The new threats and the reinforcement of the Angolan Armed Forces
New threats to Angola
Angola’s history has been one of constant and overcoming challenges, and its survival as a single entity has been threatened since independence in 1975. It is never too much to remember that independence itself was declared at different times and in different places by different entities, with greater or less legitimacy. Agostinho Neto proclaimed the independence of the People’s Republic of Angola at 11 pm on November 11, 1975, in Luanda. Holden Roberto, leader of the FNLA, announced the Independence of the People’s Democratic Republic of Angola at midnight on November 11, in Ambriz and Jonas Savimbi did the same for UNITA in what was then Nova Lisboa on the same day, declaring the birth of the Republic Social Democratic Republic of Angola.
Immediately, a civil war followed that more or less sporadically, covering larger or smaller areas, lasted until 2002. Attempts at external invasion were also frequent, South Africa, even before independence, entered Namibia and Mobutu’s Zaire the same to the north. Then it was Cuba’s turn, at the invitation of the Luanda government to also enter the country to counter the other invasions. Indirect interventions by the then superpowers also abounded, and it is unnecessary to recall the threats of disintegration that the country experienced until the end of the civil war in 2002.
After that date, the threats posed to Angola diminished, although many remained latent and others emerged, such as those linked to the capture of the State and corruption.
Currently, there is an increase in external threats after 2002, not assuming the dramatic contours of the years after independence, but posing demanding challenges to the forces defending sovereignty, territorial integrity and national public order.
Internally, we can see the rekindling of separatist attempts, both in Lundas and in Cabinda, which could be a trigger for other initiatives. In relation to Cabinda, reports have recently appeared on social media, replicated in some media of clashes between the armed wing of the Front for the Liberation of the State of Cabinda (FLEC) and the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA). These attacks, real or virtual, follow several complaints from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) about Angolan incursions into its territory in apparent hot pursuit of FLEC members. Last August, the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the DRC, Célestin Mbala Musense, criticized alleged incursions by the Angolan Navy into the country’s territorial waters in operations against rebels in Cabinda and claimed that FAA soldiers were multiplying incursions into the country, persecuting FLEC rebels.
Alongside this possible military upsurge, which is uncertain and about which there is no reliable information, there is a duly publicized current of opinion that invokes the need for a solution, although it is not clear what it is, or is tired of a confrontation.
The truth is that the Constitution of Angola (CRA) in its articles 5 and 6 is determinant: “… no part of the national territory or of the sovereign rights that the State exercises over it may be alienated.” It should be noted that this formulation implies that any territory always remains an integral part of the State, but does not prohibit different statutes and approximations, such as the establishment of autonomies always integrated into the national whole and of local authorities, more or less decentralized.
There is, therefore, a constitutional duty to combat any attempt at territorial secession, the CRA admitting the use of force to make this happen (“energetically fought”). In this context, the FAA will play a crucial role in preventing any dismemberment. In addition to constitutional law, it is also easy to see that any separation or “detachment” of Cabinda from Angola would have a disintegrating effect on the country, which as we know, historically, is a recent construction in progress.
This leads to the second threat of the same separatist type that exists in the Lundas. In January 2021, there was a bloody confrontation, the contours of which were duly described in Rafael Marques’ text, “”Miséria & Magia.” In addition to socio-economic aspects, the event has been seen as linked to independence attempts by a self-styled Movement of the Portuguese Protectorate Lunda Tchokwe (MPPLT).
It is evident, in the first place, it is the duty of the State and the government to deal with the grievances of local populations, taking into account their developmental, economic and social demands. It is primarily a question of politics and progress. However, it is not worth ignoring that in the end, national integrity and sovereignty will always have to be guaranteed, and the FAA may play a decisive role in ensuring territorial cohesion.
That is why it is considered that a real threat to the sovereignty of Angola are the separatist impulses or intentions of part of its territory, with the FAA as the mainstay of the State to guarantee the integrity and unity of the State.
State capture and corruption
The second internal threat is linked to the aforementioned capture of the State and the fight against corruption. The option of political power was to hand over the fight against corruption to the common judicial means, therefore, this is not a function of the FAA, but of the police forces, criminal investigation and judiciary. The FAA only enters in what refers to the “capture of the State”. If forces or entities that benefit from corruption try to affect the normal functioning of the Rule of Law and Justice, weakening political power, it can be understood that the FAA will have a duty to defend constitutionality and legality, not intervening in specific judicial proceedings, but guaranteeing the conditions of tranquility and peace for the normal judiciary bodies to do their work. This is a difficult line to draw for the actions of the military, so the posture here must be understood as one of surveillance and symbolic support for the activity of the police forces and not of direct intervention.
If separatism and “state capture” are threats to sovereignty and peace in Angola, from the external point of view there are more and varied threats that have to be listed and have increased in recent years, requiring special attention from the FAA. The following stand out as external threats:
i) instability in neighboring countries, namely the DRC;
ii) the spread of terrorism designated as Islamic;
iii) crime and maritime piracy;
iv) increased competition between world powers with interests in African goods.
A few quick words about each of these segments:
i) instability in neighboring countries, namely the DRC
Although for the first time in 2018/2019 there was a peaceful transition of power in Congo (DRC), the truth is that the situation in this huge country is far from under control. The porosity with the Angolan border is a fact that is usually mentioned, but the main problem is that Tshisekedi, the President of the Republic and the state apparatus do not seem to control vast areas of the country that, according to some, are subject to militias promoted by Rwanda to search richness for processing in that country. A recent article by the Angolan professor and member of the Angolan government party, Benjamim Dunda, states that “What some do not know is that Rwanda is the gateway to the looting of excessive mineral resources in the DRC. Much of the endless instability of the neighboring nation of Mobutu has Kagame’s fingerprints. The Rwandan Patriotic Army (EPR) and Ugandan military, militarily occupy part of the territory of the DRC. Coltan (columbite and tantalite) is currently the most coveted ore in the technology industries worldwide. 80% of the world’s reserves are in the Democratic Republic of Congo.” Without Dunda’s exalted tone, Laura McCreedy, from the International Peace Institute’s Center for Peacekeeping Operations, is on the same wavelength, referring already this month to reports of the resumption of proxy violence – attributed to Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi – as well as recent offensive operations against Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) by Ugandan forces and the alleged presence of Rwandan police and Burundian troops in eastern DRC, which is particularly alarming.
What appears is that there is a latent conflict in the DRC that is far from being resolved, to which is added a kind of asymmetric invasion, using the techniques popularized by Vladimir Putin in Crimea and Ukraine, by forces from Rwanda and perhaps Uganda within the DRC. This could soon provoke a more intense and not so covert war in the country with obvious effects in Angola. We shouldn’t forget that Angola was present in the so-called First Congo Civil War (1996-1997) and Second Congo Civil War (1998-2003), in addition to having directly or indirectly intervened in subsequent relevant moments in the DRC’s history. Consequently, it will not be indifferent to the evolution of the situation in the DRC and to this kind of discreet or disguised invasion that takes place, with the FAA having at least a deterrent role.
ii) the spread of terrorism designated as Islamic
The Angolan religious reality would not suggest an imminent danger from Islamic terrorism. However, there are two factors that must be taken into account to increase the degree of danger of Islamic terrorism in Angola.
The first factor is that what is often called “Islamic terrorism” does not have a real religious connotation, but represents a kind of franchise or brand adopted by insurrectionary movements or guerrillas in economically and socially degraded areas. This means that it is possible that in disaffected areas in Angola there may arise “Islamic” terrorist movements, which have nothing but Mohammedan but the designation, adopted to instill fear and terror in the populations and authorities. In fact, it seems clear that several Islamic terrorist movements that emerge in Africa are not the result of a command or central planning, but are more or less autonomous cells that imitate and mutually inspire, seeking common elements in propaganda and methodologies. As Chatham House experts Alex Vines and Jon Wallace put it, “[In Africa, the] line between jihadism, organized crime and local politics is often blurred and further complicated by global factors such as climate change, population and migration. ” This means that the aforementioned “broth” can arise in Angola, and suddenly, the Islamic flag will be attractive to insurrectionary groups dissatisfied with the government.
Added to this first factor is the spreading across the African continent in relation to Islamic terrorism and which is gradually surrounding Angola. In the neighboring DRC, although still far from the Angolan borders, there is already talk of Islamic terrorism regarding the ADF (Allied Democratic Forces), with links between this organization and the Islamic State. In Tanzania, there are small attacks such as those in October 2020, in the village of Kitaya in the Mtwara region; attack that was claimed by Islamic extremists operating from northern Mozambique. Obviously, the case of Cabo Delgado in Mozambique is paradigmatic of the combination that can be foreseen for Angola, a socio-economic discontent allied to the emergence of Islamic terrorism. Further north, whether in the Central African Republic, Chad or Nigeria, there is a permanent threat from terrorist groups that identify themselves as Islamic.
The porosity of the borders, allied to the socio-economic difficulties, become powerful magnets for the expansion of terrorism that can become an internal threat in Angola, and it is certainly already a border threat and spreading across the African continent.
iii) crime and maritime piracy
From Cape Verde to the Angolan coast, attacks on ships have increased in recent years. In this vast maritime region, pirates – initially concentrated around the Niger Delta – extended their activities to all Nigerian coasts, as well as Benin and Togo. Since 2011, no less than 22 acts of piracy have been recorded in Benin, affecting traffic in the port of Cotonou, which has dropped by 60%. The massive economic impact of maritime crime – which includes illegal fishing, drug trafficking and weapons – on the coasts of West Africa increases every year. The Gulf of Guinea is now considered the continent’s maritime red zone.
Angola’s position has been clear, assuming itself as a strategic engine in the fight against piracy, pointing to the creation of a government funding strategy in the Gulf of Guinea and in the Great Lakes region, recognizing that crime has been growing in this area, endangering the region itself from a national, international and regional point of view. It is in this perspective that Angola attaches great importance to the maritime spaces that have to be controlled. In fact, of the 90 percent of crimes committed in the Atlantic Ocean, 70 percent occur in the Gulf of Guinea, which is worrying.
iv) increased competition between world powers with interests in African goods
This situation is more general and perhaps less imminent in causing disruption than the previous ones, however it exists and in the medium term could be the main threat to Angola. Some authors speak of a new “race for Africa”, such as those that took place at the end of the 19th century in connection with the Berlin Conference and after independence in the context of the Cold War. Angola was obviously a central part of both “races”. The first served to delimit its borders and complete the Portuguese colonial intervention, while in the second, it was one of the main battlefields of the US-Soviet Union confrontation. The prestigious English magazine The Economist summarized in 2019 the new, and third, rush to Africa, writing that there is a third wave in the works. The continent is important and is becoming increasingly important, mainly because of its growing share of the global population (by 2025 the UN predicts that there will be more Africans than Chinese). Governments and companies around the world are racing to strengthen diplomatic, strategic and commercial ties. In fact, those who first discerned the continent’s opportunities were the Chinese who, since the beginning of the 21st century, have invested heavily in Africa, with Angola as their main partner, at least in terms of debt. The rest of the world has only just woken up to Africa. But in fact, we see Turkey in search of new markets and allies since it abandoned its alignment with the European Union, the Persian Gulf countries in the same line looking for diversification projects for their economies, and the European Union, led by Germany and France, with Italy and Spain also intensively recovering old ones and arranging new contacts, either for economic reasons or to try to stop the illegal immigration that affects their countries and can cause their governments to lose elections. Also Russia, in the mix of imperial recovery and business demand, returns to Africa. Only the United States of America has pursued a dormant policy towards the continent since Donald Trump, not yet understanding very well what they are doing in substance, apart from some noises against China and/or about Islamic terrorism. However, this lethargy can end.
At the moment, China is far ahead in the new race for Africa. As soon as Europeans and North Americans definitively understand – we are still in an ambivalent stage – that the Chinese presence in Africa is a threat to their geopolitical and economic interests, competition will intensify. It should be remembered that China currently absorbs around 60% of cobalt exports from Africa; 40% iron; and 25-30% of its exports of chromium, copper and manganese.
Consequently, Angola’s role as holder of key raw materials and a stabilizing force for the DRC, another immense repository of resources, will be decisive.
The current moment of the FAAs
In view of the above, it is easy to understand that these times is of great demand for the FAAs, who can once again be called upon to perform functions of national survival.
At this time, according to the most credible sources, the FAAs are comprised of approximately 107,000 active soldiers (100,000 Army; 1,000 Navy; 6,000 Air Force); there are still an estimated 10,000 in the Rapid Intervention Police (2021).
Military expenditure is around 1.7% of GDP, therefore, below the 2% that the United States intends as a parameter for NATO countries (North Atlantic Treaty Organization of which Angola is obviously not a part, but whose parameter can serve as an ideal value of military expenditure). It is not an exaggerated expense, on the contrary, one might think.
Most Angolan military weapons and equipment are of Russian, Soviet or Warsaw Pact origin; since 2010, Russia remains the main supplier of military equipment to Angola.
Regarding its military capability in 2022, Angola is ranked 66th among 140 countries considered by Global Fire Power. Its forces include 320 tanks, 1210 armored vehicles, and several artillery pieces. It should be noted, however, that tanks are essentially old, acquired in the 1990s from the Soviet Union. From our research, we could only find a reasonably modern (2016) tank-destroyer type vehicle, the PTL-02 Assaulter purchased from China. As for the naval forces, despite having an extended coastline and responsibilities in the Gulf of Guinea, the country only has 37 patrol boats and no medium or larger ships such as corvettes, frigates or cruisers.
As for the Air Force, there are 299 planes, of which 71 are fighters, 117 are helicopters and 15 are attack helicopters.
A recent analysis by Africa Monitor, which, it should be noted, has reflected a critical stance on the part of João Lourenço’s government, presents an alleged factuality, which, even if it is exaggerated or represents an overly pessimistic perspective, paints a less than encouraging picture of the readiness and material from the Angolan Air Force and Navy. Second, this publication, the navy fleet has its operational levels chronically “impaired by non-compliance with maintenance requirements and/or unpreparedness of its crews.” In the Air Force, too, paralysis will be the keyword. According to the same newspaper, “the units of the transport helicopter fleet that were still operating (Russian-built Mil Mi-8) will be paralyzed, either aircraft from the 1980s-1990s, or units reconditioned later”, there is a “inability to ensure the maintenance of combat helicopters (Mil Mi-24)” and also in “a situation of near paralysis (…) Sukhoi (Su-22, Su-25, Su-30, Su-27). ”Specialists with whom we have contacted directly and who prefer to remain anonymous assure that in recent years there has been no significant purchase of military material. So apparently there may be a need for reinforcement with these branches of the military.
In summary, there are three types of needs in the Armed Forces: obsolete and not modernized material, lack of equipment maintenance and unpreparedness of some cadres for specific activities. This obviously makes it important to intervene in the FAAs in order to increase their budget and increase their operational capacity in the face of the challenges described.
FAA modernization vectors
From all the above, two basic assumptions result that lead us to a simple conclusion. The assumptions are that threats to Angola’s sovereignty and integrity have increased in recent years after a period of some calm after 2002. Today the country faces a new “race for Africa” by the great and emerging powers, the threat of so-called Islamic terrorism spreads across the continent and piracy and criminality in the Gulf of Guinea along the coast is a reality. Added to this is the renewal of internal separatist tendencies and the strong reaction of the formerly dominant oligarchy to the fight against corruption. These facts correspond, at this moment, to some FAAs with some gaps in terms of material, readiness and training, which may, eventually, make an adequate reaction unfeasible in the event of an increase in any of the exposed threats.
It follows from the equation of these assumptions that an FAA modernization policy in terms of equipment, training and readiness/maintenance is essential. On the contrary, what many would claim, a reinforcement of the military budget and a modernizing reform of the Armed Forces is necessary.
The General State Budget for 2022 does not yet fully reflect these needs. If we look at it, from 2021 to 2022 there is a nominal increase in defense spending of 19.7%. It is enough to think that official inflation is around 27% in 2021 to realize that in real terms defense spending is decreasing, probably leading to cuts in the military sphere. In turn, defense spending is equivalent to 1.4% GDP.
We understand that the modernization of the FAA has a qualitative vector that must be defined by specialists in the area and involve the readiness of the Armed Forces, their implementation capacity and levels of sustainability, as well as the quality of the force they can exert. However, the vector that we focus on in this report is quantitative and we present the very simple suggestion already adopted by the countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which is to place defense expenditure at around 2% of GDP . This is not a magic number and can be subject of much criticism, but it represents an objective and quantifiable parameter, and in fact gives political power a measurable instrument to achieve , which can be an advance in good governance and transparency policies that intend to implement in Angola.
 Cfr. Pedro Pezarat Correia (1991), Descolonização de Angola: jóia da coroa do império português, Lisboa: Inquérito; Silva Cardoso (2000) Angola, anatomia de uma tragédia, Lisboa: Oficina do Livro; «Involvement in the Angolan Civil War, Zaire: A Country Study». United States Library of Congress;
Donald S. Rothchild (1997). Managing Ethnic Conflict in Africa: Pressures and Incentives for Cooperation. Brookings Institution Press. pp. 115–116; Ndirangu Mwaura, (2005). Kenya Today: Breaking the Yoke of Colonialism in Africa. pp. 222–223; Chester A Crocke, Fen Hampson, Pamela Aall, Pamela (2005). Grasping The Nettle: Analyzing Cases Of Intractable Conflict.
 For a good definition of these themes in South Africa, but with conceptual application to Angola, see Judicial Commission of Inquiry into State Capture Report: Part 1 [Zondo Report] (2022).
 Simão Lelo, (2022), Ataques em Cabinda: Aumentam apelos para uma solução, Deutsche Welle, https://www.dw.com/pt-002/ataques-em-cabinda-aumentam-apelos-para-uma-solu%C3%A7%C3%A3o/a-60489955
 Copy of documents held by CEDESA and referred to in the press, for example, in https://e-global.pt/noticias/lusofonia/angola/chefe-do-estado-maior-congoles-protesta-contra-violacoes-do-territorio-por-angola/
 Morais, Rafael, (2021), Miséria & Magia, MakaAngola & UFOLO.
 Benjamin Dunda (2022), O que não dizem do Ruanda e de Kagame, https://camundanews.com/noticia/9593/dupla-nacionalidade-da-presidente-do-tribunal-constitucional-nao-viola-constituicao.html
 Laura McCreedy (2022), What Can MONUSCO Do to Better Address the Political Economy of Conflict in DRC? https://reliefweb.int/report/democratic-republic-congo/what-can-monusco-do-better-address-political-economy-conflict-drc
 Alex Vines e Jon Wallace, (2021), Terrorism in Africa, Chatham House, https://www.chathamhouse.org/2021/09/terrorism-africa
 Baudelaire Mieu (2021), Cameroon, Nigeria, Angola: Increased pirate activity along western coasts, The Africa Report, https://www.theafricareport.com/70478/cameroon-nigeria-angola-increased-pirate-activity-along-western-coasts/
 The Economist (2019), The new scramble for Africa, https://www.economist.com/leaders/2019/03/07/the-new-scramble-for-africa
 Angola. The World Factbook (2022) CIA, https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/angola/#military-and-security
 Same as above note
 Cfr. https://www.globalfirepower.com/country-military-strength-detail.php?country_id=angola
 África Monitor, Nº 1334 |20.JAN.2022 |Ano XIX.
 Same as above note
 https://www.bna.ao/#/, taxa de inflação apresentada a 28-01-2022 é de 27,03%.
 Ministério das Finanças, (2021), RELATÓRIO DE FUNDAMENTAÇÃO
Orçamento Geral do Estado 2022, p.68.
 North Atlantic Treaty Organization, (2014) “Wales Summit Declaration,” press release,
September 5, www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/official_texts_112964.htm
 About the criticisms and advantages see Jan Techau (2015), THE POLITICS OF 2 PERCENT. NATO and the Security Vacuum in Europe. Carnegie Foundation.