- - Friday, March 24, 2023

JOHANNESBURG — His father was one of the world’s most feared dictators for decades. Today, Robert Mugabe Jr. is on bail pending a return to a Zimbabwean court on a charge of damaging property that could send him to jail.

His mother, Grace, has a warrant for her arrest across the border in South Africa, where she is accused of assaulting a woman in Johannesburg in 2017. Mrs. Mugabe has not returned to South Africa since then. Under local law, the warrant will remain active until 2037 unless the matter is resolved.

The Mugabes are not alone. In Angola, Kenya and Mozambique, members of onetime ruling dynasties are either in exile, prison or under investigation as new leaders try to claw back billions of dollars that they claim the first families embezzled.

In a sign of a change on the continent, having a famous last name no longer automatically confers political or legal immunity.

Angola, Africa’s second-largest oil producer, won its independence from Portugal in November 1975. President Jose Eduardo dos Santos initially ruled with a ban on all opposition parties and the press under state control. A series of civil wars devastated the country. With peace in 2002, the ruling People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) held on to power in what critics say were rigged elections.

Dos Santos was one of the Soviet Union’s closest allies in Africa and in his youth lived in Azerbaijan — then a part of the USSR — where he married a local woman. His daughter Isabel is a dual national of Angola and Russia and in the latter years of her father’s rule took charge of the state-owned oil company, Sonangol.

An ailing dos Santos retired in 2017, and his replacement and longtime rival within the MPLA, Joao Lourenco, pledged “to remake Angola.” His first target: the former ruling family.

Angola has an Interpol “red notice” against Ms. dos Santos. It claims she moved more than $1 billion to Malta, Dubai and Portugal. In December 2021, the Biden administration banned her from traveling to the U.S. because of “significant corruption by misappropriating public funds for her personal benefit.”

In an interview, Ms. dos Santos said the accusations are political and has hinted at running for president from exile in the Middle East. A court in Luanda, Angola’s capital, recently threw out a number of charges against her for lack of evidence. This has not slowed efforts by the Lourenco government to investigate the family.

Before the freeze on her bank accounts, Forbes magazine ranked her “the richest woman in Africa” with a net worth of $2 billion.

Ms. Dos Santos told The Washington Times that she has no doubt that her name will be cleared. “The judgment in Luanda was only the first step. My father was president, and I have been successful in business. Some people put those facts together and imagine I must have done something wrong, but time will show the case against me has no substance.”

Since coming to power, Mr. Lourenco has placed members of his own family in senior positions within the government.

In Mozambique, Armando Guebuza, who served as president from 2005 to 2015, earned the nickname “Mr. Gu-business” because of claims that any deal could be completed as long as it had the blessing of the president. Among these was a widely questioned $2 billion purchase of naval and fishing boats from a Lebanese firm.

Current Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi ordered an investigation, and court cases have been heard in Mozambique, the U.S. and Britain. Among those caught in the investigative sweep was Mr. Guebuza’s son Ndambi. A Mozambican court sentenced him in December to 12 years in prison on charges of embezzlement and money laundering.

The notion of investigations for wrongdoing by those close to the ruling party would have been unthinkable while Mugabe, dos Santos and Mr. Guebuza were in power, but times have changed. Donors and investors demand a higher degree of transparency, and those taking over from strong leaders may feel a need to show they are in charge.

East Africa’s best-known dynasty was established by independence leader Jomo Kenyatta, who came to power in 1963 after decades of agitating against British colonial rule. The move paid off handsomely for the family. Kenyatta’s daughter Margaret became mayor of Nairobi, and his son Uhuru served as president for nearly a decade before stepping down in 2022. Uhuru Kenyatta fell out with his vice president and chosen successor, William Ruto, and backed a rival candidate. The move backfired when Mr. Ruto won.

Since Uhuru Kenyatta left office, even his name has not been able to shield him from criticism. Local media have blamed him for a national debt that doubled under his tenure — much of it to China — while unemployment soared. Questions also have been raised about how his family became one of the wealthiest in Africa.

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