By Pedro Agosto
Luanda - Ahead of his just-concluded trip to former colonial master, Portugal, Angolan President Joao Lourenço vehemently shot down assertions that he was wealthy.
Since assuming leadership of the oil-rich Southern African country in 2017, he has portrayed himself as an opponent of opulence, backed by a campaign to rid government of nepotistic appointments by his predecessor, Jose Eduardo dos Santos.
The president declared corruption, nepotism and self-aggrandisement in Angola as “the number one public enemies”.
However, an insatiable appetite for chartering planes since he assumed power, and revelations he owns an upmarket property in one of the most lavish areas in the United States capital, Washington DC, pokes holes in his campaign against affluence and casts doubts on his commitment to rid Angola of lavish spend.
Lourenço has charted at least three aeroplanes since assuming power from the long-serving Dos Santos, whose tenure was also fraught with controversy.
Lourenço received a backlash in June after spending several millions of dollars during an 11-day European trip, which included an eye check-up in Spain.
The trip that also took the president to Belgium and France, was aboard the US$350 million Boeing Dreamliner 787, said to be the only private aeroplane of its kind and the largest luxury business charter.
It is dubbed “The Flying Palace” because of its unrivalled luxury.
The president also created more news for the wrong reasons in his economically struggling country after French media disclosed the presidential delegation used a fleet of three aeroplanes, including an executive Boeing 737 and a Gulfstream on a state visit in the European country.
Maka Angola, the pro-democracy and anti-corruption watchdog, lamented that while Lourenço was on tour, in Angola, the judicial system ground to a halt due to a nationwide strike while nurses were contemplating protest action demanding better working conditions.
This exacerbated matters in a sector already on a decline.
Up to 20 children were reported to be dying daily at the major hospital in the capital Luanda owing to lack of basic healthcare.
“Does this mean that the president cares more about his image and luxury extravaganza than the children of Angola?” Rafael Marques de Morais, head of Maka Angola, quipped.
Critics are not surprised at the first family’s avid appetite for luxury.
In March this year, her daughter Jessica Dias Lourenço chartered a US$200,000 private plane to deliver a baby in Washington, where her sister, Cristina Giovanna Dias Lourenço, also resides. Last year, a private jet charted Cristina back to the US capital after her father assumed the presidency.
The president and his wife, Ana Dias Lourenço, own a five-bedroom home in the affluent Maryland suburb of Bethesda northwest of Washington. The property was purchased in 2013 for some £1.73 million (slightly over US$2 million). The first lady, an economist, politician and former government minister, has previously served in Washington as her country’s representative in the World Bank. Back in Angola, the first family is arguably the largest landowner, among other properties a 2,000-hectare farm valued at US$70 million and a residential property with an area of over three square kilometres.
The president and his wife, who have six children all active in the ruling People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola, first ventured into private business in 1992 when they established an advertising and production agency.
It has dabbled in politics, amid revelations it received US$15 million, in so-called campaign contributions, from a Brazilian-based multinational firm, during the last elections.
The media firm owns a commercial radio station in the southwestern Huila Province, where the president has some undisclosed interests in the business. Ahead of his trip to Portugal, Lourenço, who has since returned from Portugal, dismissed assertions he was rich.
“I am not a millionaire or a billionaire,” he retorted at a press event. – CAJ News