Cabinda, a honeypot for the US oil industry

Satellite location map of Cabinda.A dirty seaside city in Africa, Cabinda is the home of the Angolan oil industry. Physically separated from the rest of the country, the small province of Cabinda is still struggling for independence. Only a few months ago there were causalities.

On the outskirts of the state capital a large fence corners off the oil facilities. There is even a mine field to keep busybodies out. And there is reason to worry. The FLEC rebel group, which fights for independence for the small region  is active, and in the past the government has responded with repressive policies and retaliatory executions. Then recently there were charges against the only human rights lawyer in the region, Dr. Arão Bula Tempo, but in July of 2016 a court dismissed the case. He is the man who helps victims of Angolan oppression.

Refugees from the decades long struggle have fled to the neighboring countries. A while back, when things seemed to quiet down, they selected representatives to examine the possibilities for a return. But when the delegation arrived they saw troops everywhere, checkpoints and poverty. Very little infrastructure. The refugees remained where they were.

A house in rural Cabinda

Cabinda produces a large share of the Angolan GDP, but the funds have only recently started to reach the locals. Traditionally, the corrupt elites in Luanda have been the ones to benefit. The rest of the country sees very little of Angola’s record growth. Whether they live in the large shantytowns surrounding Luanda, or in Cabinda, they still struggle with the basics of life.

The largest investor is the American multinational Chevron and China, who wants to build a deep-water port in Cabinda City. Neither seems bothered by the staggering corruption or the grinding poverty. Protesters from Angola travelled to the US to protest at a recent shareholder meeting for Chervron. The company is not upholding the environmental laws, and suppress frequent oil spills in Cabinda. Pollution has killed local fishing. But news like this seldom make international headlines. No major power backs the liberation front, and as long as there is oil, Angola is unlikely to grant them independence.

So what options do the FLEC have? In 2010 they attacked a  Togolese soccer team, and some were killed. That made the news. The only way to attract the attention of the press is violence, it seems. A journalist reporting for VOA News on the situation in Cabinda was later beaten by state officials. That was at least covered by VOA, if no one else.

The original FLEC front split in two a few years back, with one branch joining the local government and the other continuing the struggle. There have been  state-sponsored conferences on independence held in Cabinda, but without the opposition FLEC rebel group. The FLEC have never been present at the table when the powers that be discuss the future of the country.

The Angolan president, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, has begun to reinvest some money in Cabinda, and has suggested a national Angolan referendum on Cabindan independence. However, the rest of the country would hardly give up its oil revenues freely. The president has also strengthened his personal control of the oil industry by putting his daughter in charge of the Angolan state oil company.

Oil from the Middle East may be uncertain, blocked by our war on terror and our clash of civilizations. Oil from Cabinda on the other hand is a sure thing. While dos Santos, Chevron, Norway’s Statoil and the Chinese feast on their tremendous profits there is a struggle for the hearts and minds of the impoverished locals.