What the heck is Cabinda?
In the the wake of last week’s tragic attack on the Togolese soccer team at the Afrcia Cup of Nations tournament, Ethan Zuckerman provides some useful background on Cabinda, the fluke of a province where the attack took place: If the world’s media wasn’t busy asking itself, “Where the heck is Yemen?“, we’d probably ...
In the the wake of last week’s tragic attack on the Togolese soccer team at the Afrcia Cup of Nations tournament, Ethan Zuckerman provides some useful background on Cabinda, the fluke of a province where the attack took place:
If the world’s media wasn’t busy asking itself, “Where the heck is Yemen?“, we’d probably be asking “Where’s Cabinda?” It’s not in Angola – at least, it’s not geographically contiguous with Angola – it’s a small enclave separated from Angola by a 60km wide strip of the Democratic Republic of Congo. About the size of Puerto Rico, it’s ethnically and linguistically separate from the rest of Angola – Cabindans speak Cabindês and French, rather than Portuguese. About 100,000 Cabindans live in Cabinda – twice as many live in exile in neighboring Congo-Brazzaville and DRCongo.
Oh, and Cabinda is very, very rich. Which is to say, it’s got 60% of Angola’s oil… and Angola is now the largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa. (According to one history, Cabinda is part of Angola through Chevron’s support of Angolan MPLA forces in 1975.) As often happens in resource-rich nations, Cabinda doesn’t see much of that oil money, a major grievance of the Cabindan people. A recent agreement invests 10% of oil profits into Cabinda. That agreement helped the Angolan government achieve a ceasefire with some members of the FLEC – Forces for the Liberation of Cabinda.
At least one faction of FLEC – the Forces for the Liberation of the State of Cabinda-Military Position (FLEC-PM) – wasn’t on board with this plan. Their general secretary Rodrigues Mingas told the media that he’d warned Cup of Nations organizers not to hold matches in Cabinda, as his faction of FLEC considered themselves to be at war with Angolan forces. Mingas went on to apologize for the loss of Togolese life:
We didn’t specifically target the Togolese. It could have been Angola, Ivory Coast, Ghana… Anything is possible,” he said. “We are at war, and it’s no holds barred.”
“We always regret the death of human beings but there are also thousands of Cabindans killed over 35 years,” he said.
Obviously, the attack by FLEC-PM on unarmed footballers is a horrific and disgusting act of terrorism. But it’s hard to imagine the Angolans screwing the situation up much more thoroughly. First, hosting matches in Cabinda was clearly a political decision designed to demonstrate Angola’s firm hold over this disputed territory. Colin Droniou, writing for the AFP, observes that police presence in Cabinda is currently higher than normal, but quips: “Normal in Cabinda means one soldier for every 10 residents.” Human Rights Watch reports that those military forces are routinely involved with the detention and torture of rebels. The Angolan government had to know that there was a risk of violence during the tournament, a risk they could have mitigated by moving matches out of Cabinda. One analyst calls the decision to host matches in Cabinda “stupid and tragic“.
Another example of an international event designed to highlight a country’s, instead serving as a reminder of its flaws.
Joshua Keating is a former associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating
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