Angola continues to line its nest

Spurred by the economic crisis, Angolans are eagerly buying up Portuguese firms, acquiring a wide range of businesses including banks, oil companies, media outlets and telecom operators. The trend is in part due to the lack of funds on one side and the abundance of cash on the other, but that is not the only explanation.

Published on 2 April 2012 at 09:24

They infiltrate discretely, first purchasing a few shares in a company. Then they wait until the firm, or a shareholder, is short of money – the Angolan investors, for their part, are not strapped for funds.

Little by little, they increase their stake until they reach a dominant position allowing them to appoint the managers and to take control.

The banking sector, a visible symbol of power (Angola is well-positioned in several Portuguese financial institutions) is not the only target of this Portuguese-speaking, African country.

Multiple targets

Other sectors are increasingly whetting the appetite of those close to Angola's wielders of power. While authority is concentrated in the hands of President José Eduardo dos Santos, the investors have their own strategies, although these are not as coordinated as one might think.

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The Angolans have invested in the media, energy and even in agro-business. In the past few years, the biggest farms throughout Portugal, from the Douro River Valley in the north to the Algarve region in the south, have been bought up by Angolans.

"Wine and oil are in high demand and the price of these products is exorbitant in Luanda [the Angolan capital]. That's why the Angolans decided to buy up the farms that produce these commodities in Portugal, thus allowing them to control the entire cycle," explains the head of an export-import firm.

The case of Banco Comercial Português (BCP) provides the most symbolic example of Angola's strategy in Portugal. In 2008, when the crisis first hit, Angola's national oil company Sonangol (Sociedade Nacional de Combustíveis de Angola) had no trouble buying up 469 million of the bank's shares, or 9.9% of its capital.

By the end of 2011, the Angolan oil company's share in the Portuguese bank was up to 12.44%. As the majority shareholder, it then took control of the bank and modified its management structure.

A personal challenge for the Angolan President's daughter

The appetite of the Angolans does not stop at the BCP. Through Santoro Finance, Isabel dos Santos, daughter of the head of State, controls 9.99% of the Banco Português de Investimento (BPI). She is the third largest shareholder behind Spain's La Caixa bank and Brazil's Itaú Group. This well-informed business executive also holds 25% of Banco BIC Angola, the main beneficiary of the reprivatisation of Banco Português de Negócios.

In spite of its current problems, the banking sector, which needs to increase its equity capital and has cash flow problems, remains one of the most attractive investments to Angolans.

Why? "It gives one a certain standing, especially when one obtains a share sufficient to appoint a representative in the company's governing board," explains a source close to the banking sector. Furthermore, adds a high-level Portuguese diplomat, "the bank can act as a springboard to other sectors".

Taking a look at the oil sector, a familiar investor pops up: Sonangol. The Portuguese firm Galp was well targeted and the acquisition strategy began with buying 45% of Amorim Energia, which itself holds 33.4% of Galp. The goal is obviously to go farther. Clearly, money is no object, as can be seen by the many investments in other sectors such as telecommunications and media.

As for ZON, a pay-tv station, it is Isabel dos Santos' personal challenge. Though her holding company, Kento, she has acquired 10% of the station run by Rodrigo Costa. It is unlikely she will settle for that.

In the publishing sector, Newshold, 91.25% owned by Pineviews Overseas (headquartered in Panama City), has a stake in the Portuguese press.

Officially, it holds 15% of Cofina, which owns several newspapers including Record, Correio de Manhã and Jornal de Negócios. Newshold also has a stake in Impresa, the parent company of the magazines Visão and Expresso as well as in the SIC television channel.

Politicians act as traveling salesmen

But why has Angola taken such an interest in Portugal over the past ten years? Economics – we are in recession while they are experiencing full growth – is only part of the response.

Another part is political. The 1991Bicesse Accords [which ended the Angolan Civil War], signed under Portugal's auspices, were a turning point in relations between the two countries. Likewise, there is a before and an after Aníbal Cavaco Silva [then Prime Minister of Portugal, now the country's President].

Lisbon was then (and still is) favourable to a climate of entente between the institutions of both countries and contributed to definitely open the doors, to Portuguese investors, to the newly pacified Angolan economy.

Political proximity brought business with it. On each state visit (José Eduardo dos Santos came to Lisbon in 2008), neither delegation is limited to ministers, junior ministers and MPs.

Systematically there is also a group of business leaders, generally rounded up by the Agência para o Investimento e Comércio Externo de Portugal (AICEP), the Portuguese Office for Investment and Foreign Trade. In fact, political leaders act as traveling salesmen. And the greater the bilateral ties, the more they benefit.

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