Accepted paper:

The paradox of Isabel dos Santos: State capitalism, dynastic politics, and gender hostility in a resource rich, authoritarian country


Edalina Sanches (University of Lisbon)
Anne Pitcher (University of Michigan)

Paper short abstract:

The paper explores how the portrayals of Isabel dos Santos in the media reflect contradictory, gendered and temporal modalities of dynastic politics in Angola.

Paper long abstract:

Across the world, the sons and daughters of many state leaders frequently attract media attention for their exploits. They have privileged access to state resources and are often depicted as natural heirs in the succession line. The current President of Gabon, Ali Bongo Odimba, is the son of Omar Bongo who governed Gabon for 42 years until 2009. Like his father, he is considered the richest man in Gabon owing to the revenue he receives from the country's oil production. Other similar examples could be found in places like Togo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea or Uganda. Like other famous children of politicians, Isabel dos Santos, the daughter of the former President of Angola, is the object of much media attention regarding her investments or her lavish spending habits. In this paper, we rely on a systematic study of newspaper articles, letters, blogs, and websites to examine the conflicting portrayals of Isabel from 2010 to 2018. This period covers the celebratory portrayals of Isabel by the mainstream media in Angola when she was expanding her business empire to her dismissal as head of Sonangol after her father stepped down from the Presidency in 2017. We argue that the change in portrayals of Isabel over time especially by the mainstream Angolan media offers insight into the excesses and limits of dynastic politics in authoritarian settings. Whereas the singular position of Isabel as wealthy Presidential daughter ironically reinforced the patriarchal political oligarchy, her downfall demonstrates the limits of hereditary politics in Angola.

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