power for 38 years. During his time in office, Angola found peace and funded infrastructure improvement. Sonangol thrived from deals with foreign investors like the Queensway Group and Cobalt. Dos Santos’ family and close friends rose from the slums around Luanda. The only reason Angola saw such economic gain was due to corruption surrounding their oil revenue.
José Eduardo dos Santos was only the face of Angola, operating behind the scenes was a shadow-government of elite families and close friends that hoarded the oil wealth of the country. This close-knit web of families became known as “The Futungo”. Dos Santos’ Futungo is comprised of about 100 families, all coming from the Futungo de Belas. These families focused on the privatization of power. Almost all of the government and Sonangol positions were filled by members of this group. By doing this, the entire of wealth of the country circulated through the hand of the elite, and remained within the families that had connections with foreign investors like those of China Sonangol. The Chinese partner company of Sonangol made deals with the Futungo that would promise the Angolan government firearms, while Sonangol exported billions in crude oil. This deal insured absolute power for the “indestructible” Futungo, while fueling China’s rising economy.
To ensure the growth of their dark and private economy, the “Oil Gang” (Sonangol and the Futungo) remained nepotistic and secretive. In recent years, President dos Santos appointed his daughter, Isabel dos Santos, as the head of Sonangol. He also appointed his son, José Filomeno dos Santos, to the head of Angola’s sovereign wealth fund. Both of the dos Santos children were fired in 2017 by newly elected president João Lourenço in hopes of ending the reign of corruption and the secret shadow-state of The Futungo. Isabel and José Filomeno were both found to have been making secret deals with foreign investors that would basically strengthen other government’s and oil company’s relations with The Futungo.
Last year, the IMF looked into the government and Sonangol’s financial accounts. There was a $32 Billion gap between what they had reported and what the IMF officials discovered. They traced about $28 Billion to private deals between Sonangol and offshore investors, but there was $4.2 Billion unaccounted for. It went unsurprisingly to the members of The Futungo. The government of Angola was run essentially run by the wealth of Sonangol, which was controlled in all aspects by The Futungo. This “Oil Gang” comprised of elitist families, high-up Sonangol officials, and foreign investors, have created a complex and very secure organization that laundered money and engaged in secret business deals to maintain total control and wealth in Angola.