But which people exactly, as separatist tensions over the oil-rich enclave of Cabinda look set to rumble on
During his February trip to meet U.S. President Bush in Washington, Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos caused great surprise by announcing that he supported the idea of holding a referendum on the self-determination of Cabinda.
However, the Angolan head of state said that he would not only be seeking the opinion of the people of Cabinda province, but of the whole nation of Angola. Given that Cabinda has a population of 170,000 while Angola as a whole has an estimated 12 million, there is little doubt about the outcome of such a referendum. Would the rest of the Angolans allow the tiny oil-rich enclave of Cabinda to go free? It seems unlikely.
|credit: Empresa Nacional de Fotografias
Cabinda's independence movement, the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC), had little time for Jose Eduardo dos Santos' comments. They reacted by saying they would only accept an East Timor type of referendum supervised by the United Nations.
The Cabinda issue has been a divisive one for Angolans since colonial times. The first independence movement, the Movement for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (MLEC) was founded in 1960 after a number of Cabindan nationalists, including Andre Mingas and Pedro Benge, were arrested in 1959 and deported to the infamous Tarrafal concentration camp on the Cape Verde Islands. These two men were arrested alongside several Angolan activists, with whom they had been agitating for independence. For the first time, it was becoming clear that a coordinated nationalist movement was being formed across the Portuguese territory, and the colonial authority was anxious to stamp it out.
Two other groups the Committee for Action and Union of Cabinda (CAUNC) and the Maiombe Alliance (ALLIAMA) were formed shortly afterwards. In August, 1963, the three movements united to form FLEC under the leadership of the charismatic Luis Ranque Franque.
However, FLEC, which came to represent solely the interests of Cabinda, was marginalized during talks held in the southern Portuguese town of Alvor, which paved the way for Angola's independence. FLEC was not allowed to participate in the talks, held between three Angolan nationalist groups the MPLA, UNITA and FNLA and the colonial authorities following the collapse of the fascist government in Portugal on April 25, 1974. The Portuguese believed that the interests of FLEC were included in those of the three main nationalist movements.
Article Three of the Alvor Accords, signed in January, 1975, stated that Cabinda was to remain an integral part of Angola. The Cabindans were extremely unhappy about this, and FLEC took their grievances to the Organization of African Unity and to the United Nations. The creation of a pro-communist government in Angola further alienated FLEC, and they decided to take up arms.
The movement operated a guerrilla-style war, mainly attacking government troops stationed in Cabinda. Another tactic was to kidnap Chevron employees, as well as Portuguese expatriates, as a way of raising their international profile, although most of the hostages were eventually freed.
FLEC split apart in the 1980s, with the formation of FLEC-FAC and FLEC Renovada, each pursuing different strategies on how to fight for independence. Today, FLEC-FAC continues to carry out some military activities but the organization was greatly weakened following the downfall of the Zairean president Mobutu Sese Seko in 1996 and the re-seizure of power by President Denis Sassou-Nguesso in Congo-Brazzaville in 1997. Like UNITA, FLEC lost key allies across its borders but the organization still commands huge support within Cabinda.
Limited progress has been made towards reaching a peaceful solution in Cabinda. During the 1990s several meetings took place between the different Cabindan factions and the Angolan government under the auspices of Gabonese President Omar Bongo. Angola's former interior minister, Santana Andre Pitra, better known as Petrov and himself a Cabindan, led the negotiations for the central government.
Although no peace agreement was reached during the successive rounds of Libreville talks, the fact that the two sides have been talking represented a major step forward. The Angolan government is furthermore trying to convince FLEC members to lay down their arms and join the administration. As Cabinda's former Governor Amaro Tati says, "Recently, senior FLEC members gave up the fight and joined the local government administration. Among them were FLEC Renovada's former leader and other senior members of the faction. I am pleased that they have decided to join the efforts of national reconciliation."
Last year, a state-sponsored conference on the constitutional future of Angola was held in Cabinda. Politicians, religious leaders and academics discussed the controversial issues of local autonomy, decentralization and constitutional reform. The fact that the government decided to hold such a meeting in Cabinda is a sign that it is taking the issue of the enclave more seriously, realizing that the only way to solve the problem is through dialogue. It should be noted that FLEC-FAC was not present at the conference.
Since the early 1990s, the central government has adopted a different approach towards Cabinda. It has taken heed of the complaints about the lack of infrastructure and development in Cabinda. The government now reinvests 10 percent of Cabinda's oil revenues back into the province, and living standards are improving. This has not been enough to satisfy the separatists, however, and Cabinda's status looks to be an issue that will run on despite the end of the broader civil war.