The Presidency’s Military Bureau and the Kidnappings

It is now two weeks since Alves Kamulingue, 30, was abducted while walking around downtown Luanda at midday on May 27. Kamulingue was on his way to a demonstration that had been scheduled to bring together former members of the Presidential Guard Unit (UGP) and war veterans to demand the payment of their pensions.

On May 29, his friend Isaías Cassule, 34, one of the organisers of the protest, was also seized at dusk in the Cazenga district of Luanda.

Kamulingue’s wife, Isa Rodrigues, has received anonymous phone calls that have claimed the missing men are in a police unit somewhere on the outskirts of Luanda. These rumours have started to circulate, including among journalists, contradicting other rumours that have spread on the internet claiming that the men have been executed. The calls come from unknown numbers and are then switched off so that the families cannot call back and ask for more information.

The policy of abducting individuals who speak out against the regime is certainly not new. In the past, those seized have been released after being tortured and threatened. At the same time, it is worrying that the Presidency of the Republic, the institution that has been the target of the protests, has been silent on the case. Even more worrying is the negligent reaction from society at large.

A senior source at the Interior Ministry asserted that the missing men were not in police custody. “Because the families have notified police stations of their disappearance, our idea is to offer all possible information to put the families’ minds at rest,” the source said.  There are leads that Casa Militar, in the Presidency, has specific information on the whereabouts of the activists, which it is not sharing with other state institutions or the general public. Casa Militar is the Military Bureau of the Presidency, an equivalent of a National Security Council, which oversees the armed forces, the police, security services and the Presidential Guard Unit.

As the supreme law of the land, the Constitution enshrines respect for and protection of human life. According to the Constitution, an individual may in no circumstances be deprived of liberty without his or her family being informed of the imprisonment or detention and of the place where the person is being held. The Constitution also guarantees certain basic rights to detained people, regardless of the crimes of which they are accused.

With the official confirmation that the National Police has nothing to do with the case, it is now up to the Presidency of the Republic, though its Military Bureau, to make an unequivocal statement about the whereabouts of the two activists.

Paulina Wesso, 6, and Alves da Silva, 2, are asking about their father, Alves Kamulingue. Their mother and his wife, Isa Rodrigues, do not have the slightest idea about what has become of her husband. Isaías Cassule’s five children are in the same situation.

For years, political repression, war and corruption have been used as mechanisms to impose fear on society. It is rare for citizens to express solidarity with one another when the authorities commit criminal acts that violate their fundamental rights. Angola is still a country where citizens’ participation is limited to submitting themselves to an authoritarian and unanswerable power.

But it is paramount to highlight that the sovereignty of the Angolan state resides in the people. The people are sovereign, and rulers are public servants subject to the law and to the scrutiny and judgement of the people who have chosen them as their representatives.

The rulers, the representatives of the people, only abuse the powers conferred upon them by the sovereign people when the latter allow them to do this, for lacking a sense of collective and individual responsibility. As long as an ordinary citizen does not respect or defend the life of another, the state will be nothing more than a project captured by the most scheming, violent and corrupt individuals. In this way the state will continue to be used as an obstacle to the fulfilment of citizens’ fundamental rights.

The two activists got involved in organising a demonstration by former presidential guards who had returned to civilian life as garbage collectors. These guards  were then sent home unemployed, and without compensation or pension. They were humiliated and dejected.

Kamulingue and Cassule believed in the Constitution, in the rule of law, regardless of their own personal, political or other motivations. The Constitution guarantees the right to protest. On June 7, nearly 3,000 former soldiers demonstrated in front of the Defense Ministry, in Luanda, to demand the payment of pensions that are owed to them in some cases from as far back as 1992. Wisely, the General Chief of Staff of the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA), general Geraldo Sachipengo Nunda, chose to meet with a delegation of the protesters, and promised to settle the matter the following Thursday, June 7. He did so because the soldiers were united and very well organised in defending their shared interest. The authorities sent a strong military police and anti-riot police contingent to halt the protesters’ march. Had the contingent used force against the protesters, it would only have unleashed violence with unpredictable consequences, which would have jeopardised the stability of the regime.

Whatever the humble social status of Kamulingue and Cassule, they deserve solidarity for the simple reason that they are human beings and Angolan citizens, with the same rights and duties. Kamulingue is a warehouse employee and Cassule is a private security guard. In their own way, they devote part of their time working for the common good.

The president of the Republic, as head of the executive, and bearing ultimate responsibility for citizens’ security, must speak out lest he be held morally responsible for the missing men. Kamulingue and Cassule must be freed unconditionally.