United States and Angola forge closer ties, with a focus on defence cooperation

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In a historic meeting at the White House on 30 November, President Joseph Biden welcomed Angolan President João Manuel Gonçalves Lourenço, marking the culmination of a year of engagement that has seen the US-Angola relationship undergo a profound transformation, including on security cooperation.

Much was on the agenda. They marked 30-years of diplomatic relations, deepening bilateral cooperation on trade, investment, climate, and energy, and President Biden’s Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGI) project in the Lobito Corridor, which will connect Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Zambia to global markets through Angola’s Lobito. Also discussed were regional and global security issues: the DRC and Ukraine. As Angola holds a prominent leadership role in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Bilateral Meeting recognised Angola’s influence.

Defence talks

“Our security relationship with Angola continues to deepen. You may know that President Lourenço was a former defence minister and had visited the United States in that capacity and has built strong ties with the US military and the Pentagon,” a senior administration official said. “And that really came together quite powerfully with Secretary Austin’s trip in September―again, the first-ever Secretary of Defence trip to Angola. And in those conversations, they talked about opportunities where we can deepen our cooperation, in particular, answering some of the Angolans’ interest in military modernization.”

Looking ahead, the leaders set the course for continued collaboration, with a high-level defence dialogue scheduled for 2024, including military-to-military exchanges. A senior administration official revealed, “So, we are going to have a high-level dialogue in 2024. We’ll discuss many agreements there. We’ll also just continue to deepen our mil-to-mil exchanges, looking for opportunities where we can focus on education, English language capacity, maritime security, and peacekeeping. So, there’s really a lot of excitement about the ways in which we can work more closely with the Angolans on these security issues.”

The US provides Angola assistance through the International Military Education and Training (IMET) programme, which finances professional military education opportunities at United States military education institutions and military training teams that deploy to Angola strengthen Angolan medical readiness and maritime security and develop English language capability.

DRC peace process

“We’ve closely collaborated on regional security challenges, including seeking to address the conflict in Eastern Congo. The United States is supportive and appreciative of Angola’s diplomatic efforts there, and we’ve consulted with the Angolans on our engagements, including Director of National Intelligence [DNI] Avril Haines’s recent trip to DRC and Rwanda,” explained a senior administration official ahead of the meeting.

“With respect to what’s happening in eastern DRC, DNI Haines travelled to both Kinshasa and to Kigali to secure commitments to de-escalate the tensions between the two countries in this delicate time of the Congolese election,” disclosed a senior administration official, and continued to clarify, “the commitments were drawn from previous agreements and previous set of arrangements that were decided in the Luanda Process and in the Nairobi Process.”

“We will continue to work with the Angolans, the Kenyans, and other interested parties throughout this process to ensure that there isn’t an escalation of fighting in the eastern DRC.”

Conflict in the DRC, especially its east, continues unabated. According to the report: Focus on the Democratic Republic of the Congo published in March by the Global Terrorism Trends and Analysis Centre (GTTAC), in 2022 there were 984 attacks in the DRC, with 3 458 fatalities (13% of the global total of fatalities). The GTTAC report reveals that in 2022, the DRC experienced the highest number of incidents and fatalities globally. The country saw a 9% rise in incidents and a 12% increase in fatalities compared to 2021. ISIS-DRC, also known as Allied Democratic Forces, accounted for 30% of the incidents in the DRC, emerging as the primary instigator with 299 recorded incidents during the year.

The US Institute of Peace believes long term, comprehensive peace needs to come from political dialogue, with better coordination between different regional institutions and other partners supporting dialogue. The role of religious actors and Congolese civil society is also critical to advance peace.

On opportunities for progression towards quelling DRC-Rwanda tensions, a US Institute of Peace expert described what could be next steps, saying “the conversation that needs to happen is on a political level for a peaceful resolution to the conflict. A military solution alone will not be enough, as we have seen in prior cycles of conflict in the east.”

Pearl Matibe is a Washington, DC-based foreign correspondent, and media commentator with expertise on US foreign policy and international security. You may follow her on Twitter: @PearlMatibe