Angola: Notes on a soon to be forgotten war - Cabinda

Originally published


João Gomes Porto1

4 AUGUST 2003

Executive Summary

Although the civil war in mainland Angola formally ended on 4 April 2002, a secessionist conflict with grave humanitarian consequences remained unabated in the oil-rich enclave province of Cabinda for much of last year. Largely ignored by the hype that has surrounded the end of the twenty-seven year old conflict between the government of Angola and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), the enclave province of Cabinda has, in the last ten months, seen some of its worst fighting. Reports from Cabinda's battlefields suggest that the war may be approaching its end, if it is not already over by now. The Angolan Armed Forces' (FAA) launch of a large counter-insurgency campaign on 10 October 2002 throughout the full extent of Cabinda's territory has reportedly defeated with the end of war with UNITA, the defeat of Cabinda's including the displacement and indiscriminate abuse of civilians, summary executions, incidents of rape and torture, destruction of property and pillage of villages.

The conflict in Cabinda is based on two irreconcilable positions. For the Angolan government, Cabinda is an integral part of Angola's contemplate the secession of Cabinda. On the other hand, Cabindan separatists claim that Cabinda has a distinct and separate identity, history and culture from the rest of Angola; accordingly, they would like recognition as an independent state.

It is widely believed that some kind of negotiated autonomy is the only solution to the conflict in Cabinda. During October 2002, while FAA troops were being deployed in the Province, President Eduardo dos Santos made it clear that a peaceful solution to the conflict in Cabinda would involve the granting of autonomy to Cabinda. However, this is easier said than done. Firstly, and on a substantive level, Cabindan separatists must agree to downgrade their demands for independence and negotiate some kind of autonomy. In addition, a negotiated settlement depends on the existence of legitimate and representative interlocutors, able to negotiate for and on behalf of Cabindans as a whole. Pinpointed by several analysts as the most serious obstacle to the peaceful solution to the conflict, and one that has historically weakened the secessionist cause, this is a challenging problem for which there should be no pretension of a quick fix. Recommendations should move beyond simply stating unity as an absolute necessity and should, perhaps, critically inquire into the very reasons for its absence. The requirement for a legitimate and credible interlocutor does not (and should not) depend on the unification of Cabinda's secessionist movements. There are several other stakeholders, such as civil society, organizations, the church and individual Cabindans, who must be part of an enlarged and representative peace process. More important than engaging in the often turbulent domain of inter-party relations, support should be given to these other actors so that a civil society platform grows.

Secondly, if the political resolution of the conflict in Cabinda entails the granting of special provisions and perhaps privileges, other provinces will attempt to emulate the precedent set by Cabinda, at a time when the government of Angola is extending state administration to the whole of the country. While the current constitutional revision has fallen short of treating decentralization in any meaningful way, with the adoption of the somewhat fuzzy concept of "deconcentration", the issue of local government (poder local) must be seriously considered. Examples such as Mozambique, which will hold its second municipal elections during November 2003, should be carefully examined. Paramount among the various issues relating to "local governance" is the election of provincial governors, a bold step which has yet to be implemented in Mozambique and Angola, but that will surely emerge in the medium term in both countries. As a result, the government of Angola will have to consider Cabinda's country.

On the ground, and before any attempt at political negotiations takes place, military activity must stop. Moreover, although the war seems to a large extent over, there is no official ceasefire between the government and any of the belligerents. And, here too, a parallel can be drawn from the end of war in the "mainland". The various belligerent factions of the FLEC are, as UNITA was at the end of the civil war, largely destroyed and unable to resume military activity. The military leaders of the FAA and all FLEC factions should enter into exploratory contacts, following the model of the Luena negotiations. This would build confidence at the military level and possibly open the way for the negotiation of ceasefire and disengagement agreements with all warring factions.

Such a pre-negotiation approach to the military aspects of the conflict could be mirrored at other levels, such as the political and civil society levels in Cabinda. Because political issues will inevitably form the backbone of each party's in maximalist (zero-sum) terms, there is a need for all parties to engage in a process that will not escalate animosity, but will develop confidence-building and rapprochement. If such pre-negotiations are kept out of the public eye, such an approach could decrease the pressure on all stakeholders involved, enabling the various parties to move from total incompatibility to a process of dialogue.

More importantly, the cessation of hostilities would allow for the flow of much-needed humanitarian assistance into the province, opening the way for the various organizations of the United Nations system with a presence in Angola to increase their assistance to civilians facing hunger, disease, trauma and loss of livelihood. In addition, the presence of international and nongovernmental organizations in the province would guarantee some kind of monitoring of human rights violations on the part of all involved, providing a degree of security to Cabinda's population. In all these areas, the humanitarian community in Angola has considerable experience which can be replicated in Cabinda.

Note: 1 João Gomes Porto, PhD is Head of the African Security Analysis Programme, Institute for Security Studies.

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