Source: Pethrus,

Of the many exclaves of various countries around the world, one of the most significant and contentious is that of the Angolan province of Cabinda. The enclave is the result of an 1885 treaty between Portugal and the kingdom of Ngoyoin what is now the south of Cabinda (the modern-day province lies in the territory of three pre-European kingdoms: Ngoyo, Loango and Kakongo). The treaty made the area a protectorate of Portugal. Known as the Portuguese Congo, the protectorate lay across the mouth of the Congo River from the Portuguese colony of Angola. Later that year, the Conference of Berlin awarded a 60-kilometre-long strip of land along the Atlantic coast north from the mouth of the Congo to Belgium so that its Congo Free State (today’s Democratic Republic of the Congo) could have access to the Atlantic Ocean. While this did separate the two Portuguese possessions, it was not seen as a major issue as the two jurisdictions were separate as well; indeed, the two areas were separate for nearly a century afterward. It was not until 1956 that Portugal united the two colonies under the jurisdiction of its Angolan government, and it was only with Angolan independence in 1975 that the two were formally united.

As with nearly all of European-dominated Africa, movements for independence burgeoned during the mid-20th century, and Cabinda was no different. Guerilla movements for independence began in earnest in 1960 when three different independence movements formed; these groups merged three years later to form the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC). FLEC was one of the colonial combatants fighting the Portuguese Estado Novo regime during the 13-year-long Portuguese Colonial War. Unlike the other European colonial powers that gradually left Africa during the 1950s and 1960s, the regressive, pre-World War II throwback Estado Novo sought to further integrate its African colonies (which it termed ‘overseas provinces’) into the parent state. While the rest of Africa was achieving independence in (relatively) peaceful processes, Portugal and its colonies became bogged down in bloodshed.

For FLEC, not only was it fighting the Estado Novo, it was also fighting the international perception that Cabinda had become an integral part of Angola. When large oil reserves were discovered off the Cabindan coast in 1967, Angola’s reasons for controlling the region became even more pronounced. When the Estado Novo was finally toppled in Portugal in 1974 and independence agreements were being negotiated, FLEC was not present at the bargaining table. The three main factions fighting for Angolan independence were, however, and under the terms of the Alvor Agreement, Cabinda was to be annexed by Angola. FLEC responded by unilaterally declaring independence in August 1975; a move that crucially went unrecognised by other African countries wary of giving credence to separatist movements; various countries of the continents still unstable and vulnerable themselves. The current Angola-Cabinda arrangement was ultimately enforced not by the Portuguese or Angolan government, but by Chevron, which paid the Soviet-backed MPLA to invade Cabinda and take over the oil fields. The invasion occurred on the Angolan independence day, 11 November 1975.


Oil fields of Cabinda.

Fighting in Cabinda has continued after Angolan independence, reflecting the chaos that gripped Angola in general until 2002. The Angolan MPLA government, having long since renounced both single-party rule and Marxism-Leninism, has been successful in consolidating power in Angola via a combination of incorporating many former FLEC members into government positions and incarcerating those members it can’t. Cabinda today produces 60% of Angolan oil, and Angola has been a member of OPEC since 2007. Local groups are lobbying for a greater share of petroleum revenues, contending that too much goes to the Angolan government and not back to Cabinda; the Angolan government has responded by reinvesting 10 percent of such revenues into the province, which has greatly improved the standard of living in recent years and helped to further diffuse the conflict. A peace deal was signed with the main FLEC-Renovada group in 2006, but the group’s many offshoots refuse to recognise the deal, claiming the man Angola recognised as FLEC’s leader had no authority to sign such an agreement.

Cabinda has been a relatively anonymous entity on the world stage, and when it has been noticed, it has not been in a positive light. The public perception of the independence movement took a major blow in January 2010 when the FLEC-Military Position (FLEC-PM) offshoot attacked a convoy escorting the Togolese national football team en route to an African Cup of Nations match in the Cabindan capital (also called Cabinda). The team’s bus driver, assistant manager, and press officer were all killed; several others were injured. The offshoot’s secretary-general, from his exile in France, stated that the intended targets were the Angolan guards at the head of the convoy and not the Togolese (the tragicomic saga of the Togolese national football federation is an entry in itself). While the result may have been unintended, it did bring the issue of Cabindan independence back into the spotlight.It is very unlikely that the issue will go away any time soon; there are many groups fighting for autonomy but the opposition movement is heavily fragmented and unable to gain much traction.

Further Reading

BBC News (2010). Q&A;: Cabinda conflict. BBC News, 12 January 2010. Available at 15 October 2010.

Human Rights Watch (2010). Angola: Quash Convictions of Cabinda Activists .5 August 2010. Available at Accessed 15 October 2010.

Macdonald, E. and M. Ndiaye (2010) .The Cabinda Conflict: Background To The Togo Bus Shooting., 8 January 2010. Available at Accessed 15 October 2010.

Pike, J. (2010). Cabinda. Available at Accessed 15 October 2010.

Sturcke, J. et al. (2010). Togo footballers were attacked by mistake, Angolan rebels say. The Guardian, 11 January 2010. Available at Accessed 14 October 2010.

Zuckerman, E. (2010). What happens in Cabinda doesn’t stay in Cabinda. My Heart’s in Accra, 11 January 2010. Available at Accessed 15 October 2010.

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