Phantom General in Huíla

By Lázaro Pinduca

War veterans, in the Huila province, have come out publicly to demand answers on the promotion of local businessman, Luís da Fonseca Nunes, to the rank of lieutenant general and as the beneficiary of a monthly pension from the Social Security Fund of the Angolan Armed Forces (CSS/FAA).

Nunes is one of the most prominent businessmen in Angola. Notwithstanding, the former soldiers expressed concern that he should be awarded a lifelong monthly pension from the social fund, as a lieutenant general, without having ever served in the military.

According to the president of the Independent Forum of Demobilized Angolan War Veterans (FIDEGA), Lieutenant-colonel Manuel Nunes, “we can confirm that the businessman is a general”.

The official explains that, in 2009, “we suggested to the then prime minister, general Paulo Kassoma, that a legal protocol for complaints be established, in order to tackle the problem of phantom officers, and to restore more dignity to the army. Some soldiers have spent 30 years serving their country and never risen in the ranks beyond lieutenant or captain. It isn’t fair.”

In turn, a high ranking officer stationed in the south, who prefers to remain anonymous, confirmed to Maka Angola, that the businessman flaunts his rank of lieutenant-general, and his inclusion in the CSS/FAA, which awards him a monthly pension of over 300,000 kwanzas (US$3,000). “I never saw him [Luís Nunes] in the army, I never heard that he was in the army. Some people acquire their military rank through influence with the MPLA. That must be the case with him. It’s illegal”, confides the officer.

The growing number of complaints about the destitution into which thousands of ex-servicemen have been plunged, has concomitantly strengthened the argument against the inclusion in the army of individuals who have never completed military service.

On September 17, 2011, the Commission for Complaints of Sergeants and non-Demobilized Soldiers of the ex-FAPLA wrote to the chief of the General Staff of the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA), General Geraldo Sachipengo Nunda. In the letter, the commission openly accused the army of granting privileges to, among others, “those who were never military personnel of the MPLA, UNITA or FNLA”, and who now “are grand generals and colonels on active service and reserve.”

Fellow countrymen of Luís Nunes trace his family background to the municipality of Caconda, in Huíla, where he was born, and state categorically that the businessman and current member of the Central Committee of the MPLA never joined the army and that they never saw him in uniform. Samuel Kalandula, a former combatant, native of Caconda, expresses a measure of doubt. “Maybe he [Luís Nunes] was in military service after 1992, certainly not before. We follow his progress and we never saw him in uniform or heard him say he was in the military.”

In an interview given to the Portuguese weekly Expresso and El Economista in 2010, Luís Nunes explained how he started his business career in 1989, by setting up Grupo Socolil with his wife. He is currently the senior managing partner of the firm. Since then, he has focused on his business interests. He also owns the road construction company Planasul, which, he stated, has contracts worth US$600 million. In addition to various other companies, he is also the main shareholder in the construction company, Omatapalo, where his business interests cross paths with those of the previous minister of Defense, and current head of the Ministry of Former Combatants and War Veterans, general Kundi Paihama. According to the businessman, Grupo Socolil has annual profits estimated between US$150-200 million.

According to Laurindo Benjamin, a war veteran, the businessman’s rise to the rank of general is due, in part, to his connections to the ruling party and high-ranking army officers. “This makes us very sad. We, who fought for our country, are nowhere to be seen”, complains the former combatant.

Influential, and showing a great talent for manipulation, the businessman also rose to the Central Committee of the MPLA after his candidacy had been rejected at local level by party members.

Last December, Luís Nunes was honored with the businessman of the year Sirius award, an initiative sponsored by the multinational auditing firm Deloitte, based in the United Kingdom. The jury of the awards panel is presided over by the parliamentarian and member of the political bureau of the MPLA, Manuel Nunes Júnior, and in its inaugural event, distinguished only members of the Central Committee and the Political Bureau of that party, including the minister of State, Manuel Vicente, and the president, José Eduardo dos Santos.

According to Jornal de Angola, in its December 7, 2011 issue, the jury justified awarding the Sirius prize to Luís Nunes in recognition of “his extraordinary effort in risk management and his enterprising capacity to deliver an efficient, secure logistical operation” during the war.

Without beating about the bush, the businessman installed a luxury country estate inside the Bicuar National Park, Huíla, complete with an airstrip for landing his two small planes. National parks are State reserves, and as such, they are specifically designated for tourism activities, to the exclusion of all else.