Africa Policy Brief No. 13 2006
Angola: Plenty of Oil, a Forgotten
War And New Hope, That's Cabinda
The tiny Cabinda enclave accounts for close to 65 per cent of Angola's oil, amounting to more
than 80 per cent of the country's revenues. But the province, which has fought for three
decades to secede, remains one of the poorest in Angola. An agreement signed this week could
determine its destiny
Without Cabinda, Angola would have no oil to talk about, but thanks to the tiny enclave, the
country is sub-Saharan Africa's second biggest oil producer after Nigeria. So it can be
understood why Cabinda secessionists have fought government forces for autonomy for three
It does not matter that Cabinda, which is only 7,300 sq km, is separated from the rest of Angola
by some 60 km wide strip along the lower Congo River and wedged between Congo Brazzaville
and the Democratic Republic of Congo, that's where Angola's oil wells are located.
It was therefore a great relief when finally a peace deal was signed on Tuesday this week
between the government and separatists to end a conflict that's often dubbed "Angola's
forgotten war", one that began soon after Angola's independence from Portugal in 1975 and
has forced about 400,000 of Cabinda's estimated 600,000 population to seek refuge in
neighbouring countries. Cabinda was formerly a Portuguese protectorate that was incorporated
into Angola when the Portuguese withdrew from both territories in 1975.
The deal preserves Angola's territorial unity while granting a "special status" to the oil-rich
northern province. The special status gives the Cabinda provincial government additional
powers, including greater control over the region's economy and other functions normally
reserved for central government.
The agreement follows the Angolan parliament's passing of an amnesty law covering the
Cabinda conflict, and is a formal version of a ceasefire negotiated under the auspices of the
African Union and signed on July 15 in Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo, whose
president, Denis Sassou Nguesso, the current AU chairman, is an ally of Luanda's.
"Today we turn the page on a sad chapter in our history. The peace deal we have just signed is
irreversible," General Antonio Bento Bembe, who signed for an umbrella group of rebel
movements, said at a colourful ceremony in the southern coastal town of Namibe, 700 km south
of the capital Luanda.
Bembe is the secretary-general of the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC)
and head of the Cabindan Forum for Dialogue, which has been negotiating for the separatists at
talks brokered by the Republic of Congo, which is on Cabinda's northern border. The Forum also
brings together civil society, church and political parties.
Africa Policy Brief No. 13 2006
Angola's Territorial Administration Minister Virgilio Ferreira de Fontes Pereira signed for the
government. "Cabinda will be granted a special status which respects Angola's territorial integrity,
because Cabinda Province is an integral part of Angola," Pereira said at the ceremony.
Forget their tragic past
National Assembly President Roberto de Almeida, representing Angolan President Jose Eduardo
dos Santos, welcomed Tuesday's signing as a new start for the country, urging Angolans to forget
their tragic pasts and work for unity.
But there are fears that the peace deal could collapse due to lack of broad-based support in the
enclave and the fractured nature of the separatist movement, with some leaders questioning
Talks over Cabinda's destiny have been on-and-off since the early 1980s - including mediations by
Gabon and Congo Brazzaville in 1986 and 1989. But these talks have been no more than a
dialogue of the deaf as the government insisted on territorial unity and the Cabinda secessionists
Recent talks started with an exploratory round in Libreville, Gabon, from June 8 to 10 with follow-
up meetings from June 17 to 24, which set the stage for the final round in Massabi, northern
Cabinda, where the agreement was clinched on July 1, and officially announced by President
Eduardo dos Santos.
The agreement has a distinct military hue just like the Luena Ceasefire Accord of April 4, 2002,
which ended hostilities between the Movement for the Popular Liberation of Angola (MPLA)
government and the National Union of the Total Liberation of Angola (UNITA).
In a nutshell, the agreement:
- Recognises Cabinda's unique history and some sort of special designation within the Angolan
state, but no autonomy to the enclave;
- Condemns "every act of political rebellion and terrorism, practiced by anyone, against law and
order" and commits the two sides to uphold the rule of law and democratic institutions, as well as
peace and national reconciliation for Cabinda;
It provides for the stationing of FLEC units in designated areas of Cabinda and calls on the Angolan
Armed Forces to provide logistical support to FLEC units.
- Offers amnesty for independence fighters who surrender and turn over their weapons.
The government has every reason to embrace the peace deal, which General Sachipengo Nunda,
the deputy chief of staff of Angolan Armed Forces (FAA), had last month praised as "an important
step in the beginning of the ceasefire."
Embers of secessionism
But even as Bembe hailed the accord when it was clinched in early July as "the first step in the
journey to Cabinda's pacification," he had a difficult task selling it at home.
Disenchantment with the top-down Marxist-style of the MPLA elite, a strong quest for a Cabindan
identity and a deep sense of being left out of power and the economy have concertedly stoked the
embers of secessionism.
Africa Policy Brief No. 13 2006
In addition to producing cash-crops like coffee, rubber and palm oil, Cabinda accounts for close to
65 per cent of Angola's oil production - estimated at about 900,000 barrels a day, amounting to
more than 80 per cent of Angola's revenues. Oil exports from the enclave are reportedly worth the
equivalent of US$100,000 per annum for every Cabindan. But the province remains one of the
poorest in Angola despite a trifling 10 per cent of Cabinda's taxes from oil revenues that the
central government has been remitting to the enclave in line with a 1996 agreement.
FLEC, founded in 1963, has steadily fought Luanda. Even then, Cabinda remained on the fringes
of Angola's 27-year-old civil war between the MPLA government and UNITA rebels.
Predictably, after the February 2002 battlefield death of UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi, the Cabinda
insurgents were left out of the Luena Ceasefire Agreement of April 4, 2002 that returned peace to
Analysts like Jean-Michel Mabeko-Tali highlight Cabinda's suspension in a limbo between "no
peace" and "no war". But the government's military strategy of pacifying the enclave after 2002
amounted to a one-sided war.
In October 2002, the government deployed some 30,000 of its battle-hardened Forças Armadas
Angola (FAA) troops to finish off FLEC's ragtag army, estimated at 2,000 strong.
The counter-insurgency campaign came at a high price, especially to the government, which soon
realised that it was winning in the battlefield but losing the moral war.
For instance, a damning report, Terror in Cabinda, released by local human rights groups in
December 2002 drew world attention to its soldiers targeting civilians instead of the insurgents,
including such abuses as summary executions, murders, disappearances, arbitrary detention,
torture, rape and looting.
These reports wiped out any iota of local support for the government, further tilting opinion in
favour of independence. Luanda made a significant climb down from its military offensive to
counter a real possibility of the Cabinda conflict being internationalised, allowing the founder of
FLEC, Ranque Franque, to visit Luanda in July 2003.
A face-off with civil society over the civic association, Mpalabanda, fostered an atmosphere of
distrust of the government's intentions. And even though Mpalabanda was eventually launched
under the auspices of the Catholic Church in Cabinda in March 2004, the government lost
potential allies in Cabinda's civic sphere.
The imperative to settle the Cabinda question ahead of the country's general elections, recently
postponed from September 2006 to 2007, is behind the government's recent push for a peace
deal with the separatists.
But while relative calmness and reduced military confrontation made Cabinda ripe for a peace
settlement, persisting distrust diminishes the odds of a peaceful solution securing the requisite
support at the grassroots.
On its part, Cabinda's leadership is badly divided on strategy, personality and power, making it
difficult to speak with one voice and giving the government reason to stick to its military path.
Pressure from ordinary Cabindans, civil society and the church, which preferred negotiations with
the government under a single banner, forced rival elite factions to unite under FLEC and to
create the Cabindan Dialogue Forum in August 2004.
Africa Policy Brief No. 13 2006
However, power wrangles linger on, hampering the emergence of a united front.
Unresolved issues of authority within FLEC and the Forum could torpedo the agreement.
Indeed, analysts say Cabinda risks balkanising into warring blocs aligned to party secretary-
general Bembe and president N'Zita Henrique Tiago.
Last month, there was disarray over the negotiations with Tiago denying knowledge of any
agreement between FLEC and Luanda or contact with President dos Santos.
Mpalabanda's spokesman, Raul Danda, backed the Tiago bloc, charging that Bembe had no
power to speak for Cabindans or for the armed rebels and claiming that he is on the
government's payroll. Bembe rejected this criticism as "irresponsible and unpatriotic".
The international community has been typically mute on the agreement. "Internationally, the
Cabinda conflict is not seen as a big issue," a diplomat said. However, this week the US
described the peace deal as "an important milestone toward peace and reconciliation."
Success in brokering the Luena agreement in April 2002 - in contrast to earlier futile efforts by
the UN and Angola's neighbours like South Africa - bolstered the government's confidence in its
own ability to pacify Cabinda. This is also partly responsible for Cabinda's invisibility in the
For the peace deal to hold, international actors like the UN, the EU and the US, as well as
African institutions like SADC, need to encourage the government to drop its military approach
and urge Cabinda forces to unite so that Cabindans can participate in the crucial general
elections slated for 2007 - a critical threshold in Angola's transition to lasting peace and
* Dr Peter Kagwanja is Research Associate, Centre for International Political Studies (CIPS), University of
Pretoria. With reporting by Reuters
* The article first appeared in Africa Insight, The Daily Nation (Nairobi), 4 August 2006. Africa Insight is an
initiative of the Nation Media Group's Africa Media Network.