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Cabinda: Black Gold of Angola

Surrounded to the north, east and south by the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cabinda, Angola's 18th province is waging an ancient struggle for its independence.

With its dense, wet forest, Cabinda was always the most disputed of all the provinces in a country whose territory is located far away from the province. The oil extracted in the enclave represents nearly 70% of the crude oil exported by Angola and corresponds to more than 80% of Angolan exports, putting the country in second place in the production of oil in Africa, just behind Nigeria.

The borders of the nation

The majority of the Angolan population says that Cabinda is part of Angola, but others defend the opposite position.

Construction of a road between Cabinda and Malongo. Photo by mp3ief on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Construction of a road between Cabinda and Malongo, “land of oil” [pt]. Photo by mp3ief on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

In 1885, the Portuguese rulers resolved to integrate Cabinda as a protectorate of the colonial Crown, and in 1920 the territory began to be considered as an integral part of Angola. Following the Revolution in 1974 in Portugal and with the process of decolonisation, the political interests obliged Cabinda to remain Angolan territory. Since that time, opinions on whether Cabinda is Angola have been divided.

International relations expert Eugénio Costa Almeida defends the position that [pt],

Cabinda é parte integrante da República de Angola, mas também tenho sempre afirmado que, pela sua especificidade cultural e económica, Cabinda deve gozar de um Estatuto especial dentro da Pátrio angolana. Ganharíamos todos, sem qualquer dúvida.

Cabinda is an integral part of the Republic of Angola, but equally I have always affirmed that, due to its cultural and economic specificity, Cabinda must enjoy a special Status within the Angolan motherland. We would all benefit, without a doubt.

The journalist Orlando Castro, who has published several works on the territorial dispute, such as the 2011 book “Cabinda – Yesterday's protectorate, today's colony, tomorrow's nation”, and a tireless defender of Cabindan rights on his blog Alto Hama, believes that, just like East Timor in the past, Cabinda is an oppressed territory and one which has a right to independence:

Cabinda é um território ocupado por Angola. E, tanto a potência ocupante, como a que o administrou (Portugal), pensaram, ou pensam, em fazer um referendo para saber o que os cabindas querem. Seja como for, o direito de escolha do povo não prescreve, não pode prescrever, mesmo quando o importante é apenas o petróleo.

Cabinda is a territory occupied by Angola. And, both the occupying power and that which governed it (Portugal) thought, or are thinking, about holding a referendum to find out what Cabinda's inhabitants want. Be that as it may, the people's right of choice does not lapse, cannot lapse, even when the topic in question is just oil.

The pro-independence movement Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC), continues to fight [pt] for a solution to bring independence to this oil-rich territory. In an interview for Deutsche Welle, Stéphane Barros, representative of the FLEC in Portugal, declared:

O povo de Cabinda não está interessado numa pacificação militar. O que se pretende agora é uma solução política que passe por um processo internacional, credível e democrático, porque a vontade do povo de Cabinda deve ser ouvida e respeitada”, defendeu o representante da FLEC em Portugal

The people of Cabinda are not interested in military pacification. What they intend now is for a political solution to be achieved by an international process, credible and democratic, because the will of the people of Cabinda must be heard and respected”, the FLEC representative in Portugal advocated.

During the elections in August, the Cabindan National Movement, one of various organisations which is fighting for independence from exile, entertained the idea of boycotting the elections. For Bartolomeu Capita, one of the movement's representatives, “there was no advantage whatsoever for the people of Cabinda to get involved in these elections. They don't concern us, we are not Angolans and we don't want to be”.

The party in power, MPLA, managed however to guarantee its re-election in the province with 59.4% of the votes [pt], a victory which Stephan Baptista, on Club-k.net, attributes [pt] to various reasons, including the fact that the majority of the population is based in the periphery, Maiombe, and is favourable to Angolan sovereignty, while the intellectuals of the “docile opposition” are a minority and are in the city, as well as the strong presence of “members of the defence and security forces, the majority party's lifeline in Cabinda”.

Images of Cabinda

Woman in Cabinda. Photo by Dom Bosco Angola on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Woman in Cabinda. Photo by Dom Bosco Angola on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

While “speaking about Cabinda today is something which displeases the political powers in Angola and Portugal, as well as national and global economic strength”, as Orlando Castro maintains, on the other hand the Angolan state press describes the province as a vision of paradise.

The surroundings of Cabinda are characterised by an abundant vegetation and views over the Atlantic Ocean. It is not known exactly how many inhabitants this Angolan province has, as no census has been carried out to date, but it is estimated that the population is around 400 000, with a particular culture which has lost some of its traditions in recent years.

Few pages have been created on the social networks to publicise the reality of the humble people who give life and joy to this mysterious region, but those which do exist, such as the Facebook page created [pt] by José Sambo, give a glimpse into Cabinda's beauty.

video-report [pt] shared on the blog Cidade de Cabinda presents various traditions, practices and costumes of the province. In Cabinda, a number of dialects are spoken, including Fiote, Ibinda and Kikongo and the official language is Portuguese. Cabinda is the territory of a people who feel foreign in their own land and who are still fighting today for their independence.

Cabinda is not only made of smiles: it is also made of hungry people [pt]. The private press gives a voice to critics who paint life in Cabinda as almost hellish, and threats are regularly made against journalists and activists, as Global Voices reported in October 2011. An article by Senator Barros Navecka on the website Cabinda Nation describes [pt]:

As universidades e os hospitais não dispõem de instalações condignas. A cidade e as vilas sem água potável, sistemas de esgotos, drenagem e saneamento de água contrastam com o renascer das cidades angolanas e as mansões, moradias, participações privadas, obras feitas e contas chorudas e prédios de luxo que crescem como cogumelos em Luanda e no estrangeiro.

The universities and hospitals do not have the appropriate facilities. The city and the villages without drinking water, sewage systems, drainage and water treatment contrast with the renaissance of Angolan cities and the mansions, villas, private interests, completed building projects, accounts full of money and luxury apartment blocks which are sprouting like mushrooms in Luanda and abroad.

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