Country Profile: Angola


Copyright BBC

The long-lasting conflict in Cabinda


By Genocide Watch
6 March 2012


After its independence from Portugal in 1975, Angola went through a 27-year civil war which was primarily a struggle between two former liberation movements, the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). The war assumed a central role in the Cold War, since the Marxist-oriented MPLA was backed by the USSR and Cuba, while UNITA got support from the Western bloc, including direct intervention by apartheid South African troops, trying to drive back the Soviet influence on the African continent.


After 16 years of fighting, a fragile peace accord led to elections. But Jonas Savimbi, leader of UNITA, rejected the outcome of these elections and resumed the war. In 1994, the war was broken up by another fragile period of peace, when a peace accord was signed and UN peacekeepers were sent. But this peacekeeping mission failed and the war continued until 2002, when Savimbi died.  His death finally brought peace. By that time, an estimated 500 000 people had been killed.


Besides the struggle between UNITA and MPLA, a separatist struggle by the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC) also played a role in the civil war.  FLEC fought for the independence of Cabinda. When Cabinda became a part of Angola in 1975, the Cabindans were not consulted. Cabinda is an Angolan province but it is separated from the country’s main territory by a sliver of the Democratic Republic of Congo. While the Angolan war ended in 2002, the status of Cabinda is still disputed by FLEC.  A 2006 peace agreement between the government of Angola and a faction of the FLEC sought to end the conflict, but sporadic attacks by both sides have continued. In 2010, two factions of FLEC claimed responsibility for a deadly attack on Togo’s football team in Angola during the Africa Nations Cup.  The attackers did not realize they were attacking the Togo team.


The separatists base their claim for independence on their interpretation of the colonial history of Cabinda. While Angola was a Portuguese colony for hundreds of years, Cabinda became a Portuguese Protectorate in 1885 under the treaty of Simulambuco, which was peacefully negotiated between Portugal and the Cabindan governors.  Separatists often refer to Article 2 of this Treaty, which stated that “Portugal is obliged to maintain the integrity of the territories placed under its protection”.


The refusal of the Angolan government to accept Cabindan claims for independence can largely be explained by the oil wealth in Cabinda, which accounts for half of Angola’s oil production. Because of widespread corruption in Angola, the people in Cabinda do not share in the benefits of their oil wealth.


In a 2009 report, Human Rights Watch showed a disturbing pattern of human rights violations by the Angolan army. Between September 2007 and March 2009 at least 38 people were unlawfully arrested and accused of state security crimes. Many of these people were tortured. (see report HRW). In 2006, FLEC filed a complaint with the African Union (AU) against the Angolan government for government human rights abuses. In December 2011, more than 5 years after FLEC lodged its complaint, the AU still says it “is considering” the claims. (article)


Because of deep-rooted conflict about Cabinda, Genocide Watch considers the country at stage 5 of Genocide: polarization.


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