The Attempted Coup in Angola

The second-in-command of the Angolan National Police, Chief-Commissioner Paulo de Almeida, recently surprised many Angolans when he claimed there had been a coup attempt against President José Eduardo dos Santos. Interviewed by the Angolan Catholic broadcaster Rádio Ecclésia shortly before Christmas, Chief-Commissioner Almeida said the demonstration that took place on November 23, in protest at the deaths of political activists Cassule and Kamulingue, had ulterior motives.

“We have proof that [the demonstration] was in order to seize power. We have proof that it was an attack on power,” he said. “This was not a demonstration.”

He said that the demonstration had been repressed in order to prevent a seizure of power, and insisted that the various attempted demonstrations that have taken place in Angola since 2011 have not been peaceful. From his point of view, the idea of a peaceful demonstration is simply an excuse for grabbing power.

I enjoyed the interview. I particularly enjoyed the honesty of the man who holds chief responsibility for public order in Angola. The chief commissioner proudly explained that he is in charge of repressing the exercise of constitutionally guaranteed civil and political rights that are inconvenient for the regime.

Almeida calmly explained that the job of the National Police is above all to defend Dos Santos’s presidential power. In other words, the Constitution is nothing more than the head of state – everything else is irrelevant. The law and order that the police protect means nothing more than the personal power of the chief and his entourage.

This much, however, we knew already. But the supposed coup attempt comes as a surprise.

The first illegitimate and criminal deed defined in the Constitution (Article 4) is the “seizure and exercise of political power on the basis of violent means or by other forms not prescribed nor in accordance with the Constitution.”

The chief-commissioner’s comments were very disturbing, in the sense that they sought to justify the repression of the demonstrators by means of tear gas and truncheons, on the spurious grounds that they were preparing to seize power. Almeida described how the supporters of the “coup” would have taken control of the provincial governor’s palace in Luanda, and then the Presidential Palace.

First, there was no statement on the matter from the President, who was supposedly about to be overthrown by faceless demonstrators.

Second, the Attorney general has brought no charges against those elements supposedly trying to seize power.

Third, the police, under Chief Commissioner Almeida’s own command, have not detained anyone suspected of an attempted coup.

Fourth, it is unusual for an attempted coup to be put down solely by the police using nothing but batons.

Nevertheless, what Chief Commissioner Almeida said about the supposed coup offers some interesting insights into the current political situation in Angola.

The real and imagined coup attempts might justify the constant “toothaches” that have prompted President Dos Santos to spend almost a quarter of 2013 outside the country. As cautious and as fearful as he is, Dos Santos might be trying to keep out of trouble.

The regime has shown no hesitation in accusing the main opposition party UNITA and its leaders of being a threat to peace and democracy.  However, the government did not take the opportunity to accuse and to put on trial the UNITA leaders who called for the demonstration on November 23.

Thus one may speculate that the alleged mentors of the coup are to be found sheltered in the heart of the army, the government or the presidency itself.

People such as rowdy Adolfo Campos, young Nito Alves and others, whom the President described as “frustrated youth,” and who have demonstrated against the regime in the past, barely have the resources to organise a lunch party for themselves, let alone a coup. How were they to have reached the presidential palace, armed only with megaphones?

If we rule out civil society protestors, that leaves only Abel Chivukuvuku and his CASA-CE party, currently the third largest political force in the country. But CASA-CE chose not to participate in the demonstration. It decided instead on a different, complementary initiative: putting up posters demanding justice in the case of Cassule and Kamulingue. A young CASA-CE member, Manuel Ganga, paid for this initiative with his life when he was shot dead by members of the Presidential Guard while he was putting up posters at the Coqueiros Stadium in Luanda, early in the morning of the day of the demonstration.

Or should we ask whether CASA-CE was attempting a coup at the Santana cemetery, when it organised a funeral procession to bury the murdered Ganga on November 27? Paulo de Almeida’s police suppressed the funeral march with tear gas and a disproportionate number of men. The procession took place several kilometres from the Presidential Palace, and proceeded in the opposite direction. Why then suppress it?

There is a simpler explanation. The chief-commissioner’s coup accusations can be understood in the light of a dispute for the leadership of the National Police. There is internal pressure for the current commander-general, Chief Commissioner Ambrósio de Lemos, to be replaced. Almeida is more radical and is apparently trying to demonstrate his loyalty to the President, as he sets his sight on the coveted top position.

The psychosis that afflicts many members of the regime, regarding the fact that they may one day lose power, deserves the attention of psychiatrists and traditional healers. The leaders seem to be more frightened than the population at large.

Another important aspect of Angolan politics that we need to keep in mind is certain leaders’ dedication to talking nonsense without a mandate, whenever they wish.  Paulo de Almeida fits into this category.

For the time being, there is only one suspect for the supposed coup d’état: chief-commissioner Paulo de Almeida himself.