It war ended 15 years ago, but it has a ghost army, and spends more on its military than Nigeria and South Africa combined


The civil war ended in 2002, but Angola's defence spending will exceed the combined total allocated for health and education.

ANGOLA  spent more on its military last year than any other sub-Saharan African nation even though it’s been at peace since a civil war ended more than a decade ago.

The southwest African country budgeted $6.8 billion on defence, second only to Algeria in continental Africa, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. It’s more than the combined amount of Nigeria and South Africa, the region’s biggest economies that together have a population 10 times larger. 

Spending rose almost fourfold since the end of Angola’s 27-year conflict in 2002, the institute said.

“What’s spectacular about this is that you essentially have a country that has been at peace over the last 13 years,” Ricardo Soares de Oliveira, author of the book “Magnificent and Beggar Land: Angola Since the Civil War,” said in a phone interview from London. “Just the numbers tell a crazy story.”

Angola, the continent’s second-largest crude oil producer after Nigeria, has assumed a regional leadership role to broker peace in the rebel-threatened eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and sits as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. 

The country’s emphasis on defence spending leaves it with less cash available to alleviate poverty in a country with the world’s highest child mortality rate.

Even after Angola cut its budget by a quarter this year, reeling from a 40% plunge in oil prices, defence and security spending is set to rise, budget figures show. It will exceed the combined total allocated for health and education, according to Finance Ministry documents.

The outlay on the military remains opaque with the government failing to fully disclose its spending plans. A Defense Ministry spokesman, who gave his name only as Adriano, declined to comment when reached by phone in Luanda on Thursday.

Undisclosed sum
Angola invested $1 billion on fighter jets and weapons from Russia in 2013, according to Vedomosti, a Moscow-based business newspaper. The country paid an undisclosed sum for surveillance drones from Israel, London-based aviation news website reported. 

It’s also buying 45 Casspir armored personnel carriers from South Africa’s state-owned Denel SOC Ltd., according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ 2015 Military Balance report assessing defence policy.

“These deals are handled by a handful of people that revolve around President Jose Eduardo dos Santos,” Paula Roque, a Johannesburg-based analyst with International Crisis Group, said by phone. The president has the discretion to spend a percentage of the budget “in any manner or form he wants, without accountability, fiscal transparency and without oversight of other organs of the state,” she said.

The decline in oil income will force the government to slow its defense purchases, according to Alex Vines, director of the Africa Program at Chatham House in London. Already Angola shelved plans to buy seven patrol boats from Brazil in a deal agreed on in September, Vines said.

“The government was planning on a modernization process of the armed forces, partly aimed at strengthening Angola’s reputation as an emerging regional power in central Africa and the Gulf of Guinea,” Vines said in an e-mailed response to questions. “Oil price falls have meant a number of these efforts have been scrapped or moth balled.”

Ghost army
Angola, with a population of 24 million, has an active armed forces of about 107,000, composed of 100,000 soldiers, 6,000 air corps members and 1,000 navy officers, according to IISS. 

That’s the sixth-largest contingent in sub-Saharan Africa, after Sudan’s 244,300 troops, followed by South Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Angola maintains a “ghost army” of former combatants that bloat the payroll, to ensure stability after the civil war, Vines said.

Dos Santos, in power since 1979, ensures a portion of the defence budget goes to his military leaders and he appoints people who have no independent power base inside the ruling party so that they remain loyal to him, said Soares de Oliveira.

“It’s meant that the army is both extraordinarily mighty, at least in terms of its size in the sub-Saharan Africa context there’s practically no equivalent,” Soares de Oliveira said.

“But it’s also been politically reliable and politically quietist; it hasn’t had aspirations.”

—With assistance from Manuel Soque in Luanda.

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