Fears of the Fatherless

Angola’s Chief of Military Intelligence and Security Services, General António José Maria, better known as General “Zé Maria”, recently told a meeting with subordinates that President José Eduardo dos Santos had made “a grave mistake” in announcing that he would retire from politics in 2018.

Maka Angola has learned from reliable sources, that the meeting was ostensibly called for operational purposes.  However, General Zé Maria was “visibly angry” over the presidential decision which apparently had “taken him by surprise”. He kept speculating aloud that the announcement may have been precipitated by the volatile socio-economic situation in Angola, for which the government has failed to come up with adequate solutions.

According to General Zé Maria, “the announcement would only serve to sow confusion amongst the party faithful”, given that the President as yet has no effective exit strategy to prevent political upheaval or worse.

Not that the General was offering any alternative suggestions. It seems that, all things considered, he would still prefer to keep José Eduardo dos Santos in power.  As the saying goes: ‘Better the devil you know…’

Given that Zé Maria has been one of the president’s main supporters since 1979, it’s natural for him to show such devoted loyalty to his Commander-in-Chief who has, for decades, tolerated the way General Zé Maria repeatedly exceeded his authority and behaved like a mini-me despot.

For example, in 2013 he took it upon himself to fire a total of 14 Generals – an act that is the prerogative of the Commander-in-Chief. They included the Inspector-General of Military Intelligence and Security, General Massano.

With a military career that stretches back to the Portuguese army while it was battling the independence movements, General Zé Maria has been the protagonist of many a legendary tale.  His resentment towards the former rebel UNITA officers in the combined Angolan Armed Forces is well known, not least his mistrust of General Geraldo Sachipengo Nunda, the Chief of the General Staff, whom he has compelled to dispatch with him in the Military Intelligence and Security Services refectory, which he habitually uses as his office.

If the President steps down, Zé Maria’s power is also at an end.  For years he has been allowed to continue serving, long past the official retirement age of 65.  It wasn’t until last July that President Dos Santos included Zé Maria’s name on the retirement list for the coming year.

It goes without saying that both men must equally fear the end of their glory days.  No doubt the anger and confusion felt by this septuagenarian general is reflected throughout the ranks of the President’s closest collaborators.  His ‘retirement’ announcement has left them bereft – anticipating the loss of their father figure. And like all orphans, with that protection removed, they fear for the future and the potential loss of their immunity from prosecution.