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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Cabinda in Angola

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Angola Facts
Area:    1,246,700 sq. km.
Capital:    Luanda
Total Population:    10,865,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

The people of Cabinda have three of the conditions that encourage rebellion: a recent history of insurgency, territorial concentration, and continuing government repression. Factors inhibiting conflict are efforts at negotiations that successfully established the Amnesty Law in August 2006 to stop the violence, transnational support for the 2006 peace agreement, and the 2002 ceasefire in the civil war that had been raging in the rest of Angola. The peace established in 2006 may continue if the government honors the promises outlined in the Amnesty Law. Although some separatists not amenable to the agreement were responsible for scattered violence after the accords were signed, the rebels had, for the most part, desisted and the fragile peace was still in place by the end of 2006. As long as the peace plan continues to move forward, the conflict will most likely not escalate into outright rebellion again.

Despite the progress, restrictions and repression against the group continue. Nonviolent protest activity will likely continue as Cabindans press for their economic and political rights.


Analytic Summary

The Cabinda people are concentrated in the Cabinda province, which is separated from the rest of Angola by a strip of land belonging to the Democratic Republic of Congo (GROUPCON = 3). It is bordered to the north by Congo-Brazzaville, to the east by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and to the west by the Atlantic Ocean. The Cabinda people are thus physically isolated from other people in Angola. The Bakongo ethnic group makes up the majority in Cabinda and is also found in the rest of Angola. The Mayombe ethnic group lives in the mountain forests of eastern Cabinda and is a small minority in the province. The Bakongo speak Kikongo and the Mayombe speak a closely related dialect of Kikongo (LANG = 1). Like the Ovimbundu, the plurality ethnic group in Angola, people in Cabinda predominately practice Roman Catholicism mixed with traditional beliefs, although the content of the traditional beliefs differs somewhat (RELIGS1 = 1; CUSTOM = 1).

The main issue in the Cabinda conflict is oil. The Cabinda province is rich in oil reserves and has immense economic potential; however, the area, like the rest of Angola, is beset by grinding poverty (ECDIS06 =3). A separatist movement for the independence of Cabinda has been waged since 1961. It started with the formation of three groups that merged to form the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC) in 1963 (REB75X = 4). Subsequently, the FLEC split into numerous factions. The two main factions, the Front for the Liberation of the Cabinda Enclave (FLEC) and the Front for the Liberation of the Cabinda Enclave-Cabinda Armed Forces (FLEC-FAC), merged into FLEC in 2004 in order to negotiate with the government. Cabinda separatists claim that, unlike mainland Angola, Cabinda was never a Portuguese colony. It was, rather, a protectorate, subject to only 90 years of colonial rule, in contrast to the 500 years experienced by Angola. Between 1885 and 1956, the Cabinda province held semi-autonomous status under the Portuguese. This ended when the Portuguese reneged on this arrangement and joined the province with the rest of Angola in 1956. This angered the Cabindans because they were not consulted beforehand, subsequently leading them to rebel in 1961. The separatists also claim that the enclave has its own distinct and separate identity, history and culture, and that it was illegally occupied by the ruling MPLA government following independence in 1975. The Angolan government dismisses this argument and says that mixing and intermarriage in Cabinda has made notions of ethnic distinctions irrelevant.

Separatists have in recent years called on the former colonial power, Portugal, to intervene in the situation. However, the Portuguese have historically seen the Cabindan issue as an internal Angolan problem. Moreover, the kidnapping of several Portuguese workers in the enclave during 1999 and 2000 by both FLEC-FAC and FLEC-R did not help the separatists’ case with the former colonial power.

Cabinda residents are also critical of the role of major oil companies in the province. In 1999 an oil spill near the Malonga oil base dealt a severe blow to the struggling local fishing industry. Oil giant Chevron-Texaco gave about $2000 to 10 percent of the affected fishermen. Cabindan fishermen have attributed reduced fish stocks to continued pollution. Many Cabindans say that they expect oil companies to contribute more to the development of the impoverished province.

Until 2002, Cabindan interests were represented mainly by militant groups (GOJPA02 = 5). The Angolan government alleged that the rebel groups received support from neighboring countries. A military report to the Angolan Assembly in 1999 identified Togo, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, and Zambia. For years, the FLEC used territory in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Congo-Brazzaville as rear bases from which to launch attacks into Cabinda. In 2004, Cabindan militant, religious and civil groups formed a coalition group, the Cabinda Forum for Dialogue (FCD), in order to negotiate peace with the government, which they succeeded in doing in 2006. CFD continues to represent the political interests of the Cabindans to the government, although militant organizations also remain influential (GOJPA06 = 4). Rebel groups in agreement with the peace accords stopped the insurgency, though some opposing factions continued acts of scattered violence in 2006. For its part, the Angolan government has honored the agreement.

The separatist conflict was unrelated to the civil war between the MPLA and UNITA, which terminated in 2002. It was also waged at a much lower intensity than the latter. After the UNITA war ended, however, the Angolan government concentrated its forces in Cabinda, with a resulting increase in civilian killings and repression (POLDIS06 = 4). In October 2002, the Angolan government deployed 30,000 soldiers to the province when it launched a new military offensive in the Buco-Zau military region, in northern Cabinda (REPVIOL04-05 = 5, REPNVIOL04-06 =3). The aim of the counterinsurgency was to attack the FLEC-FAC, a splinter group of the original FLEC movement, which posed the most serious military threat. It is widely alleged that the counterinsurgency was accompanied by numerous human rights abuses (REPGENCIV06 = 5) and repopulation movements; that is, the settlement of Angolans into Cabinda areas. Amidst reports of the surrender of several FLEC-FAC senior officers, the rebel groups were much weakened. Many experts believe that the rebels had an estimated force of no more than 2,000 troops. Despite their public intransigence on secessionism, the separatists were not able to continue withstanding Angolan forces (REB03 = 6), resulting in their move toward negotiation starting in 2003 (REB04-05 = 4; REB06 = 5).

In 2003, efforts were made at a political settlement. In January 2003, government representatives met with FLEC-FAC in France to conduct exploratory talks. The Angolan government said that it was interested in holding dialogue, although reports of severe repression and human rights abuses continued. As the rebel groups steadily lost strength, some form of peace settlement seemed likely. After a few more years of dialogue marred by violence on both sides of the conflict, a compromise was reached.

The Memorandum of Understanding for Peace and Reconciliation for Cabinda, signed on August 1, 2006, largely brought the insurgency to an end, although clashes have occasionally occurred since. The memorandum was passed as an Amnesty Law by the National Assembly a few days later. The law establishes a Cabinda ministry headed by a native Cabindan in the central government. As of January 2007, this had not been implemented, but the government had begun to withdraw some troops from the region, as stipulated by the agreement.

The Angolan government has demonstrated its willingness to engage in negotiation and reform, but it is unlikely that it will ever allow Cabinda to secede. Cabinda’s oil reserves make it a valuable region and have been the root of much protest in the region (PROT04 = 4). Oil revenues constitute 45 percent of the country’s GDP and more than half of its exports; and 60 percent of all Angolan oil production comes from Cabinda. Nonetheless, Cabinda was given special status under the peace accords, allowing for more local control of political and economic policy. War-weary Cabindans have generally welcomed the peace accords, but long-term peace will depend on a decrease of levels of repression and discrimination, and a more equitable distribution of the province’s vast oil reserves.



Amnesty International USA. “Annual Report: Angola - 2004.”

British Broadcasting Corporation.

CIA World Factbook 2008.

Human Rights Watch.

LexisNexis. Various reports. 2001-2006.

Neff, Alan. ICE Case Studies. “Cabinda, Angola: Angola's Forgotten War.” Number 129. 04/2004.

US Department of State. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, 2004 – 2006.


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Information current as of December 31, 2006