When a video emerged in late May showing the 25-year-old son of Angolan president José Eduardo Dos Santos spending 500,000 euros at an auction, many Angolans took to social media to express their outrage. But there are no guarantees that this online disgust will translate into real action to stop the rampant corruption in the country.
The widely shared video, which was first posted on the platform Instagram Stories by blogger Anish Bhatt, shows baby-faced Eduane “Danilo” Dos Santos bidding 500,000 euros for a series of photographs by George Hurrell during a gala auction held at the Cannes Film Festival on May 25. The glitzy event was held to raise money for amfAR, the American Foundation for AIDS Research.
When Dos Santos the Younger and his lady friend went to the stage, even American actor Will Smith -- who was playing announcer at the event -- couldn’t hide his surprise.
“They look too young to have 500,000 euros,” he quipped into the mike.
Many Angolans agreed. Not that they were surprised-- at this point, they are pretty used to seeing the nine children of Dos Santos (who has been president of the resource-rich nation for 38 years) get special privileges.
For even though the Angolan economy has skyrocketed since the end of the civil war, wealth remains concentrated in the hands of a few families of elites -- notably the Dos Santos clan -- who drink cocktails in the capital’s ritzy clubs, frolic on the Ilha de Luanda’s private beaches and live in luxury condos. Meanwhile, roughly 70% of Angolans survive on less than $2 a day and 90% of Luanda's population lives in slums.
“People complain and make jokes and criticize, but then they stop short of action”
Everyone was talking about this video when it emerged. People were very critical. Some made jokes, others just said ‘shame on you’. Others said this whole scandal was just a distraction to keep attention away from the fact that President Dos Santos was being hospitalised in Spain.
Danilo responded to the uproar in a Facebook post a few days later, where he claimed that he bought the artwork for his charity-- “Spirit of the Child”. He later removed the post.
“Angolan businesses have practically been distributed to the children of the president”
On social media, I saw lots of people saying that Danilo should use this money to build a hospital for example, instead of buying pictures. But for me, it doesn’t matter what he buys, the real problem is that we have a system in Angola that allows this kind of corruption to happen.
Angolan businesses have practically been distributed to the children of the president. His daughter, Isabel Dos Santos, is chairman of state oil firm Sonangol [Editor’s note: Isabel was the first female billionaire in Africa and, according to Forbes, is the richest woman on the continent]. At age 23, Danilo was put in charge of a project at Angola Telecom. And of course, the president’s children also have access to money.
“These contrasts are part of Angola”
Angolan society is divided between the have-nots and the have-a-whole-lots. These contrasts are part of the history of Angola.
In the capital, Luanda, there is a rich milieu of elites. My niece went to one of their parties and she said it was a different world. Sometimes, there’s outcry about this. For example, in 2010, there was a scandal when the parliament splashed over $43 million [38,4 million euros] to buy BMWs to be used by members of parliament.
People complain and make jokes and criticise, but then they stop short of action. I think some people secretly aspire to be in this wealth bracket. Moreover, I don’t think most people see an alternative. If the opposition wins the election in August, I think most people think they will use money in the same way.
This election is the chance to say something about it. But it might be too soon. I think there is a growing consciousness, but I look at the process of social awakening like a marathon. Right now, we are just starting our long run.