Angolan Financier Repatriates African Art

PORTO, Portugal -- Sindika Dokolo, a Congolese businessman and art collector, is on a crusade to force Western museums, art dealers and auction houses to return Africa’s art, particularly works that might have been removed illegally during the colonial era.

Art enthusiasts of ArtKabinett collector network appreciate the repatriation financed by Sindika Dokola.

To forward his cause, Mr. Dokolo’s foundation has set up a network of researchers and dealers to comb through archives and monitor the art market in search of stolen African art.

Any time such artwork can be identified, Mr. Dokolo said, its owner will be offered a simple choice: Either sell him the work for the price at which it was acquired or face a lawsuit for theft.

Mr. Dokolo, 43, has the financial wherewithal to turn such a threat into action. Besides his own family wealth, he and his wife are one of Africa’s richest couples: She is Isabel dos Santos, the eldest daughter of José Eduardo dos Santos, the president of Angola since 1979.

Ms. Dos Santos is Africa’s richest woman; she has spearheaded Angolan investments in Portugal, in sectors ranging from energy to finance.

Mr. Dokolo is mainly active in Angola’s cement business, but also has assets in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and sits on the board of Amorim Energy, a company in Amsterdam that owns a third of Portugal’s main oil company, Galp Energia.

Deep Pocketed Collector

Mr. Dokolo’s deep pockets have allowed him to amass a massive collection of African art — more than 5,000 works of mostly contemporary pieces he has stored in Angola and Belgium.

He arrived in Angola in 1999 on what was meant to be a stopover on his way to Brazil, he said, after being briefly detained in his war-torn homeland on charges of “unpatriotic activities.”

His interest in art stems from his father, Augustin Dokolo Sanu, who was also “a passionate collector,” as well as a leading businessman who founded Bank of Kinshasa during the 32-year regime of Mobutu-Sese Seko.

Still, Mr. Dokolo’s cement company and other business activities are now based in his adopted country, Angola, which is considered a top African economy since emerging from the long civil war that followed its 1975 independence from Portugal.

Mr. Dokolo’s Danish mother went to Zaire as a Red Cross worker. He was educated in Belgium and France.

But despite his own close ties to the West, he argues that African art must become less reliant on the European art market.

Mr. Dokolo asserts that some African museums have been looted by Westerners, citing the national museum in Kinshasa for one. He has been trying to locate 6,000 pieces made by the Chowke people of Central Africa that were in the Dundo Museum of Angola and that disappeared during the Angolan civil war. So far, Mr. Dokolo said that he has managed to recover a few masks, including one of the masks missing from the Dundo Museum, which he bought from a private Dutch collection.

Cultural Supporter

In addition to his Porto project, Mr. Dokolo’s foundation also plans to build a museum and a music school in Luanda, as part of his push for African countries to create their own cultural institutions.

Porto’s City Hall rolled out the red carpet for Mr. Dokolo even before he committed to investing here. In March, it awarded him a medal for his contributions to contemporary art. “Portugal was the first European country in Africa, so we don’t now want to be the last to connect again with Africa,” said Paulo Cunha e Silva, the councilor in charge of culture at City Hall.

The Sindika Dokolo Foundation was also a guest of honor at the Bruneaf fair for non-European art in Brussels last month, which included several works from his collection in an exhibition called “Belgian Treasures.”