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Anne Pitsch (114)


Cabinda of Angola

Population: 11,072,000 (U.N. 1995 estimate)

Ethnic populations (estimates): Ovimbundu: 37% Kimbundu: 25%

Bakongo: 14% Mestico: 2% Mayombe:>1% Other: 22%

Cabinda Province: 1.6% (175,000) Religions-Cabinda: Catholic


There are over 100 ethnic groups in Angola. These can be classified into major groupings based on language. In the Cabinda Province, the Bakongo speak Kikongo and the Mayombe speak a closely related dialect of Kikongo. The Mayombe occupy the mountain forests of Eastern Cabinda and are a small minority in the Province, while the Bakongo are the majority ethnic group. The Cabinda Province is predominantly Roman Catholic.

The Cabinda Province is 7270 Sq. Km. and is separated from the rest of Angola by a strip of land belonging to Zaire. It is bordered to the North by Congo and to the West by the Atlantic Ocean. The total population of the Province is 175,000, about 1.6% of the total population of Angola. It is rich in oil, yet the wealth is not returned to the people. The people of Cabinda feel they have been ruthlessly exploited by both the foreign oil companies and the Angolan government. Most of the oil produced in Cabinda goes to the U.S. and is pumped by a subsidiary of the U.S. based Chevron.

By the late 1950s, each of Angola's three main ethno-linguistic groups had been associated with a respective military organization struggling for the independence of Angola. The Ovimbundu people of the south support UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola), the Kimbundu supports the MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola), and the Bakongo of the North, the FNLA (National Front for the Liberation of Angola). In addition to the struggle for independence from Portugal waged by these three movements, a separate movement for the independence of Cabinda was simultaneously waged. The movement started in 1961 with the formation of three groups. They merged to form FLEC (Front for the Liberation of Cabinda) in 1963 and have been waging a low-level insurgency for 30 years. FLEC received moral support from several African governments, including Zaire, Congo, Central African Republic, Gabon and Uganda, in the 1960s and 1970s. In the 1990s, Zaire and Congo are still thought to support the rebels, and FLEC is based in Kinshasa, Zaire. FLEC-FAC (Armed Forces of Cabinda) claim 600 armed men, another faction claims an additional 120. There are as many as 5 FLEC sub-movements in Cabinda in the 1990s. Total forces probably number around 1000 armed men.

In the 1990s, FLEC is generally believed to get little active help from the Cabinda population. However, it benefits from their passive support based on the notion of Cabindan solidarity and a distrust of the Luanda government. The feeling of separateness from the rest of Angola is deep rooted among the peoples of Cabinda.

The prospects for an end to both conflicts remain problematic. In the main war, the end of 1994 brought a peace agreement between the MPLA and UNITA. However, peace agreements have been signed too many times between the warring factions for optimism to be the prevailing mood at the beginning of 1995. The current peace accord remains fragile. Whether the UNITA leadership will accept a power sharing deal with the MPLA government remains to be seen. FLEC leaders were both pleased and annoyed to be left out of the peace process: pleased because they felt this to be a recognition of the separateness of their struggle and annoyed because they remained part of Angola proper.


1883: Portuguese occupied the Cabinda enclave. The boundaries for present-day Angola were set by European powers at the 1884 Berlin Conference.

1954: Oil explorations began in the Cabinda province.

Holden Roberto founded the first independence movement whose goal was to reunify the Bakongo people who were spread over three countries as a result of colonization. This goal was modified in 1958 to a nationalist orientation. The UPA (Union of Angolan People) became the FNLA (National Front for the Liberation of Angola) in 1962. FNLA was a significant actor in the struggle for independence for Angola.

1956: The MPLA was founded by combining many illegal independence groups. The MPLA called for the repeal of repressive laws, nationalization of certain industries, redistribution of land.

The Cabindan enclave was incorporated into Angola.

1961: Alliance of Mayombe established along with two other separatist groups in the enclave of Cabinda. In 1963, they joined together to form FLEC (Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda). This was a separate struggle for independence not related to the struggle engaged by UNITA/FLNA/MPLA for the independence of the whole of Angola from Portugal. Though the majority of the enclave are Bakongo, they are separated geographically and culturally from the Bakongo in Angola proper and show no solidarity with them.

March 1961: FNLA (then the Union of Angolan Peoples) launched attack on Portuguese, but they crushed the peasant attack. As a result, as many as 400,000 Bakongo fled into neighboring Zaire.

This marked the beginning of war of independence. The FNLA was joined by the MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola) in the liberation struggle. MPLA draws support from intellectuals of all ethnic groups and the Mbunda living in and around Luanda. It was led by Agostinho Neto.

1961-1975: Fight for independence involving the FNLA, MPLA, and UNITA against the Portuguese.

1963: Jonas Savimbi broke away from the FNLA to form his own resistance movement UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola). UNITA draws support largely from the Ovimbundu ethnic group.

1964: MPLA began excursions into the enclave of Cabinda and was met with resistance from the Mayombe peasants whose territory they needed to cross from bases near the Congo frontier, and from FLEC separatists.

10 January 1967: FLEC, following the example of the MPLA, created a government in exile based in the border town of Tshela, Zaire. In the early years of the autonomy movement, Zaire allowed the rebels to use its territory and generally gave them its support.

1968: Oil production began in the Cabinda province. U.S. owned Gulf Oil (later Chevron) owns 49% of the shares in offshore Cabinda blocks. Chevron later withdrew 20% of its Cabgoc interests under pressure from the Reagan administration. Reagan disliked the presence of Cuban troops supporting the Angolan government in Cabinda and therefore pressured Chevron to end its dealings with the "marxist" Angolan government.

1975: War of independence ended. Most Portuguese flee. The MPLA declares all other political parties illegal and begins to use its military power to suppress the other two factions.

February 1975: The MPLA government declared it is ready to negotiate with the separatists in Cabinda. FLEC demands included the disassociation of Cabinda and Angola, a recognition of FLEC as the only Cabinda liberation movement, and formal recognition of the Cabinda people's right to self-determination. FLEC also protested to the U.N. the alleged killing of over 100 students and villagers by MPLA and Portuguese troops.

May 1975: FLEC denounced the agreement of Alvor ending the Angolan liberation movement which gave control of Cabinda to the MPLA government in Angola. FLEC called on the U.N. and O.A.U. to negotiate a solution to Cabinda's desire for independence.

July 1975: Zairean president Mobutu called for a referendum on the future of the Cabinda enclave. Congolese president Henri Lopes concurred stating "Cabinda exists as a reality and is historically and geographically different from Angola." Gabon, Uganda, and Central African Republic had all expressed support for or recognition of FLEC, though the majority of OAU members firmly opposed the Cabindan separatists on the grounds that it would encourage separatists elsewhere.

1 August 1975: FLEC president Luis Ranque Franque declared the territory independent. With MPLA troops in control of the enclave, the declaration had little immediate impact.

1976: The MPLA (marxist government) defeated the other resistance groups and Neto became president. In November, the OAU recognized the MPLA as the legal government of Angola.

May 1976: The MPLA government continued to rely heavily on Cuban troops in the Cabinda enclave. FLEC increased its attacks against Cuban troops. MOLICA (Cabinda Liberation Movement) charged the government with wiping out an entire village in Bucca Zau region using 122mm rockets. Rebels claimed some 45,000 Cabindans fled to Zaire. On 20 May, President Mobutu of Zaire announced the closing of the Zairean border with Cabinda. Zaire and Angola agreed to an end of hostilities.

16 October 1977: FLEC split. The CMLC (Military Command for the Liberation of Cabinda) claimed the task of replacing FLEC and reorganizing the movement on a new democratic foundation.

1979: Neto died, Jose Eduardo dos Santos became president.

27 October 1979: Zaire announced it would ban opposition leaders from Zaire giving them two weeks to leave. Angolan refugees would no longer be allowed to settle along the frontiers with Angola and Cabinda. Estimates suggested 700,000 Angolan refugees live in Zaire.

1979-1984: Each fighting faction drew support from outside nations. The MPLA was traditionally supported by the Soviet Union and Cuba. The FNLA was supported early on by the U.S., Zaire, China and North Korea. UNITA drew support from Tanzania, Zambia and China and later from the U.S. By the late 1970s, the FNLA became a secondary actor.

Approximately 2000 Cuban troops were stationed in Cabinda in the 1970s and 1980s. Zaire withdrew support from FLEC rebels in the late 1970s. FLEC was also plagued by fragmentation.

May 1981: Six men were sentenced to death on charges of belonging to FLEC and of having carried out bomb attacks against strategic economic targets, schools and hospitals in Angola proper. Another four were sentenced to 24 years' imprisonment each.

1983: Luanda agreed to an unofficial amnesty for FLEC guerrillas

and more than 8000 refugees returned to Cabinda.

1984: Attempt at a peaceful solution to the larger conflict became the Lusaka accord. This accord tied Namibian independence from South Africa to the removal of Cuban troops and advisors from Angola. However, the accord failed when the South African government failed to uphold its end of the agreement. By this time, over 500,000 Ovimbundu were considered refugees by the United Nations.

1985: Zaire and Angola agreed not to allow rebels to use the other's territory as bases. In February, a cease-fire was agreed to between the MPLA government and FLEC, but no formal resolution was reached.

August 1988: Agreement between Cuba, South Africa, and Angola on a cease-fire in Angola and Namibia and an end to South African participation in the wars was reached. This opened the way to independence in Namibia and an agreement to withdraw 50,000 Cuban troops from Angola. FLEC existed in little more than name due to fragmentation, Cuban troops in Cabinda and the withdrawal of support from Zaire.

April 1989: An estimated 400,000 Angolans were refugees in neighboring states and another 650,000 were internally displaced.

December 1990: MPLA Congress endorsed the creation of a free-market economy and multiparty system of government, and denounced communism.

March 1991: The government legalized opposition parties. FNLA had essentially become a non-actor, though its exiled leader (Holden Roberto) returned when parties were legalized and was a candidate for president in 1992. UNITA transformed itself into a political movement. In May, the last of the Cuban troops left Angola.

May 1991: Press reported that the newly signed peace agreement effectively ended a bloody 16-year civil war. There were calls for a national election. However, the peace was very tenuous and the country remained tense.

August 1992: Large numbers of refugees in Zaire began trickling back into Angola prior to elections. It was likely that most of these refugees are of the Bakongo ethnic group.

September 29-30, 1992: Angolans wnet to the polls in the first direct elections since independence. 4.8 million voted. Presidential candidates included dos Santos, Savimbi, and Roberto. Separatist feelings were still prominent in the Cabinda province. Polls showed that 91% of registered voters in Angola voted. However, in the Cabinda enclave, only 7-12% of Cabinda's residents voted after being urged to boycott the elections by FLEC. This was interpreted as a referendum for independence on the part of the Cabindans. Oil production in Cabinda provides a vast majority of Angola's foreign earnings, yet Cabinda receives less than 1% of the oil revenue and remains underdeveloped and the people remain poor. The U.S., MPLA and UNITA rejected Cabinda's bid for independence, but the MPLA government appeared ready to negotiate a separate status for Cabinda.

October 1992: Election results brought violence. In the presidential election, 49.7% of the vote wnet to dos Santos, 40% to Savimbi. MPLA gained 129 of 220 seats in the national assembly. FNLA received 2.5% of the National Assembly seats. The election was proclaimed free and fair by international observers. The majority of demobilized UNITA soldiers returned to arms.

October 30-November 1, 1992: "Three Day War" in Luanda. Evidence suggested more than 10,000 bodies of Ovimbundu and Bakongo lie in mass graves.

November 1992: Savimbi's rebels intensifed fighting. Rebel forces controlled between 60%-70% of the country.

January 1993: Angola in full scale civil war. Aid workers said 10,000-15,000 people have been killed in the past four months. Savimbi launched an offensive in oil-rich northern provinces (including Cabinda). The people of Cabinda province continue to be involved in a separate struggle against the MPLA government for the independence of Cabinda. FLEC is once again active (now FLEC-FAC (Armed Forces of Cabinda)). MPLA is thought to have 15,000 troops in Cabinda.

January 22, 1993: Military, national police and civilians massacred civilians, mostly Bakongo in several cities. Reports suggested this was a deliberate attempt to destroy the Bakongo (ethnic cleansing) who are referred to as "Zaireans" in Angola. The number of dead was thought to be in the thousands (most reports suggest between 4000-6000 dead). Some Ovimbundu were also killed. Following this massacre, known as "Bloody Friday," the government condemned those who took part.

March 1993: FLEC rebels were thought to be in control of much of Cabinda's jungle interior, but the Angolan government still controlled Cabinda City, where one-half of Cabinda's population lives, and the oil wealth.

May 19, 1993: President Clinton announced the U.S. would recognize the government of dos Santos in Angola. In July, the U.S. decided to lift its embargo on nonlethal military supplies to Angola. The MPLA government said this move would put it on a more equal footing with UNITA. Cabinda rebels protested the U.S. recognition that Cabinda is part of Angola.

11 December 1993: Peace talks stalled when rebels accused the government of trying to assassinate Savimbi in a bombing raid on the provincial capital Kuito. An estimated 100,000 have been killed since Savimbi renewed the civil war in October 1992.

March 1994: Talks between Dos Santos and FLEC-FAC were scheduled for the first time in the history of the struggle for the independence of Cabinda. Government troops remained in control of the enclave, though fighting continued. FLEC-FAC had little outside support and few funds, but the tacit support of most of the inhabitants of Cabinda.

June 1994: Government continued on the offensive against UNITA. Attacks reported in Lunda Norte, Malanje and Uige in the North.

August 1994: UNITA accused Luanda government of operating a scorched earth policy in Cabinda. UNITA reported the government killed about 700 villagers in Katabuanga which resulted in hundreds of other Cabindans fleeing to Congo and Zaire.

5 September 1994: UNITA and FLEC joined forces in Cabinda against MPLA. UNITA had briefly joined forces with the MPLA in Cabinda during the 1991-2 cease-fire that was supposed to end the civil war. Cabinda rebels seem to tolerate UNITA rebels when they are useful in their struggle against the government, but FLEC wants UNITA leaders as their government no more than it wants the MPLA government in its territory.

20 November 1994: Lusaka peace accord signed. U.N. Peacekeeping Force was proposed for 1995. South African leader Nelson Mandela played an instrumental role in bringing the MPLA and UNITA together. Peace in Angola, however, is fragile.

February 1995: U.N. voted to send 7000 peace keepers to Angola in May. Defections of UNITA leaders caused alarm as they threatened to return to war. Angola remains tense.

14 February 1995: Savimbi held a congress of UNITA deputies and his basic message to the press was that the war is over. At this congress, Savimbi purged UNITA of those members who refused to return to war after the 1992 elections. By this time, Savimbi has lost outside allies and popular support. Angolans were tired of war and many blamed UNITA more than the government for the recent fighting (e.g. siege of Kuito). Savimbi is now 60 and said he will accept some power-sharing arrangement with the government. The people of Angola were not quite sure if they believed him. Outside observers were a little less skeptical as they saw no other options for Savimbi. Many believed he was a beaten man.

Risk Assessment

In Cabinda, insurgency continues. Perhaps once the main war is finally ended, the people of the Cabinda enclave will find themselves in a better bargaining position vis-a-vis Luanda. On the other hand, without the war against UNITA, the government may find more time and energy to devote to quelling the Cabinda insurgency. The Cabinda enclave remains underdeveloped and the people remain poor despite the oil wealth there. However, more important to the people of Cabinda seems to be their feeling of separateness from the rest of Angola. They do not feel an affinity with their fellow Angolans and would like recognition as an independent state. It is unlikely the government of Angola will give up Cabinda because of the wealth of that region. Oil from Cabinda provides up to 90% of Angola's foreign earnings. The Cabinda people may be able to negotiate for more autonomy from Luanda and for a larger share of the wealth that results from the exploitation of the resources in their region. Cabinda does not have extensive external support for their self-determination bid, so it would be difficult to engage in a protracted civil war that would eventually wear down Luanda. They also could not destroy the oil installations in their region because that would sabotage their own future if they ever do achieve independence.

The Cabindan people are at risk because of their desire for independence. The people are economically disadvantaged as little oil wealth is returned to the enclave. The people continue to face an armed struggle for independence with little outside aid. The government has been accused of killing large numbers of civilians in their fight against FLEC forces. FLEC forces target government installations and oil personnel, including foreigners.