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Isabel Dos Santos’ Case: A Lesson for African political families

A key lesson for corrupt politicians and their kin was delivered on 23 December 2019 when an Angolan court ordered a freeze of Isabel Dos Santos’s assets, company shares and bank accounts.



AfricaLegalNews Editorial

Jose Eduardo dos Santos led the Southern African State of Angola from 1979 to 2017. His rule was characterised by corruption and looting of state assets by the Dos Santos family. Now a key lesson for similarly corrupt politicians and their kin was delivered in December 2019 when an Angolan court ordered a freeze of Isabel Dos Santos’s assets, company shares and bank accounts. Isabel Dos Santos is the ex-president’s daughter.

During her father’s presidency, Isabel Dos Santos used to run the Angolan state oil company, Sonangol. She was appointed head of the company in June 2016 and led it until she was removed when her father’s presidency ended in November 2017. She raised eyebrows as she amassed wealth under the last administration.

President Dos Santos successor, President Joao Lourenço went on a drive to clean up Angola’s corruption-ridden image soon after he came into power in 2017. Among the people investigated included Isabel and her husband, Sindika Dokolo. The couples’ company Exem Energy BV owed millions of dollars to Sonangol and was the subject of the court case.

Joao Lourenço, Angola’s president since 2017 has been working to overturn the corruption of the Dos Santos era.

Isabel Dos Santos for a long time was Africa’s richest woman, mostly due to her status as Angola’s President’s daughter. Forbes Magazine in January 2019 set her worthy at $2.2B. Forbes also estimates that the value of seized assets may be around US$400 million dollars, which would steal leave Isabel Dos Santos a billionaire.

She has indicated that she will fight back, though.

” Angolan court did not provide the companies or the individuals subject to the order prior notice of the existence of any proceedings. The companies and the individuals therefore did not have an opportunity to present evidence to defend themselves prior to the issuance of the order,” she said on Twitter.

Isabel Dos Santos (Pic: Twitter)

The Isabel case is a timely lesson for other political families around Africa. Historically there were cases of outrageous corruption that only served to impoverish Africa further. These include the looting by the Mobutu Sese Seko regime in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  The Bongo family in Equatorial Guinea are also culprits in a State where the president’s son ( and now Vice President) Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue was well known for lavish overspending in counties as far as the United States. In 2016, a Swiss auction of his cars due to corruption investigations recovered US$27 million.

Some of Isabel Dos Santos’ Presumed Frozen Assets

  • 25% stake in mobile telecom firm Unitel.
  • 42.5% stake in Banco International de Credito.
  • 51% stake in Banco Fomento de Angola

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Opinion: Misplaced priorities? The case of opposition lawyers representing ruling party stalwarts in court



By Tendai Chabvuta

In politics there are hard and soft issues that at times become cause for heated debates for ruling and opposition parties alike as well as their supporters. The hard issues have a bearing on the immediate concerns of the party and in Zimbabwe for example these could concern whether a party like the MDC should accept an election result or not. The soft issues relate to matters that occasionally come up but are not necessarily detrimental to the survival of a political party. These issues unless handled properly have the potential though to erode the support base of the party. One such matter, is the issue of whether MDC senior leaders that are lawyers can represent in court, current or former members of the ZANU PF party without damaging the brand that is the MDC as well as hemorrhaging their support and trust with their supporters. Arguments for and against the issue have been debated before. The issue is quite vexing but still needs to be dissected further. The argument in this discussion explores the two opposing views, explores the possible reasons why the lawyers who are leaders in the MDC carry out such tasks, and the possible resultant effect on their membership and credibility as a party in waiting to lead Zimbabwe.

A case of misplaced priorities

Increasingly over the years and especially after the 2017 coup in Zimbabwe, there was a huge fallout in ZANU PF that saw several big leaders in the G40 faction of ZANU PF being put on the spotlight by the Mnangagwa regime. Reportedly several cases of corruption, abuse of office, embezzlement were raised against those who were thought to be supporting Robert and Grace Mugabe. Most have been dragged to court and their cases remain with pending judgments. Interestingly, the unexpected has also happened.

Those lawyers who are leaders in the MDC have jumped in to defend these same ZANU PF people. The argument has been that as lawyers they have a duty to serve anyone who needs legal assistance. A corollary excuse has been that the MDC is a party that must show that it fights for justice and democracy. By defending these former ZANU PF senior leaders they would be fighting to also expose a corrupt judicial system, challenging a rogue regime that arrests and detains people on spurious charges etc. At face value, this argument sounds logical, but underneath it lies an ugly veneer of a quest for power, greed for legal fees and a sheer display of a leadership that has misplaced priorities.

Has Zimbabwe now run short of lawyers as well?

There are thousands of lawyers who can represent these ZANU PF people with equally the same expertise other than the MDC leaders who are lawyers. These lawyers in the MDC cannot speak left and walk right. For decades the call by the MDC has been against corruption, looting of state resources, egregious human rights violations perpetrated by some of the ZANU PF politicians who are now represented by these MDC officials. If the legal defense of these former and current ZANU PF officials is not a show of misplaced priorities and a show of the middle finger to the millions of MDC supports who have been brutalized, tortured and stolen from by ZANU PF then there must be another more befitting definition for the word.

What has changed with the so called captured judicial system?

For years, the cry from the opposition has always been that the judicial system in Zimbabwe is captured by the military and politicians and thus can never deliver objective as well as fair decisions especially in political matters. There are innumerable cases in point, from the recent 2018 elections rigging case, to the thousands of MDC supporters who have been unlawfully arrested and detained and more importantly the thousands more who the government has denied compensation for human rights violations.

Come 2018/2019, the script has changed and the same MDC leaders who are lawyers are scurrying and stampeding each other to represent the same folks they called crooks, thieves, murderers etc. To make it worse they go to the same courts they have vilified before. The question that begs the answer is why these lawyers in the MDC think that they will be able to get fairer and objective judgments in the cases involving these former and current ZANU PF officials who now stand accused of corruption, abuse of office and other crimes? The system with its judges, prosecutors, and any other cog in its wheel remains intact. One would want to believe that the lawyers in the MDC who have been defending these rogue ZANU PF leaders are myopic, ill-advised and frankly do not know what they are doing. Principle must tell them to leave ZANU PF to fight its factional wars on their own and that they as the MDC focus on the more important business of lawfully dislodging ZANU PF from power.

Possible explanations as to why the lawyers represent the ZANU PF leaders in court

  • They are in it for the money

Let us face it, the money that comes from some of these high-profile cases is quite high. Zimbabwe is in an economic mess and incomes are low for most professionals. The so called, clients who are former ZANU PF leaders have bags and a half full of money stashed away – our taxes for that matter. While it is fact that these lawyers will be doing their jobs so that they can earn a living, a line should be drawn at a party and personal level as to what sort of clients these lawyers can represent. Imagine Barack Obama representing Osama Bin Laden in a court of law as his legal counsel!

  • The desperate need to get closer to power

Instead of speaking truth to power, these same lawyers have an insatiable need to be seen to close to power. For them, they see power residing within ZANU PF and they must get closer to it by way of representing these high-profile people who have fallen out of favor with ZANU PF. For the ordinary lawyer and MDC leader, getting closer to this power base in ZANU PF ensures that they might get deals, contracts and a “turn to eat” at the corruption table. As a bonus, the lawyer will have tales to tell about how they fought ZANU PF and how they defended those that had been banished from the party etc. It is all delusional, but in today’s Zimbabwe, this logic can surely resonate with a lot of people.

What the lawyers tell us

  • It’s part of the democratic struggle

Half the time you hear people pontificating, arguing and misquoting philosophers such as Sun Tzu or Confucius. You will hear them saying “to defeat your enemy you need to bring them closer to you”. In this instance, it however would be the biggest scam of the century. The lawyers who are in the MDC representing these ZANU PF officials think that they can create further chasms in ZANU PF but nothing can be further from the truth. ZANU PF officials differ on issues of who is “eating” and not necessarily on the destruction of the party.

The question that begs answers is whether this position of giving legal support is an agreed one from the party or it emanates from individuals engaged in haphazard ways with a twisted notion that they will contribute to  dislodging ZANU PF from power. Whichever way, the belief that ZANU PF can be dislodged or even destroyed by some of these acts is infantile.

The message to the lawyers in the MDC leadership

  • The people will fail to tell the difference between ZANU PF and MDC at this rate

The lawyers in the MDC leadership can be adamant with their actions because they believe they are doing the right thing. They can believe all they want that they are following their conscience and exercising their duties as legal professionals. However, they must not forget that the same people that they are now helping to dodge court hearings, feigning illnesses, hiding their properties etc. were the same perpetrators of political and state sponsored violence against their supporters, vote rigging and other heinous acts of grand corruption in Zimbabwe. If the lawyers want to continue wining and dining with these former and current ZANU PF leaders they can do so at their own peril politically. The masses that support the MDC might not be able to tell the difference between these two groups in the end. One can be rest assured that the MDC will lose its supporters if the people do not think that its officials are not any different from their tormentors. Food

  • Is this an official MDC strategy?

The question that begs answers remains. The idea of representing the likes of Kasukuwere, Mzembi and others? – Is it a consensus within the party leadership or individual members in the leadership of the MDC who are also lawyers decided to take up the cases? It would be folly for the MDC to think that they can continue on this path without at least confusing the party faithful as well as be seen to be mocking them through such actions.

  • ZANU PF – a leopard that will never change its spots

One shortsighted argument posited by those who support the lawyers in the MDC who defend the ZANU PF officials is that by being close to them they will be able to get more information as well possibly convert them to joining the MDC. While it is an attractive idea, the thought of an MDC led government that then depends on thugs, murderers, thieves, central bank robbers etc. as its allies does not augur well.

Even if the MDC were to win an election, where would those people fit in any government that would be credible. Zimbabwe will have to implement a transitional justice policy of sorts. The MDC cannot act as if it is oblivious of these facts. In any case, already the signs are clear. The G40 elements have  been regrouping and they have registered their own party. Who in the MDC really knows what pact these people will sign with ZANU PF in the end?

These lawyers can focus on more useful matters affecting the nation and party members

The lawyers in the MDC leadership have their hands full already by default. Instead of sending the wrong message by jumping onto the gravy train that defines ZANU PF’s corrupt legacy and way of governance, they could keep themselves busy through pursuing other  more meaningful legal causes. There are several breaches of the constitution by the current government that these lawyers could take pro bono and challenge the government to desist from perpetuating and correct. Closer to home, it is a known fact that millions of people lost their pensions and hard-earned income through the near Ponzi schemes of currency manipulation run the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe in the 2000s. While there was a pseudo process of compensating those who had money in the banks it never reached the majority of victims. The Pensions Conversion Commission set to deal with the matter involving pensioners was swept under the carpet after companies balked and refused to give evidence to the Commissioners. There are hundreds of laws that are not aligned to the new constitution.

A true party of the people would call itself to order, prioritize and take up causes that are beneficial to its cause. A party of the people would stop engaging in actions that seem to be spitting in peoples’ faces especially those in its rank and file who have suffered the heavy brunt of ZANU PF’s misgovernance. Continuing on a path of representing ZANU PF former and current officials in a manner as has been shown in the recent past does not send the right picture and erodes the brand of the MDC. There can be no excuse for such blunders.

(Tendai Chabvuta blogs on Zimbabwe and Africa)

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10 Simple Things Every African Must Know About Climate Change and CoP25

Ten simple things to make anyone in Africa more conversant with the Climate Change discourse and with COP25 in Madrid, Spain without getting overwhelmed



By Lenin Tinashe Chisaira  in Madrid , Spain
(Environmental Legal Correspondent)

Madrid, Spain in December 2019 was the latest frontier in the desire to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and probably save Earth and vulnerable communities and species from droughts, disappearing islands, rising water levels, extinction and climate-related diseases like malaria and cholera. Here I compiled some ten points on the United Nations Climate Change Conference (Cop25 which I was attending in Madrid, Spain, with a particular emphasis on African interests.

1. The world in 2019 saw cyclones, social justice protests, species extinction, migrations and extreme weather changes. Africa saw an increasing number of migrants (climate refugees) crossing over to Europe. The primary cause was climate change.  Southern Africa also suffered through Cyclone Idai and heatwaves.

Cyclone Idai

2. Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meet each year, usually around December, to discuss climate change, adopt resolutions on various aspects of climate change such as mitigation, adaptation and financing. From 2-13 December 2019, parties will hold their 25th Conference of the Parties in Madrid Spain. CoP 24 was held in Katowice, Poland and Glasgow (Scotland, United Kingdom) will host Cop26.  Africa has hosted 4 of the 25 CoPs held so far. These were as follows:

CoP7 Marrakech, Morocco (2001); CoP12 Nairobi, Kenya (2006); CoP17 Durban, South Africa (2011); CoP22 Marrakech, Morocco (2016)

CoP17 in Durban, South Africa

3. The African States are listed in their regional group called the African States. The other States fall into Asian States, Eastern European States, Latin American and the Caribbean States, and the Western European and Other States (The “Other States” being Australia, Canada, Iceland, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland and the United States of America). The African Group of Climate Change Negotiators (AGN) is a body that was established in 1995 at COP1 in Berlin, Germany as an alliance of African member states that represents the interests of the region in the international climate change negotiations, with a common and unified voice. The African States also participate as the Least Developed States as well as the G77 and G77 + China.


4.CoP25 was initially scheduled to be hosted by Chile in Santiago. However, this was changed at the last minute. The change came as a result of social unrest in Santiago against the government’s policies. Madrid, Spain offered to rake over as hosts. However, Chile would still preside over the CoP.

Social unrest in Chile

5. The theme for CoP25 was ‘Time for Action’. The theme for Cop24 in Katowice, Poland was ‘Changing Together’ and focused on the Just Transition principle, that is, change that does not leave fossil workers and other sectors of the society behind. This just transition is a critical issue in Africa and the Global South, where coal mining is rampant.

6. The annual CoPs attract an attendance of around 10,000-30,000 people being mainly State Party delegates, admitted international and national non-governmental organisations, observers, media and activists.

Cop26 in Madrid, Spain (Pic: Lenin Chisaira/AfricaLegalNews)

7. Many voices are increasingly speaking out against coal mining. The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres in a speech at CoP25 said, “In several regions of the world, coal power plants continue to be planned and built in large numbers Either we stop this addiction to coal or all our efforts to tackle climate change will be doomed”. Some African States oppose some of these climate change response measures, for instance, a ban on coal mining. However, African environmental groups such as AIDC, Natural Justice, CNRG and Advocates4Earth have raised concerns over coal mining.

8. A significant highlight is usually a march by climate and environmental activists calling on government leaders to be more serious on climate action and reducing greenhouse gas emissions to make sure that global temperatures don’t go beyond 1.5 -2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The march for climate at Cop25 was held on Friday 6 December 2019. Africa activists are usually fewer at such demonstrations as compared to protestors from the Global North.

The author at the March for Climate in Katowice, Poland on the sidelines of CoP24

9. CoP25 comes at a time when the Donald Trump administration in the United States has announced plans to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement, adopted on 12 December 2015 in France, is an agreement falling within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). While the latter is a framework convention which provides the groundwork for specific agreements or protocols, the Paris Agreement outlines the mechanisms for State Parties to deal with greenhouse-gas-emissions mitigation, adaptation, and issues of climate finance.  The withdrawal by developed States such as the US has a severe impact on climate finance for developing States in the Global South and Africa.

And 10. 2019 saw massive climate strikes and demonstrations around the globe, especially from school children and young protestors in the Global North such as Greta Thunberg’s Fridays For The Future, the Global Climate Strike, March For Climate and the Extinction Rebellion direct action protests. In Africa, where the impacts of climate change are severe, such demonstrations have been held but at a lesser extent. In Zimbabwe, a Climate March planned by Advocates4Earth was effectively stopped by police citing security concerns

 (Lenin Tinashe Chisaira is an environmental legal correspondent with Africa Legal News and Spiked Media Online and an environmental lawyer with Advocates4Earth)

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