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September 26, 2012

Oil-rich Cabinda Still Waits for Independence from Angola

by Emilie Iob

CABINDA, Angola — When Angolan President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos is inaugurated for another term in office, many in the province of Cabinda are not expected to join the celebrations. The oil-rich region continues to demand its independence from Angola, claiming it is marginalized and exploited. 

Until recently, worshippers at Sunday Mass in Cabinda would hear political sermons in favor of independence, but not any more.  The former priest is gone, and the current one refuses interviews, saying he does not talk about politics.

Despite its appearance as a peaceful seaside town, Cabinda is restive. For many years, local separatist groups have been fighting against the Angolan government for independence, to no avail.

Oil is Cabinda's main resource, producing up to 70 percent of Angola's output.  And oil revenues make up half of Angola's GDP, wealth that is not equally shared according Raul Danda, an opposition leader in parliament.

"Angolans say that is a very rich country. But you have one of the poorest people here in this country. So, what good is wealth?" said Danda.

The government has agreed to give ten percent of its oil revenues per year to Cabinda, but Danda says this is not enough.

"You have the production going up, you have oil prices going up, and you have the same amount of six millions dollars, saying it is ten percent of oil revenues, which is a lie," he said.

Cabinda has only been part of Angola since the country became independent from Portugal in 1975.  Before, it was a kingdom under a Portuguese protectorate. 

"Life is difficult because there are so many soldiers here, we can't move around freely. They always stop us, ask to see our documents and question us.  Cabinda is rich. So if we were independent, life would be delicious," said Cabinda resident Alexandro Cuanga Cito, who is among those calling for independence.  

The Angolan government says the heavy military presence is needed to quell the rebellion.  Separatists groups used to kidnap oil workers and take other actions to draw attention to their cause.

In 2010, when Angola was hosting the Africa Cup of Nations, separatist gunmen opened fire on a bus carrying Togo's soccer team, killing several people on board.

Yet independence for Cabinda is unlikely to happen any time soon, says researcher Ana Alves at the South African Institute of International Affairs.

"Because it lacks the support of the region, other regional powers, [and] because it is not known internationally, it is not a big issue like the Sudans or the Great Lake region, I don't think Cabinda will get its independence," she said.

The Angolan government has spent money on infrastructure projects in Cabinda, in an effort to calm the population's discontent.  Just before national elections, the government inaugurated the port city's first pier to help spur economic development. But the pier collapsed a few days later, and to date, remains useless.