Angola is the third largest oil producer in Africa, after Libya and Nigeria, and the fifth largest diamond producer in the world. Its endowment in natural resources has brought much destruction to its people and its soil, for it has always attracted an unscrupulous international race to secure a share of those resources. At the turn of independence, in 1975, the Soviets came as friends to help implement Marxism-Leninism which, in turn, would create a New Angolan Man. From 1975 to 1989, over 150,000 Cuban soldiers and civilian personnel passed through Angola providing the military manpower to enforce such an international assistance. Meanwhile, the West, headed by the US, sponsored a rebellion and an invasion by Apartheid South Africa. Thus, Angola was ripped apart by the cold war foes.
These opposing international foes had one thing in common, all of them benefited from the oil deals. From 1992 to 2002, such external forces, under a new world order, in the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin wall, became one and the same under the banner of the international community, and came in full support of the Government, as did several foreign mercenary outfits, on behalf of democracy and respect for human rights. All continued to benefit from oil and diamond deals, while the civil war became ever more destructive.
Now, with peace, new trends have emerged. The militarization of society and the setting up of parallel structures of power have provided more security for the oil and diamond fuelled deals, while turning the support for democracy and respect for human rights, in Angola, just a token of reference for diplomatic conversations.
For the past four years, I have been closely monitoring the human rights situation in the northeast diamond-rich areas of Angola. In the first year, I noticed much police and military involvement in systematic abuses against the local civilian population in general, and informal miners (garimpeiros) in particular (Marques and Campos, 2005). The focus of my work and networking was in the most troublesome area, the Cuango Valley, covering roughly 7,000 square kilometres, which had achieved a reputation as a Wild West. Through direct engagement with government officials and the National Police (Polícia Nacional – PN), at local and central levels, I have witnessed a remarkable shift in the decision-making process, and the consequent changes of personnel and behaviour on the ground.
The relationship between the PN and the local population, which was one of enmity because of the killings, torture, and arbitrary detentions, has now been restored to one of order. The local police have, in the process, acquired dignity and the population some respect.
The changes that took place, provided the authorities with a privileged site (Commaroff and Comaroff, 2004), to avert the total collapse of state rule, in the area, and reclaim some legitimacy. However, in the Cuango Valley, three companies serving multinational diamond projects, namely Alfa-5, K&P Mineira, and Teleservice continued with the practices of torture, forced labour, etc., while effectively maintaining the area under their paramilitary control (Marques, 2006). Although the violence has decreased in the past few months, it still persists. By enquiring why, I have been following the insidious establishment of parallel structures of power to those of the State, in which private security companies play a major part.
Foucault (1980:102) contends that one should direct research on the nature of power:
“not towards the juridical edifice of sovereignty, the state apparatus and the
ideologies which accompany them, but towards domination and the material
operators of power, towards forms of subjugation and the inflection and
utilisations of their localized systems, and towards strategic apparatus.”
This is what I set out to do. One look at the actual standing of the government, which is headed by the President of the Republic, provides an important insight for a better understanding of the role of PSCs. During the second civil war (1992-2002) there was no period in which the military presence, and its influence in civilian administration, was as high as it is at present. To name a few, the Prime Minister, Fernando Dias dos Santos “Nandó”, is a career police officer, a former Commander-General and Minister of Interior.
The key ministries of Defence, Interior, Public Works, the Office of National Reconstruction, in charge of the growing Chinese presence in Angola; and the Office of the Attorney-General are held by top generals. They are, respectively, Generals Kundi Paihama, Roberto Leal Monteiro, Higino Carneiro, Hélder Vieira Dias “Kopelipa”, and João Maria de Sousa. The ruling MPLA (People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola) party itself is administered by General Dino Matross, holding the position of Secretary-General.
In my research, which is still continuing, I have so far documented the involvement of 17 leading generals and eight top police officers as main shareholders of the core PSCs. With the exception of two who had already retired from active duty, all other generals were still holding key positions, including three successive Chiefs of Staff of the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA), two ministers and one deputy minister of the Interior, and one Commander-General of the PN, at the time when the companies were set up or moved up the ladder in tandem with the private enterprises. The overlap also extends to civilian government officials holding more influential positions within the state apparatus. For instance, one company, SPAR, is fronted by the current Secretary of the Council of Ministers, António Carlos Reis Júnior. Within the MPLA, its Secretary-General also fronts a PSC, Sossega.
The Private Security Companies
According to National Police data disclosed to the Portuguese News Agency Lusa (posted by Angonotícias, 2006), 307 PSCs operate in the capital, Luanda, of which 140 are duly legalized while the majority of 167 have yet to complete their licensing procedures. In total, the 307 companies have an effective force of 35,715 men and 12,087 guns. Fernando (2006) links the mushrooming of PSCs to the opening up of the country, in 1991, to the capitalist ideology of the free market, established overnight to replace Marxism-Leninism. Fernando (ibid.), notes little difference now between the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA) and the security companies, arguing that the latter just lack cannons and tanks.
Thus, he (ibid.) calls for such private firepower to be substantially reduced, so as to maintain “the admissible proportionality between the public and the private, between the State and its subjects” (ibid.). These comments led a dossier on PSCs, published in the state-owned Jornal de Angola, which is a mouthpiece of the regime and the only daily newspaper in the country. Although it never mentions the ownership of any of the companies, it makes a candid defence of the predicament faced by thousands of guards, who earn as little as the equivalent of US$50 a month, barely enough for transport to and from work in the same period. “A cycle of blackmail sets in (…).” Wrote the then director of Jornal de Angola (ibid.).
There are two strands from Fernando’s editorial (ibid.) that require further explanation, and a theoretical analysis within the security-nexus development (Buur et al, 2007, 11:12). On the one hand, it is the relationship between the privatization of security and the materialization of the free market; on the other hand, it is the consequent emergence of a military apparatus outside state control.
Buurs et al. (2007:11) understand development “as a set of governance practices for enhancing the wellbeing of populations, in particular in poor countries”, while contending that security “is associated with perceived threats to the survival of individuals and states and with the use of exceptional means of countering these threats.”
As part of the peace agreements of 1991, between the MPLA government and the former rebel movement UNITA (National Union for the Transition of Angola), the country had to convert to a democratic system as well as a free-market economy, and have a single unified army of up to 50,000 soldiers. According to a Government memorandum (Jornal de Angola, 2006) the three peace agreements of Bicesse (1991), Lusaka (1994) and Luena (2002) resulted in the demobilization of 288,538 soldiers from UNITA and the ex-FAPLA (Government forces that operated until the 1991 peace accord).
The same document refers to the ongoing selection process to demobilize 33,000 soldiers from the current Angolan Armed Forces (FAA), under the Luena agreements – “the majority of whom are disabled” (Dos Santos, 2006). Due to the outbreak of civil war in 1992 and its resumption in 1998 it is quite hard to find credible estimates on how many of the tens of thousands of demobilized soldiers, from the Government side, remained in civilian life and how many returned to active duty, and the exact and actual size of FAA.
One has to bear in mind these numbers, considering that Angola still bears the hallmarks of a militarized society, which include a much disputed and ill-defined and armed civil defence force. In 2006, according to an official report to the United Nations, the Government (ANGOP, 2007) recovered 60,110 weapons of diverse calibres, from the civil defence forces, during 2006 and the first quarter of the current year.
Júnior (2004) interprets the rise of civil defence forces as a back up for the Government’s defence and security strategies, during wartime, in which it armed sectors of the civilian population, causing the proliferation of guns among them. Nevertheless, in a context of peace, Júnior (ibid.) argues that the State needs to clarify the role of civil defence, and advocates that Angola no longer needs it. Although it is difficult to establish the current number of the organized civil defence forces, due to the lack of public information, it is significant the fact that the Ministry of Defence (Ministry of Finances, 2007) continues to fund such armed civilian forces.
It is under these conditions that the World Bank (2006:i) insists, first and foremost, that Angola must conclude its transition to a market economy, even though it remains undemocratic (the country has not held elections since 1992), and without the institutional reforms to ensure a degree of transparency in the process. The ruling class has re-appropriated the concept of free market not to liberalize the economy, but to own it, and to craft, in the process, a parallel militarized structure to protect it. The World Bank (2006:108) acknowledges that a great deal of the state apparatus remains unchanged.
Thus, the ruling class retains absolute patronage over the resources and the easy routes to enrichment (Cammack et al, 1994:91), while recasting itself as an intermediary, a business agent and protector for foreign interests (Fanon, 2001:122). As Fanon (ibid.) sees it, the mission of such a class “has nothing to do with transforming the nation; it consists, prosaically, of being the transmission line between the nation and a capitalism (…)”
Buurs et al. (ibid.) posit that “security is about real questions about violence, but it is also a way of representing particular problems in a manner that makes them exceptional and a question of survival (…)”. What is particularly enlightening in the argumentation of Buurs et al. (ibid.) with regard to the power relations, within a given context, is the question of who is identified as a threat, and “which groups of people are in a position to define other groups as a security threat.”
In the case of Angola, that identification is compounded by public contradictions to obscure the real causes and mentors of the growing criminality. The Command-General of the PN issued, on August 10 2006, a statement prohibiting PSCs from recruiting personnel without the National Police (PN) approval, to stem “the wave of crimes committed by guards of the referred companies” (Manje, 2006). Six months earlier, the same institution issued a stern warning against the PSCs for a series of crimes carried out by their personnel, including “homicides, anarchic shooting and excessive public display of firepower (…)”
Furthermore, the Command-General of the PN denounced (Jornal de Angola, 2006) bans imposed by PSCs on members of the PN entering, in the course of their duties, premises such as “ports, airports, hotels, commercial aircraft and vessels or, the disarming of the officers as well as banning other entities duly authorized and identified.”
Ports, airports, commercial aircraft and vessels represent the crossing of boundaries, in and out of the country, and what comes in and goes away. The police complaint about loss of authority at such critical sites might be understood through Commaroff and Commaroff’s (2004) description of crime nowadays: “Increasingly flexible in its modes of operation, it often mimics corporate business, constituting an uncivil society that flourishes most energetically where the state withdraws.” (ibid.)
It is also interesting to consider this in the light of ideas about the “gatekeeper state.” Cooper (2002) and Bayart (1993) argue, in different ways, that the main function of the African state is the control of the flow of goods and wealth both internally and externally, and gathering the taxes that result from these movements. So when non-state actors – PSCs – intrude into this area, they are taking away what is the most fundamental role of the state.
At the time of the abovementioned statements, the main shareholders of the mainstream private security company K&P Mineira, Commissar José Alfredo ‘Ekuikui’ and Commissar Eduardo Mingas, were respectively Commander-General of the PN and Deputy-Commander General. I have documented several human rights abuses by this company (Marques, 2006), including killings and systematic torture, in the Cuango Valley. By Law 19/92, Article 7, the Minister of Interior has the power to authorize the provision of services by a PSC, upon the recommendation of the Commander-General. Nonetheless, the current Minister of the Interior, General Roberto Leal Monteiro, in his private capacity, is also exposed as holding shares in another mainstream PSC, COPEBE (Semanário Angolense, 2006).
It is worth highlighting another aspect of Law 19/92, Article 4, which prohibits PSCs from carrying out activities that conflict with the duties of the armed forces, security services and of the civil protection of the State. In a frank public statement (Matos, 2004), Mr. José Santos, director of DSL, a mainstream PSC, says that when his company has emergencies, which he does not explain, “we make a special request to the PN, which lends us the weapons, which remain under its direct control. Because we have very close links with the police, exactly because the law says the security companies are an appendix of the Police.”
A more recent example is that of Alfa-5, a company in which the previous Chief of the Staff of the Army and current Deputy Minister of Defence, General Sanjar, has shares. I have documented a number of human rights abuses, in particular the flogging of informal miners, which have been carried out by joint patrols with the military (Marques, 2006). Another remarkable case of the blurring lines between the PSC and the PN is reported in the latest issue of Semanário Angolense (2007). According to the report, a guard of a PSC, Angolan Petroleum-Service, led by the former vice-minister of the Interior, Fernando Manuel, fired at a passer-by, Mr. José Gonga, after a brief argument.
The victim took the case to the police, and complained that it neither investigated the case nor seized the gun as evidence. Mr.Gonga became incapacitated, lost his job and, after more than a year, his only consolation is to denounce the former vice-minister. “The head of the company, Fernando Manuel, refused to pay for my medical care as well as to pay me compensation, alleging that the police found the guard of AP-Service to be right,” he says.
An incident on November 28, 2007, in Luanda is noteworthy as well, and charged with irony. In a slum neighbourhood named after Iraq, a private company arbitrarily destroyed many houses of the poor to build a luxurious gated community named after the ‘Garden of Eden’. To do so, it managed to bring together a PSC, Mamboji, the Military Police (PM) and the PN to quell any revolt. As noted by one eyewitness I interviewed from London, “the subservience of both the PM and PN to the private entities was total.” Two journalists arrested on the spot, Alexandre Solombe and António Cascais, were interrogated in the premises of the private company, by private individuals and in the presence of the police and military personnel. Only later were they handed to a competent police department. Well, Mamboji is a company owned by some high ranking police officers as well.
One asks where the true power lies, in the state institutions or in the parallel structures that overshadow it? The World Bank (2006:7, 8) notes that Angola is one of the countries with the highest inequalities in the world when it comes to the distribution of its income, with up to 70% of its population living on less than 2 US dollars a day. Nevertheless, due to the oil boom, Angola has been registering impressive economic growth, one of the highest in the world, put at 15% for 2006 and projected at 30% in 2007 (ibid., 20). Kaldor (2007:186, 187) clearly articulates that in economic terms, “the primacy of human rights means the primacy of human development as opposed to the growth of national economies.”
Angola, as a post-conflict country, is doing it the other way round, achieving a stabilized economy in detriment of human development. But as Kaldor (ibid.) argues, in such a scenario, individual security is compromised as a consequence of joblessness and high levels of informal economic activity. In times of peace and inequality, both the army and the police can be sites for resistance to the status quo. By ostensibly taking over the control of the private domain, in the capital, the PSCs deploy a cordon sanitáire between the rich and the poor. They render the PN and the Army marginal, in the new social and economic dynamics, for the leaders are the same and they know how to dispense power and mobility in accordance with their particular or group interests.
In addition, what amounts to a private army, among the mainstream PSCs, can be maintained through payments for services rendered to oil and diamond multinationals as well as other highly profitable foreign investments. As such, the privatization of security, in its current anarchy, also allows for the aforesaid commercial ventures to embed their security supervisors and advisers with the PSCs, to best suit their interests in a context of lawlessness.
What the present essay demonstrates is that the main governance problem does not have much to do with the adoption of a system based exclusively on Western knowledge, nor in the lack of a coherent manual of instructions for its implementation. The powers that might be have no motivation to overcome the post-colonial mindset of mimicry (Bhabha 1994:86) that saturates the ruling class’ behaviour and extravagant lifestyle. The country lacks leadership to transform an imagined community (Anderson, 1995:5) into a dignified nation; and to embrace the historical importance and honour of uplifting the wellbeing of the people to the highest standards possible.
Yet, the field of dialogue remains uncharted. Through my own experience, I have been able to attest as well – through local knowledge – and by denouncing, without reservations, the local practices of self-destruction, that change is possible as a common need.
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 Anthropology Department – Goldsmiths, University of London. Talk delivered on December 11 2007.
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