Angolan Presidential Guards on Trial for ‘Insubordination’

Fourteen soldiers for the Central Protection and Security Unit (DCPS) in the Military Bureau of the Angolan Presidency are to stand trial in the Luanda Regional Military Court starting September 18, charged with the crime of “making collective demands” (exigência em grupo).

On September 7 last year, 224 soldiers from the unit in question signed a petition addressed to the commander of the Presidential Guard Unit (UGP), Lieutenant General Alfredo Tyaunda, complaining of poor working conditions and salaries. The soldiers sent copies of the petition to the Military Judicial Police, the Military Prosecutor and the Chief of Staff of the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA).

The soldiers expressed dissatisfaction with the unequal salaries accorded to the different military units associated with the Presidency. They reminded General Tyaunda that they were not beggars but graduates of the fourth UGP training course in 2005, which the general himself had described as “the best course ever.”

The soldiers described “six years of hell” since taking the oath of allegiance. They earn on average 28,450 kwanzas (US$284.50) per month.

According to the soldiers, those sections of the presidential guard that are closest to José Eduardo dos Santos, such as his escorts, certain members of the UGP, and the Presidential Security Unit (USP), known as the Presidential Palace “jackals”, earn over 108,000 kwanzas (US$1080) per month. “While we, who also belong to the President of the Republic’s Support Services, are squashed like mosquitoes,” the petition reads.

In recent years, the main task of the DCPS has been to protect the infrastructure projects built by Chinese contractors in the context of the bilateral accords between Angola and China, which establish an oil-for-infrastructure deal between the two countries.

The presidential soldiers listed the projects that they are guarding, including the Luanda and Benguela railways, the Luanda and Bengo Special Economic Zones, Kilamba and other housing projects, and the new Luanda International Airport in Viana, as “proof that we do a lot of work without recognition.”

The document calls for order and justice, and claims that no other presidential guard in Africa is as disorganised as that of José Eduardo dos Santos. It points to acts of nepotism in the recruitment and promotion of soldiers, including “uniformed civilians”. It suggests that “uniformed civilians” are people without military training who are brought into the unit by corrupt practices. “And they [the uniformed civilians] still tell us that as long as your mother works in the kitchen, you will never go hungry,” the soldiers complain.

The document also refers to a monthly payment of US $100 that the so-called China-Africa company grants to presidential troops involved in national reconstruction projects. The soldiers say that at a certain point they stopped receiving this extra payment, and demand to know what happened to the money.

Another complaint concerns uniforms and provisions. The petition states that “uniforms arrive at the unit and disappear from the container without explanation,” and also that there are some barracks where the soldiers have to contribute to food costs from their own pockets.

The soldiers also say they are paid in cash and do not receive official payslips, so they have no idea how much they ought to be receiving. In the petition they ask the UGP finance department to clarify the procedures for the payment of salaries.

They ask General Tyaunda and his superiors “to free us from this wrongdoing and injustice” and end by saying that unless the problems are resolved “there will be no peace in our homes.”

Jail and Trial

Nine soldiers representing the whole group went to General Tyaunda’s office on September 7, 2011, to hand over their petition. They were arrested and immediately transferred to the Military Judicial Police post. The men, Augusto Magalhães de Carvalho, Eleito José Paulo Afonso, Félix Congadimwe, Francisco Tuhandeleni, José do Rosário Dedi, Kianguebene Heme João Víctor, Manuel Romão de Carvalho, Muhenawa Muefuanga and Tehecuhungana Lussati, were held for a week.

On September 14 the Luanda Regional Military Prosecutor’s office claimed that it lacked the facilities to keep the presidential guards in detention, owing to renovation work being performed on its prisons. It instructed the DCPS to keep the men confined to barracks “until the end of the preliminary instruction in their respective cases and to proceed swiftly with their presentation before the Military Tribunal.”

The nine men were joined by six others accused, according to Case Number 707/2011, of being the main instigators of the petition: Alberto Francisco Cabinda, Domingos Quixido Kambuta, Feliciano Cassule, José Marcolino Nhoca, Justo Leu Ubandula and Mário Domingos. The 15 soldiers were charged under the Law on Military Crimes (Law 4/94) with the crime of “making collective demands.” Article 25 of the law defines this crime as follows:

1. “Soldiers who make demands in a group in an unruly or mutinous manner shall be punished with a prison sentence of between 2 and 8 years.

2. Those who accept, provoke or direct actions defined in the previous item shall be punished with a prison sentence of between 2 and 12 years.”

Yet, at no time were the soldiers accused of causing any unruly act or riot.

Article 73 of the Angolan Constitution establishes the right to make a petition, denunciation, claim or complaint:

“All have the right to present, individually or collectively, to sovereign institutions or other authorities, petitions, denunciations, claims or complaints to defend their rights, the Constitution, the law or the general interest, as well as the right to be informed within a reasonable period on the result of the respective criticism.”

The Constitution does not exclude soldiers’ rights to present petitions in defense of their interest, nor does it absolve the President of the Republic from responding to the collective grievances of the soldiers who protect him.