The lavish ways of Africa’s longest self-serving dictators
Late last month, the new president of Zimbabwe, Emerson Mnangagwa, issued an amnesty that runs from December 1 to March 1 for the return of funds that companies and individuals have hidden abroad.
“Upon the expiry of the amnesty period,” he warned, “any individuals who have not complied will suffer the pain and ignominy of being visited by the long arm of the Law.”
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The former First Family of Zimbabwe – The Mugabes – deposed by the military, after the tanks rolled out on a weekend now four weeks gone, must surely rank top of this list.
‘My husband, Baba Mugabe, is the poorest president in the world,’ his wife Grace (pejoratively nicknamed ‘Gucci Grace’ for her designer wear taste, and whom Mugabe politically miscalculated by trying to make his successor) told her supporters in 2014.
Ironically, the back drop of where she said this was a sprawling ranch called Mazowe, north-east of Harare, seized from white farmers in the early 2000s, and where she had just completed construction of 30 luxury villas.
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The ‘poorest’ ex-president is said to have money hidden in the usual financial black holes of the world – from Panama to the Cayman Islands – and owns property in Malaysia, Singapore and Dubai, as well as the JC Castle in Hong Kong and a second castle in Scotland.
It is unclear if the ‘long arm of the law’ that new president Mnangagwa spoke about extended to these assets (being liquidated and the money they fetched returned to State coffers), or just the liquid cash Mugabe and Cronies have stashed away in the secret abroad.
Speaking of long arms, there had been an outcry on social media a few months ago when the youngest Mugabe, Bellarmine Chatunga, posted a video of the $60, 000 (Sh6 million) watch he was wearing on his arm being doused in Armand de Brynac gold champagne (in celebration of his 21st birthday).
The caption on the video: ‘How you do it when Daddy run the whole country, ya know!!!’
The firing of Mugabe as chairman of the ZANU-PF party he founded in effect brought an end to his 37-year iron rule in Zimbabwe, in-spite of his last stand dramatics for a few days when he bizarrely refused to resign; before parliamentary impeachment proceedings began that risked him and wife Grace getting publicly disgraced, and so forced his hand into quitting.
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Exactly three months earlier, and three thousand kilometres north-west from Harare, another member of the ’37 Club’ called Jose Eduardo dos Santos had retired from power after 37 years as president in Luanda, Angola.
Dos Santos called it a day, handing the presidential baton over to his Vice President Joao Lourenco without fuss (or the farce of the Mugabes), but staying on as chairman of the ruling party MPLA (Movement of the People for the Liberation of Angola), and retaining his allies in the army and judiciary (with tenure provided) as a protective umbrella, post-presidency.
His daughter Isabel dos Santos, 44, reportedly the richest woman in Africa (with a net worth of 360 billion shillings, more than it cost to build the SGR from Mombasa to Nairobi by 33 billion bob), was also left at the head of the all powerful State oil company, Sonangol Oil Company.
Alas, in the same week that the army was moving against Mugabe in Zimbabwe, the new president Lourenco moved against the family of the other ’37 Clubber’ , removing Isabel dos Santos from her prime perch at the oil company, saying: ‘Sonangol is Angola’s golden goose, and we cannot allow it to be plucked further (by one royal family).’
Jose Eduardo dos Santos with his daughter
‘Hurricane Joao’ has also moved and removed several of his predecessor’s people from plum positions in State offices, saying that the country must be run by the Executive and not the party of Independence, the MPLA, in effect rendering the retired 37 Clubber Jose dos Santos totally impotent.
‘In Angola,’ wailed another former first daughter Welwitschia dos Santos, ‘citizens who promote the image of the motherland are persecuted and stripped by this new president.’
Welwitschia may well be bitter that new president Lourenco has stripped away her monopoly to continue minting a fortune from the media and advertising company she owns that benefitted from exclusive government contracts, and poured millions of dollars into her coffers.
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President Lourenco has further stated that the state-owned telecommunication provider, as well as a yet to be known foreign company, will soon move into the mobile provider business in Angola – which means Unitel, Angola’s largest telecom company (which is quarter owned by Isabel dos Santos), will definitely lose market share.
Not that she has taken this challenge to her multi-billion empire lying down.
‘I am not a politician, and if there is now a change of political vision (in Angola), that is normal and not my problem,’ Isabel said last week. ‘My focus remains on building businesses.’
The daughter of retired president dos Santos is clearly divesting her portfolio in Angola, in these dangerous new days of ‘Hurricane Joao.’
The third member of the ’37 Club’ is Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who also came to power in 1979 in the Equatorial Guinea after getting his mad uncle Francisco Macias Nguema executed by firing squad, after the first Nguema began killing other Obiangs in his paranoia.
Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo
Unlike other members of the ’37 Club’, the dictator of Equatorial Guinea looks like he will clear 2017 still in power, but like the others, his family seems to have gotten them into a bit of a pickle in the oil-rich nation.
In Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo’s case, the fulcrum of that financial storm is his eldest son (whom he is grooming to take over one day, surprise! surprise!), VP Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue.
The younger Obiang has a taste for the finer, nay, most extravagant things in life, like mansions, wine collections and Lamborghinis, Bentleys, Range Rovers, Rolls Royce, Bugattis and Maserati luxury supercars, and is often mistaken for a rapper superstar when partying with his entourage in European capitals, America, or the Bight of Bonny just off the Atlantic coast, in his luxury yacht.
Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue
In a three-country – US, Spain and France – investigation, a criminal court in Paris last month found the younger Obiang, who is also vice president of Equatorial Guinea, guilty of ‘gross plundering of public money’, and on top of handing him a three month suspended sentence, ordered the legal seizure his $100 million mansion on Avenue Foch, two townhouses in Spain worth $50 million and a $30 million mansion in Malibu as ‘proceeds of corruption.’
Those Sh18 billion confiscations represent about 30 per cent of the estimated wealth of Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, the third member of the ’37 Club’ and now the longest self-serving president to be found anywhere in the world.
In any event, 2017 has not been a good year for Africa’s ’37 Club,’ with the stress finally getting to Mugabe last week and forcing him to fly abroad to seek medical treatment in Singapore.