Cabinda, Angola, Togo and the Africa Cup of Nations Tragedy

In the comments to the previous post about today’s attack on Togo’s team bus in Cabinda (reminding Henry Winter that it’s part of Angola, and not South Africa), Andrew Guest suggested we post a map of Cabinda to illustrate its complex relation to Angola. As we can see, Cabinda is an enclave of Angola, with what is called Zaire on the map (the Democratic Republic of the Congo) between it and Angola proper.

Map of Cabinda, Angola

Here is another appropriate photo to illustrate Cabinda, and the reason the separatist conflict there has lasted over three decades, and continued beyond the end of the Angolan civil war in the rest of the country in 2002:


Oil. There is a lot of it in Cabinda; reportedly more than half of Angola’s reserves. Separatists rebels (with over a dozen armed and unarmed groups active at various times in the past three decades) think the central Angolan government takes too much of its revenue; the Angolan government has long tried to crack down and assert control. As explains, this has not disappeared in the past decade:

After years of reduced activity, in 2001 a renewed independence movement was again active in the enclave of Cabinda. This movement, which calls itself FLEC-RENOVADA (Renewed Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda) started to target foreigners as it tries to gain international attention for its cause – namely, independence from Angola.

FLEC-RENOVADA reached a peace agreement with the Angolan government in 2006. But not all within FLEC agreed with this move. This is why, in an eerily prescient AFP piece from yesterday, many were still questioning the decision to host ACN matches in Cabinda given that offshoots of FLEC remain active in their armed resistance, actively and openly committed to attacking high-profile targets:

Oil-rich Cabinda, separated from the rest of Angola by the Democratic Republic of Congo, has been embroiled in a long-running independence struggle but will host the seven Nations Cup matches this month.

The conflict officially ended in a 2006 deal with the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC).

FLEC however has made several media claims in recent months about attacks on the military and foreign construction and oil workers based in the province.

According to Agostinho Chicaia of Mapablanda, Cabinda’s only human rights organisation, things have only gotten worse since the deal.

“Cabinda continues to be unstable, there is no peace,” he told AFP, saying the fighting has eased, but human rights abuses and arrests on security charges were increasing.

“The true peace is that which is born first in the hearts of people and in their consciences, and it’s a peace based on justice,” he said.

“The (agreement) has done nothing for justice, so now there is only a heightened tension.”

Mapablanda as well as US-based Human Rights Watch have documented abuses, including the case of Fernando Lelo, a former Voice of America journalist who last year was sentenced to 12 years in prison for national security offences.

Lelo spent two years behind bars but was later acquitted.

“Cabinda is still living in a state of war today,” he told AFP. “The fact that we present ourselves as defenders of human rights… we’ve been targeted for arbitrary detentions and persecutions.”

As Just Football rightly asked, after today’s attack that splinter group Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda – Military Position (FLEC-PM) have now claimed responsibility for, many questions must be raised about the decision of the Angolan Football Federation to host games in Cabinda for the Africa Cup of Nations.

Angola’s government has clearly seen the entire tournament as a showcase for the country in the wake of the terrible, decades long civil war, building shining new stadiums across the country. It promised to be a wonderful story for the country. But did they risk hosting games in Cabinda as a show of power, demonstrating to the multinational oil interests such as Chevron that all was under their control?

There is something of a defense to the decision, despite the state of Cabinda in general. As Andrew also pointed out in the comments to the previous piece, this attack happened outside the capital city of Cabinda, also called Cabinda. The Togo team, for reasons that remain unclear, decided to travel unsafely on bus through the hinterlands instead of flying to the capital. The footballing authorities may not be to blame for that; we do not know the full story yet.

The oil money that has flowed in Cabinda has made the capital city much safer than the rest of the region; the State Department’s travel advisory makes this pretty clear:

Americans located in, or planning to visit, the northern province of Cabinda should be aware of threats to their safety outside of Cabinda city.  In 2008 and 2009 armed groups specifically targeted and attacked expatriates in Cabinda; armed attacks resulted in the rape, robbery or murder of several expatriates working in Cabinda.  Those responsible have declared their intention to continue attacks against expatriates.  Occasional attacks against police and Angolan Armed Forces (FAA) convoys and outposts also continue to be reported.  These incidents, while small in number, occur with little or no warning.  American citizens are, therefore, urged to exercise extreme caution when traveling outside of Cabinda city and limit travel to essential only.

Moreover, it should be pointed out that this attack does not mean the rest of Angola is an unsafe war zone. The British Foreign Office states that “Most visits to Angola are trouble-free. 7 British nationals required consular assistance in Angola in the period 01 April 2008 – 31 March 2009 for the following types of incident; deaths (1 cases); hospitalisations (0 cases); and arrests, for a variety of offences (4 cases).”

But like the State Department, the Foreign Office makes a point of warning against travel in Cabinda outside the capital city: “We advise against all but essential travel to the interior of Cabinda Province.  In 2008 there were reports of violent incidents including rape, murder and kidnappings involving foreigners and Angolans in the Province of Cabinda.  Groups claiming responsibility for these attacks have declared their intention to continue attacks against foreigners.”

Antonio Bento Bembe, a minister in the Angolan government and former FLEC rebel who led the 2006 peace accord, denied there should be such concerns. ”What these people are saying is not true. These people are just using Human Rights Watch to get publicity. It would be good to recognise the efforts being made by the government, not only to speak critically. Cabinda is safe and security there is guaranteed. The Cup of Nations is an opportunity for Cabinda to receive visitors and it will bring money and investment to the province.”

What was supposed to have been a dream showcase for Angola as a country has turned into a nightmare showing its violent instability, at least in that province. Security, obviously, was not guaranteed in Cabinda.

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