President Dos Santos Clings on to the Old Guard

President José Eduardo dos Santos recently appointed General Kundi Paihama as governor of Huambo province, the second most geostrategically important province in Angola. Paihama, 70, is an important figure in the regime’s old guard. Neither his age nor his history of incompetence and of involvement in shady business dealings stood in the way of his appointment.

Paihama was thought to be approaching retirement. In an interview with Radio LAC in August he declared “my dream is to live in the fields, in the countryside, and dedicate myself to farming. This is what I will doubtless do one day when I retire from government.” Will he be tilling his fields when he is 80 or 85 years old? There is an ever more urgent need for the government to respond to the expectations of a young population that is making increasing demands in the areas of education, employment and housing. Paihama, in contrast, represents the monolithic politics and the top-down style of government of the 1970s and 1980s. He has neither the drive nor the intellectual and technical skills to take on the current challenges.

From the party political point of view, the president seems determined to destroy the support base of his party, the MPLA, in the region. First, he left the province for practical purposes without a governor for the past two years, owing to the failing health of the then incumbent, Faustino Muteka. Then, he replaced Muteka with another political dinosaur.

Throughout his career in the party, Paihama deservedly had the reputation as one of the most aggressive MPLA spokespeople in south-central Angola. A born populist, during the war he created a fierce and effective rhetoric against UNITA and its leader Jonas Savimbi. Dos Santos entrusted him with running the MPLA’s electoral campaign in 1992. UNITA gained a clear victory in the region.

In 2012, after ten years of peace, Paihama was the only MPLA leader who continued to talk as if the war was still going on – even to the point of threatening massacres against those who opposed the MPLA or the president. Paihama’s penchant for violence seems to be the only explanation why the president would appoint him. The people of Huambo are greatly dissatisfied with the MPLA regime. Paihama appears best able to create an atmosphere of terror that will subjugate the local population.

Who is Kundi Paihama?

As a member of government, Paihama has shown himself incapable. He has tried to conceal his incompetence with arrogance and posturing. Since independence he has held numerous different ministerial posts and been governor of four different provinces, not including Huambo. He got his first job in government by peculiar means. In 1976, the then president Agostinho Neto wanted someone of Kwanhama ethnicity to be commissioner (governor) of Cunene province, and called upon Paihama, who at the time was a civil servant in Moçâmedes (now Namibe) province. According to an informed source, Paihama informed Neto that he was not in fact Kwanhama. However, the fact that he could speak the Kwanhama language was good enough for the president, and Paihama was appointed commissioner.

While provincial commissioner, Paihama was accompanied on his journeys in the province by an independent battalion known as “Mountain Leopards”. In 1981, when he was appointed to govern Benguela province, he requested that the Mountain Leopards be transferred with him, as a military force under his personal control. He did the same when he was later moved to other posts. During the 1980s the Mountain Leopards distinguished themselves in various military campaigns, always under the control of a civilian, Kundi Paihama.

This relationship with the Mountain Leopards allowed Paihama to create the image of a military commander, which he in fact never was. The only time he served as a solider was in the Portuguese army before independence. In 1988, the president gave him the rank of colonel in the People’s Armed Forces for the Liberation of Angola (FAPLA). Paihama had attended an officers’ training course the previous year, but never served in the FAPLA. In 1991 he was promoted to major general, and the following year to general of the newly established Angolan Armed Forces (FAA) – still without having seen active service.

Dodgy deals and conflict of interest

In his interview with Radio LAC in August, Paihama spoke of his wealth. “Everything I have is from my work,” he said. “What is necessary is not to steal, everyone must eat in accordance with the sweat of his brow. I challenge them to find my money outside the country, my money does not leave Angola.”

In December 2011, António Ferreira, Paihama’s Portuguese partner in the company Plurijogos, which owns Casinos of Angola, filed a criminal complaint against a supposedly fraudulent alternation to the company’s shareholding structure. Ferreira, who had held 70 percent of the shares, found himself reduced to a minority shareholder with only 20 percent, to the benefit of Paihama who had started out with only 20 percent. Ferreira claimed that the process had been ratified during a general assembly of the company at which he was not present.

The following year, 2011, Paihama laid a criminal complaint against Ferreira, for allegedly having defrauded Plurijogos of US$25 million. Paihama’s lawyer claimed in an interview with the Portuguese magazine Lux that the general might in fact have lost as much as US$100 million. But recent reports suggest that the two partners have reconciled and are once again working together in the gambling industry in Angola.

Paihama remains chairman and majority shareholder of Banco Angolano de Negócios e Comércio (BANC), despite complaints that this is in violation of the Law on Probity, which bars public office holders from simultaneously holding management positions in private businesses. Paihama is also rewarded as a general in active service, while at the same time serving as a member of the MPLA political bureau. It contravenes the constitution, which prohibits military personal on active duty to engage in party politics.

Dos Santos, in power for almost 35 years, seems to need the company of other veterans. Perhaps this helps him feel he will be in office forever.