Cabinda not the Kuwait of Africa

13th May 2010 By: ISS, Institute for Security Studies

The 27th Africa Cup of Nations was held in Angola earlier this year and ran from 10 January 2010 to 31 January.

This year's Cup of Nations achieved international notoriety when the Togo national football team was attacked, with two people killed by gunmen who allegedly hailed from the Angolan enclave of Cabinda. The Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC) a separatist group which has been fighting for independence of the Cabinda province for more than three decades has accepted responsibility for the attack.

Even though the Angolan government claimed in 2009 that the war in Cabinda is over, there continues to be unrest in the province. The Togo football team attack was one of several incidents in the area. This situation was not ignored by the government and it is making an effort to manage the crisis. The government signed a peace deal in 2006 with the rebels under Bento Bembe`s leadership, but a splinter FLEC faction refused to sign up. Yet it appears that a sustainable resolution to the conflict is not of interest for the United States and Multinational Corporations working in the area, because their over-riding concern is to access Angolan oil.

The territory of Cabinda borders the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to the south and east and Congo Republic to the north. The provincial capital, also named Cabinda, is the main port on its Atlantic coastline. With the population of 250,000 people, the region of Cabinda is largely composed of dense forest. Oil was discovered in the late 1960s. Unlike Angola most Cabindans speak French rather than Portuguese, as well as the indigenous language Cabindes.

In 1963, three organizations including the Movement for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (MLEC), Action Committee of the Cabinda National Union (CAUNC), and the Mayombe National Alliance (ALLIAMA) merged to form the FLEC. At the time, the Angolan region of Cabinda, a narrow strip of land wedged between Congo-Brazzaville and the DR Congo, was a Portuguese protectorate. When Portugal gave up its colonial claim to Angola 1975, Cabinda became one of Angola's provinces.

After years of reduced activity, in 2001 a renewed independence movement reactivated itself in the enclave of Cabinda. This movement, which calls itself FLEC-RENOVADA (Renewed Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda), begun targeting foreigners in order to internationalize its grievances and its objective for independence from Angola.

Luanda`s reluctance to relinquish control and access to Cabinda is based primarily on the region's oil production, which accounts for 60 % of Angola's oil export complement. Cabinda provides more than half of the two million barrels a day of oil produced by Angola. Cabinda has made Angola one of Africa's top oil exporters, and pundits have dubbed it the "Kuwait of Africa".

A leading multi-national, the Chevron Corp, has oil concessions approximating 40 % which it exports through its ‘Malongo terminal'. The Malongo terminal is a cordoned off section of Cabinda, used exclusively by the employees of Chevron. Food and water are flown in from overseas and the territory is an entirely self-sufficient entity within Cabinda. The gates and fences with private military security guards keep the locals out.

The existence of this terminal has undoubtedly fuelled the discontent among the local population and providing a rallying point for the armed resistance movement. Even though the existence and operationalisation of the terminal was supposed to generate employment and contribute towards local development, there is minimal interaction and economic exchange with the local market. Since Chevron and its employees import their food, materials and water from external sources, the local population is denied the necessary trade.

Efforts have been made by Chevron to minimize tensions with the local community. In particular, the oil giant recently contributed to local social development projects. Reportedly Chevron, in partnership with the local community, has initiated projects to construct schools and low income housing complexes.

Referring to Cabinda as the "Kuwait of Africa" is clearly a misnomer. While both territories might have the same concentration of oil, Kuwait`s indices in terms of human development and access to basic needs, clearly illustrates the glaring injustice of corporate exploitation particularly when it is buttressed by state collusion. The government has to acknowledge the urgent grievances of the Cabindan people, if future fiasco`s such as the killing of Togolese football team members are to be avoided. Only genuine efforts to address the economic development of Cabinda's community, as well as access to education and health care can reduce the tensions which continue to plague the region.

Written by: Eden Yohannes Yoseph, Intern, PSC Report Programme, ISS Addis Ababa