General Eusébio counts on Friends in High Places to Protect Him

A recent report by Maka Angola detailing land appropriation by the Governor of Kwanza Sul Province, General Eusébio de Brito Teixeira, revealed how blatantly Angolan officials act in contravention of the most elementary rules of administrative procedure.

It turns out that this was not an isolated act. Maka Angola has uncovered a second instance of illegal transfer of rural land by the same Governor – this time to a person who might be expected to offer the General  an “insurance policy” against punitive action.

On January 26th, 2015, the Governor issued another land concession document to Soklinker Commercial Partners Ltd., granting surface land rights over 7,632 hectares of rural land for the purposes of construction. Soklinker is 75% owned by Sindika Dokolo, the husband of ‘First Daughter’ Isabel dos Santos, Africa’s richest woman. The remaining 25% is nominally held by Soklinker’s manager Luís Carlos Amorim da Luz Tavira, whose sister Catarina Tavira was Isabel dos Santos’s braidsmaid.

Evidence supplied to Maka Angola points to Isabel dos Santos herself being involved in both the acquisition of the lands, and the process to legalize that acquisition.

There are two irregularities in the transfer approved by General Eusébio:

First, according to Angola’s Land Law (Lei das Terras 9/04 09 de November), as per Article 68 No. 1, provincial governments only have jurisdiction “To authorize the concession or transfer of land rights on rural, agrarian or forestry parcels of an area equal to or less than 1,000 hectares.” Article 67 clearly states that jurisdiction over areas comprising between 1,000 and 10,000 hectares is shared jointly by the Land Registry and the rural local administration (i.e. the municipal or communal authority).  Unilateral action by the governor therefore contravenes the decree law governing the organization, jurisdictional and respective legal competencies of provincial governments, municipal and communal administrations (see Article 11 of Decree Law  n.º 2/07 de 3 de Janeiro).  So unless there was a prior procedure to consult the local authorities, as yet unrevealed, this would be in clear contravention of the powers expressly attributed by these laws.  Yet curiously, the governor’s decree invokes the very rule that it seems to contravene.

Second, the concept of “rural land for construction” is a term not contemplated within the terms of the Land Law, which in Article 22 defines rural land as follows:  “Rural lands are classified according to purpose and the legal regime to which they are subject, as:  community or common lands, agrarian or farmland, natural reserve or forestry, land reserved for industrial infrastructure, and, utility and transport corridors.  Nowhere is the phrase “rural land for construction” to be found. Clearly, it could be argued that a rural plot of land can be reassigned as “urban land for construction”.  But such a procedure is neither automatic nor guaranteed.

The rules exist to benefit the State, in that a rural parcel of land is generally priced at a lower value than an urban parcel.  Hence, if a rural parcel is purchased from the State at the lower rural price, with prior intent to transform it into an urban plot for construction (with considerable added value) this would defraud the State of its dues. Legal opinion suggests that in this case, the appropriation of rural land for purposes of construction fails to respect the legal norms.  Given the people involved, is this surprising?

In principle when the parliament passes a law, it is not a mere recommendation but an imperative to be complied with. Yet in Angola, the presidential family and their acolytes, such as good old Eusébio, place themselves above the law. And, for as long as this situation is allowed to continue unpunished, Angola’s legislation exists only to rubber-stamp the whims of those who really rule.