Assis Malaquias suggests that it is premature to suggest that positive peace is a reality in Cabinda. The Memorandum of Understanding which was signed by the Angolan government and the separatist group on 1 August 2006, “establishes five key pillars for ending the conflict in Cabinda: amnesty for rebel fighters, cessation of hostilities, the demilitarisation of the Cabindan rebels, reduction in the number of Angolan soldiers in the province, and integration of the Cabinda rebels in the Angola...read more
Assis Malaquias suggests that it is premature to suggest that positive peace is a reality in Cabinda. The Memorandum of Understanding which was signed by the Angolan government and the separatist group on 1 August 2006, “establishes five key pillars for ending the conflict in Cabinda: amnesty for rebel fighters, cessation of hostilities, the demilitarisation of the Cabindan rebels, reduction in the number of Angolan soldiers in the province, and integration of the Cabinda rebels in the Angolan military and government.”
After four decades of conflict, Angola welcomed a new era of peace in the aftermath of the death in combat of rebel leader Jonas Savimbi and the implosion of the once formidable military organization he created. The post-colonial conflict between Savimbi’s UNITA rebels and the governing MPLA gained international attention for several reasons: the global contexts associated with it (the Cold War and the international political economy of oil) the nature of the players involved: global powers (the U.S. and the former Soviet Union), sub-imperial powers (Cuba and China), regional powers (apartheid South Africa and the former Zaire), and national actors (Angola’s nationalist movements: FNLA , MPLA , and UNITA ) and the issues at stake (ethnicity, ideology, race, and resources, to name a few).
But the conflict in Angola was unique because it involved two parallel civil wars: one on the mainland among the nationalist liberation movements and their external backers, and the second between the post-colonial state and a separatist movement in Cabinda – the northernmost province of Angola situated on the Atlantic and separated from the mainland by a strip of D.R. Congo territory. Half of Angola’s 1 million barrels of oil per day originate from Cabinda.
The first conflict ended in 2002 and the second in 2006 with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Angolan government and the separatist group. This agreement established five key pillars for ending the conflict in Cabinda: amnesty for rebel fighters, cessation of hostilities, the demilitarisation of the Cabindan rebels, reduction in the number of Angolan soldiers in the province, and integration of the Cabinda rebels in the Angolan military and government. The Memorandum was the first step towards establishing a new relationship based on a “special status” for the province that include some form of political and economic autonomy without compromising the country’s territorial integrity. For the Angolan government, the end of the conflict in Cabinda has opened the door for exploration of the province’s massive onshore oil reserves.
The length and intractability of the conflict is a direct result of the colonial past and, more specifically, the process involved in creating the colony. Present day Angola, as is the case with most modern African states, is a European creation of the forcible merger of various peoples and territories into a Portuguese possession. Unsurprisingly, Angola also experienced some post-colonial instabilities associated with the demands of some pre-colonial formations to reestablish their independence after the collapse of colonial regimes. In Cabinda, these instabilities were fueled by the inability to agree on mutually acceptable formulas to divide post-colonial power and wealth. Cabinda is Angola’s richest province. In addition to major offshore and onshore oil reserves, it also has large diamond, gold, and uranium deposits. Despite its resource endowment, Cabinda’s population of 300 000 endures similar levels of poverty as elsewhere in Angola. This contradiction – poor people in a rich land – is critical in understanding why demands for independence find resonance among the province’s population, at least in the post-colonial era.
There is also a more historical argument for independence based on the 1885 Treaty of Simulambuco. This treaty – establishing the territory as a Portuguese protectorate – represented Cabinda’s rulers’ attempt to protect their territory from the “Scramble for Africa.” In other words, the rulers of Cabinda voluntarily chose to place their people and land under the protection of the devil they knew – Portugal, with whom they had contacts since Portuguese explorers first reached the Congo in 1482 – rather than become a colony of another European power. Cabinda’s fears were based on the fact that Belgium’s King Leopold wanted an outlet to the Atlantic for his extensive land holdings in central Africa. Cabinda remained a protectorate until 1956 when Portugal joined with Angola into a single colonial administrative unit.
As the 1960s began, Portugal’s colonial presence in Angola was jolted by the beginning of armed opposition by several nationalist groups. FNLA, MPLA and, later, UNITA were formed with the objective of liberating the entire Angolan “nation” from Portuguese colonialism. In 1963, FLEC emerged as another liberation movement whose main objective was more narrowly focused on the liberation of Cabinda. But its military presence was mainly symbolic as the bulk of the fighting that took place in Cabinda was carried out by MPLA from its bases in neighboring Congo-Brazzaville.
The Portuguese colonial regime collapsed in 1974 partly due to the armed resistance in its colonies, including Angola where, ironically, Cabinda was one of the main battlegrounds. The new regime in Portugal quickly put in motion a decolonization process that eventually devolved sovereignty to its former overseas possessions. But since Cabinda had been incorporated into the Angola as an administrative unit it could no longer regain the sovereignty it gave up to the Portuguese in 1885. It was not recognized as a separate entity for purposes of decolonization; it was now an integral part of Angola and received independence only in that broad context. As far as Portugal was concerned, in 1974 Cabinda’s interests were represented by the three nationalist movements who considered the territory to be an integral part of Angola. For many in Cabinda, however, decolonization was incomplete unless their pre-Simulambuco status was re-established or the Simulambuco status quo was maintained. For colonial Portugal since the mid-1960s and Angola since independence, Simulambuco as a legal claim was trumped by an even more powerful reality – oil. The discovery of oil and the beginning of explorations in 1954 irreversibly changed Cabinda’s position within Angola and made its demands for independence harder to seriously consider.
Still, Portugal’s completion of the decolonization process in 1975 did not dissuade FLEC from continuing its armed struggle for independence, this time against Angola. In fact, FLEC made a lukewarm attempt – with the assistance of Mobutu’s Zaire – to seize power in Cabinda during the disordered and violent process surrounding independence. The attempt failed because MPLA, with the help of Cuban troops and Soviet weapons, was able to expel Mobutu’s troops from the country and seriously curtail FLEC’s ability to develop as a credible military opponent. Indeed, for the duration of the civil war, FLEC was unable to pose a threat against major economic interests in the province. Militarily subdued, FLEC settled for a minimal-intensity conflict against government troops interrupted by the occasional headline-grabbing abduction of foreign oil workers. Since FLEC never posed a significant threat to the mainland government, MPLA could focus its military attention on its more powerful rival UNITA which, since the 1980s with the help of South Africa, had penetrated Cabinda.
In the aftermath of the 1992 elections fiasco and the reigniting of the civil war after a short pause, and with UNITA seriously threatening to overthrow the government, the governing MPLA escalated its military presence in Cabinda to protect its main source of revenue. The deployment of 15 000 troops further reduced the FLEC’s military options. As a result, and partly because FAA  were focused on eliminating UNITA’s military threat on the mainland, FLEC was able to survive for another decade. In the aftermath of UNITA’s collapse as a military force in 2002, however, FLEC’s potion became completely untenable as FAA’s formidable power could now be shifted to Cabinda. It was, therefore, just a matter of time before Cabinda’s separatists were confronted by the same stark choices UNITA faced in 2002: defeat on the battlefield or a negotiated end of hostilities. The Memorandum of Understanding clearly suggests that Cabinda’s political and military forces have opted for the latter.
The Memorandum has silenced the guns in Cabinda. Does this mean that peace has finally been achieved? Yes, but only in a negative sense, i.e. there is no longer active, organized military violence taking place in Cabinda. But peace cannot simply be described in terms of absence of war. It must also be conceived more positively in terms of social justice. In other words, the elimination of physical violence is an insufficient condition for peace. Peace also involves the elimination of structural violence defined as social injustice. For Cabinda, the issue of social justice revolves around oil revenues and how they are (mis)used. As the main producer of oil in the country, the inhabitants of Cabinda justifiably expect a level of economic development commensurate with their contributions to the national treasury.
This expectation is yet to be met. Worse still, Cabindans are able to see how oil revenues have been used by national ruling elites to accumulate fabulous personal wealth that is then flaunted through conspicuous consumption. To a lesser extent, oil revenues are also used to provide comfortable lifestyles for foreign oil workers.
In sum, it is premature to suggest that positive peace is a reality in Cabinda. The end of the long conflict must be seen simply as an opportunity to create the conditions necessary to achieve that ultimate goal. Oil revenues can facilitate the attainment of peace if they are used to improve the living condition of the people. Failure to do so will continue to fuel deep-seated grievances and risk reigniting conflict.
• Prof. Assis Malaquias is the Associate Dean of International and Intercultural Studies & Associate Professor of Government St. Lawrence University, Canton, NY USA
• Please send comments to or comment online at www.pambazuka.org
 Frente Nacional de Libertação de Angola (National Front for the Liberation of Angola).
 Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola)
 União Nacional para Independência Total de Angola (National Union for Total Independence of Angola)
 Frente de Libertação do Enclave de Cabinda (Front for the Liberation of Cabinda Enclave)
 Forças Armadas de Angola (Angolan Armed Forces)