General Zé Maria’s Partisan Plot to Destabilize the Army

For the last few months the head of Angola’s Military Intelligence and Security Service (SISM), General António “Zé” Maria, has created a secret discussion group aimed at fostering a climate of instability within the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA), in such a way as to justify purges. This strategy is known as the “purification of the FAA”.

The scheme also aims to divert attention away from the ever-deteriorating socio-economic situation of most Angolan citizens and the government’s inability to deal with it. It also serves as a distraction from the uncertainty over when and how President dos Santos will relinquish power.

Maka Angola has learnt from insiders that the other main participants in the discussion group are the Deputy Chief of the General Staff for Patriotic Education, General Egídio de Sousa Santos “”Disciplina””, and Lieutenant-General João António Santana “Lungo” of the Security Studies Office within the Intelligence Bureau of the Presidency.

The object of the scheme is to ensure that generals who were formerly with UNITA, then a rebel movement, and who joined the FAA as the result of peace accords are seen as loyal to the UNITA political leadership and therefore will be seen as a threat to the MPLA’s hold on power, particularly in the post-Dos Santos era.

The main target of the intrigue is the current Chief of General Staff of the FAA, General Geraldo Sachipengo Nunda, who left UNITA in 1993, joined the government forces, and was instrumental in destroying the war machine of his former commander, Jonas Savimbi. The rebel leader was killed in action in 2002, thus bringing the 27 post-independence war to an end. Zé Maria and his allies are now circulating information within the FAA that General Nunda is trying to promote ex-UNITA officers in order to make it easier for him eventually to seize power.

SISM itself has already removed ex-UNITA officers from its own ranks. Meanwhile, General Zé Maria has ignored the constitutional provisions that make the FAA non-partisan, and organised regularly MPLA meetings inside SISM and forced officers to attend. “Here we have to be pure,” the general is known to have said at these meetings.

Former UNITA generals in the FAA have made the objections known to the President. “We need to know whether we in the FAA are together or not,” were the words of General Isidro Peregrino Chindondo Wambu during a meeting of the FAA’’s Council of Chiefs of Staff.

General Nunda replied by calling for patience. He spoke of the seriousness of the plots that were fomenting divisions within the FAA, and noted that the perpetrators were not present at the meeting. “The case is now before the President of the Republic,” the council meeting concluded. It is not known what the president’s feelings on the matter are, or how he will respond.

Apart from the climate of intrigue, the former UNITA officers in the FAA are all the more dissatisfied by the way they are spied on by SISM and by the fact that generals such as Zé Maria and Egídio de Sousa e Santos “”Disciplina”” are politicizing the armed forces by being bluntly MPLA partisans. Zé Maria openly and regularly holds MPLA party meetings at the headquarters of SISM, making it compulsory for all the officers to attend or face disciplinary action.

In the first week of May, the head of the Intelligence Bureau of the Presidency, General Manuel Hélder Vieira Dias Júnior ““Kopelipa””, called a meeting about the supposed conspiracy by former UNITA officers to seize power. Maka Angola has it from a reliable source that Kopelipa expressed distaste for the rumors that had been spread without any proof of the allegations, fearing that these would undermine the cohesion of the FAA and pose a threat to peace and national unity. Kopelipa has supported Nunda, to whom he has business links.

The Portuguese propagandist

Among General Zé Maria’’s cabal is a Portuguese man whose job is to manipulate public opinion in a manner favorable to the general’s plans. His name is Artur Queirós, who divides his time between the state newspaper, Jornal de Angola, and the SISM headquarters. At SISM he gathers the material and the authorization for the inflammatory articles that he writes for the newspaper, demonizing UNITA.

The underlying idea is to present UNITA as a common enemy, as a way of building unity centered upon a president whose popularity is waning within the MPLA as well as among society at large.

Queirós is also ghost-writing a book about the 1988 Battle of Cuito Cuanavale on behalf of General Zé Maria, which apparently aims to cast Dos Santos in the role of a visionary leader while playing down the fact that Angola was at the time heavily dependent on Cuban support, and banishing UNITA to the margins of history.