Angolan President João Lourenço fired Minister of State and Head of the Security House General Pedro Sebastião on 1 June amid an ongoing corruption scandal involving the country’s senior security leadership. Sebastião was promptly replaced by former Chief of General Staff of the Armed Forces General Francisco Pereira Furtado.
The ongoing controversy was sparked by the arrest of a senior security officer, Major Pedro Lussaty on 17 May at Luanda’s 4 de Fevereiro International Airport. Lussaty was caught trying to smuggle US$10 million and EUR4 million in cash out of the country in a clear breach of the country’s laws. Lussaty’s arrest revealed that Angola’s Attorney-General Helder Pitta Groz was conducting investigations into corruption within Security House – the country’s security headquarters. The revelation was followed by the dismissal of seven senior Security House officials on 24 May. These dismissed officers included the Head of Military Intelligence, General Apolinário José Pereira; Defence Secretary Lieutenant General António Mateus Júnior De Carvalho; Secretary for Personnel and Staff, Lieutenant-General Angelino Domingos Vieira; Secretary-General of Security Affairs Lieutenant-General José Manuel Felipe Fernandes; Director of the Office of the Ministry of State João Francisco Cristóvão; Secretary for Logistics and Infrastructure Lieutenant-General Paulo Maria Bravo Da Costa; and the main assistant of the Secretariat for the Affairs of the Intelligence and State Security Organs of the Security Affairs Office, Brigadier José Barroso Nicolau.
Lourenço has hinted that further dismissals are likely in the coming days and weeks. The President has promised to enact “radical changes” across the country’s military and security agencies in an effort to uproot corruption within these bodies. In addition, Lourenço has pledged to address the pervasive issue of so-called “ghost personnel” within the military. These are fraudulently listed soldiers which are drawing wages but do not in fact exist. These “ghost personnel” are a scam by individuals within the security forces to embezzle funds.
The changes to the country’s security leadership form part of the latest front in Lourenço’s anti-corruption drive. The President has made institutional reform and rooting out corruption a key pillar of his administration ever since he took over the Angolan presidency and the leadership of the ruling party, the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA/Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola)in 2017. Lourenço has used this anti-corruption drive to target the loyalists and patronage networks of his predecessor Jose Eduardo dos Santos and the wider dos Santos family.
This anti-corruption drive and other institutional reforms have enabled Lourenço to increase his control over the MPLA. However, this consolidation of power has not been completed and major divisions remain within the MPLA. Lourenço needs to overcome this factionalism ahead of the upcoming 2022 general election, especially amid the loss of support for the ruling party due to the country’s ongoing economic challenges. Angola’s longstanding economic weaknesses have been laid bare and exacerbated by the twin economic shocks in the past year of falling oil prices and the Covid-19 pandemic. Lourenço will also not be able to rely on the same level of electoral fraud and intimidation employed by the Dos Santos regime if he wants to maintain his mantle of reformer and the accompanying international support and acclaim.
This is also partly why Lourenço is now moving against corruption within the security forces. A public anti-corruption drive within an institution perceived as previously untouchable should garner the President political support and revitalise his reformist image. The investigations and dismissals also indicate that Lourenço is feeling sufficiently confident in the levels of support he has within the MPLA that he is willing to act against senior generals and security officials without fear of retaliation from within the party or the Angolan military. As yet, there have been few arrests but, given Groz’s desire for prosecutions and the potential political benefits for Lourenço, they are expected to occur.
There are some risks involved as Lourenço himself is a longstanding MPLA member and former defence minister. It is unlikely that the President’s past is as clean as he would like the public to believe. A wide-ranging investigation into Security House and influential officials there could potentially reveal allegations against Lourenço. Although the President likely has enough influence over the Attorney-General to prevent such allegations being made public or even being thoroughly investigated.
The anti-corruption drive targeting the military will likely leave Lourenço in a stronger position. This is not only due to the increased political clout attendant on the public investigations but also because it will enable the President to appoint his preferred candidates and loyalists to key positions of influence as the Head of the Security House and the head of military intelligence. This positions Lourenço to further entrench his power and control over the Angolan state ahead of the 2022 general election.