After making a campaign promise to root out nepotism, Angola’s new leader turned his sights Wednesday on the oil industry, ousting his predecessor’s daughter as head of the nation’s largest company.
The move by President João Lourenço shakes up the country’s political calculus and its oil-based economy, which has been plagued by corruption.
The state oil company, Sonangol, has long been viewed as a vehicle for promoting the interests of former President José Eduardo dos Santos, who ruled the country for 38 years. And the company’s stewardship by his daughter Isabel was a daily reminder that he was still influential as head of the ruling party.
But Mr. Lourenço vowed during his campaign to distance himself from President dos Santos, and he did so on Wednesday with a flourish, dismissing not only Ms. dos Santos but the company’s board as well.
There was no sign that traders thought the change in leadership would reduce Angola’s oil output, the second highest in sub-Saharan Africa after Nigeria. Oil prices drifted lower on Wednesday after rising last week in large part because of concerns about potential instability in Saudi Arabia.
Ms. dos Santos was appointed as head of Sonangol last year even though she had no management experience in the oil industry. Known mockingly in Angola as “the princess,” she is reputed to be the richest woman in Africa, worth $3.5 billion, according to Forbes. Her business interests ranged from diamonds to banking to cellphones.
A group of 12 influential lawyers led by David Mendes, an independent member of the National Assembly, had sought to remove her from her position, claiming she was put in place to bury evidence of her father’s embezzlement at the company before he left office in September.
Mr. Mendes applauded the change and called on the government to investigate Ms. dos Santos’s management of the company.
President Lourenço had already dismissed the heads of several other state companies, including the three state-owned media companies.
“It’s probably early to tell if this is the introduction of transparency to Angola or just a changing of the guard,” said David Goldwyn, who was the State Department’s top energy diplomat in the first Obama administration. “We don’t know if this is just dos Santos’s cabal having had its share of the trough and now it’s time for the new guard to have their turn.”
Sonangol is not only the dominant player in Angola’s oil industry, but also a provider of telecommunications services, radio transmission and air transportation. It is also one of the most ambitious African oil companies, with ventures in Brazil, Cuba and Venezuela.
Sonangol is a partner with some of the biggest international oil companies, including Exxon Mobil, Chevron and BP.
Angola, which is a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, produces more than 1.5 percent of the global oil supply.
The government put out a short statement about Ms. dos Santos’s dismissal but gave no explanation.
Ms. dos Santos gave no public statement, and neither did her father. Her younger brother, José Filomeno, continues to head the country’s $5 billion sovereign wealth fund.
President Lourenço appointed Carlos Saturnino, a former Sonangol official who is an ally of the president, as Ms. dos Santos’s replacement. He is to lead a review of company operations.
“Since the national oil company is the prime source of national wealth and political power, you have to consolidate your control by putting your own people in key positions,” said Donald Hertzmark, an energy consultant who has worked in Angola. “That controls the flow of wealth and resources.”