Isabel Dos Santos Encourages Greater Energy Investing in Angola

Isabel Dos Santos has been traveling the world, calling for more technology investment for citizens of Angola and other African nations, in order to boost the economy.

She has been looking for ways to encourage and inspire others to join with her in Angolan business development efforts, even if it may mean competition for some of the diverse businesses she’s a part of.

For instance, she currently has leadership roles in several private companies and is looking for ways to make life better for everyone, including providing African-based entertainment through Zap, a Netflix-like television production and distribution company, plus a group of private banks, a collection of cinemas, and a successful supermarket chain.

Her efforts as co-founder of Unitel, Angola’s largest telecommunications company, have led to substantial employment opportunities for thousands of residents. It also gives more people the ability to connect people digitally, including rural residents who were never able to access landline phone services simply because the infrastructure was never installed.

Isabel Dos Santos and other business leaders are currently taking even more bold steps in the next decade to promote more private enterprise solutions in a country that, until recently, had only government control of all economic sectors.

Now, private businesses, some with foreign support and new sources of capital, are seeking new opportunities to succeed and help their home country as well.

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Any new industry is good, of course, but Dos Santos has specifically encouraged investment in high-tech and energy fields.

It’s not going to be easy — Dos Santos anticipates challenges in the next few years, including higher unemployment plus economic and political uncertainty as populations increase. But she continues to have a strong long-term vision about what the Angola of the future could and should look like.

“I’d love to tell you the story of economic recovery in Angola, but unfortunately I feel that the next three years are going to be extremely tough,” Dos Santos said in a recent interview with Balancing Art Africa. “We’re going to have to adjust as businesses and have plans to provide.”

She encourages everyone in the business community, especially those working in the energy sectors, to look for ways to be creative and inventive, seek new markets to enter, and create plans to survive the possible political and financial turmoil in the short-term.

5G Opportunities Ahead

All of these changing and evolving market forces may lead to a new and positive outcome: a rollout of the 5G network throughout most of Africa.

This upgraded global telecommunications network requires less physical space for its towers than 4G towers. It also offers higher speeds, faster data transfers and better bandwidth, and it could be a boon for businesses that may have felt limited with 4G.

But there are significant costs involved in bringing something of this scale into reality.

Already, three mobile carriers are working to build out 5G networks through Angola and beyond.

One is Unitel, which Dos Santos helped launch in 2001 and currently has public and private ownership. The company has already invested $2.2 billion in fiber-optic infrastructure through private funds.

The other is Movicel, which was originally part of the state-owned Angola Telecom in 2003 but was sold to various investors in 2010.

A new player in this effort is Rain, a South African network operator that has partnered with the Chinese tech giant Huawei. The company is adding Angola to its 5G expansion effort by February 2021 and hopes to roll out more intelligent 5G transport network services to much of the continent, starting with South Africa.

Huawei made this commitment at AfricaCom in 2019, an occasion when participating countries shared a need for better and faster connectivity to benefit the populations as well as make it easier for African businesses to compete globally.

This need goes far beyond person-to-person digital phone service but also improves the ability for businesses and government-owned entities to offer more power, speed and bandwidth to more electronic resources, everything from medical technology to manufacturing and 3D printing.

Energy Outlook

Isabel Dos Santos has welcomed the involvement of Rain/Huawei in bringing 5G services to Angola since it helps fulfill her public push for greater foreign investment, especially in energy sectors.  

This also continues to be a point of pride for Dos Santos and the country going back to 2012, when Angola was the first developed country to fully roll out 4G service nation-wide, even before the rest of Africa and parts of Europe and North America. That particular effort required a total investment of about $100 million USD. Incorporating 5G will likely have a higher cost.

“Africa has to build a big e-commerce platform, which will bring great opportunities,” she shared during a presentation at AfricaCom.

She told the audience that local/national network operators in many countries are up to the task to deploy 5G when it’s available, but said foreign investment is essential. This process can stimulate digital growth, which is going to be vital for economic growth. Beyond infrastructure, there needs to be new markets and financial services to support the digital growth.  

“Africa has to build a big e-commerce platform, which will bring great opportunities,” she said. “There are fewer barriers, costs go down and we will be able to communicate our product better and to a much larger audience.”

Unitel officials have even outlined how 5G could be dispersed throughout the country, starting with more areas than are currently served by Unitel’s 4G service.

Continuing Involvement

Part of what makes Dos Santos such a powerful individual in Angola’s future is her personality and her ability to work with anyone — as well as to simultaneously think globally and locally.

She is a longtime proponent of education and enjoys encouraging young people to succeed academically, especially young women interested in learning more about careers in scientific or business fields. She welcomes women-owned and women-driven projects and started her own Merit Grant system to recognize individual students who may not have the resources to fund their education.

As one of the country’s more influential citizens, she has invested in everything from transportation projects to convenience stores. Her efforts at Unitel and other organizations have significantly boosted the country’s electrical network and road system.

She has holdings throughout Africa, Europe and the United Kingdom, and she’s shared countless invitations to other world leaders to consider investing in Angola, including Russian officials.

Dos Santos recently spoke at the Russia-Africa Summit about her eagerness to always have discussions about ways to “keep Africa rising.”

But to be done right, she urged the crowd to recognize the contributions of women and acknowledge their strength, which “must be promoted for the good of a more just, balanced and complete society.”

About Isabel Dos Santos

Isabel Dos Santos was born in 1973 in Azerbaijan, but she grew up in Angola. Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, her father, was the country’s president from 1979 to 2017, which made Isabel comfortable being in the public eye, allowed her access to many areas that the average citizen may not, and also allowed her to see her country from several angles and perspectives.

Even at a young age, Isabel Dos Santos has been involved in a wide spectrum of public and private projects. She attended and earned a degree in electrical engineering at Kings College in London. Following graduation, she returned to Angola to look for ways to help her country, as a company leader and as an investor.

Along with her role in Unitel, she is credited with starting Candando, a retail business that creates shops and malls, and she is also on the board of Banco BIC Angola and Banco BIC Portugal. She served on the board of Sonangol, Angola’s national oil and gas company.

Often, her message is that if women are doing well, families are doing well. And if families are doing well, local communities and the whole country can benefit.