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» 16.02.2010 - Government approves $250 mln for agro-credit
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» 24.11.2009 - Angola secures $1.4 billion stand-by arrangement with IMF
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» 20.10.2009 - Expelled Angolan refugees in dire need of aid
» 30.09.2009 - Angola negotiates standby facility with IMF

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Politics | Economy - Development

Angola's Cabinda has more onshore than offshore oil

afrol News / A Semana, 1 February - The Angolan exclave of Cabinda is already producing about one million barrels of crude oil daily from its offshore fields. It has the potential of producing even more oil from onshore reservoirs, according to an analyst. The independence war of the former Portuguese colony has until now hindered major onshore investments in Cabinda.

The assessment of Cabinda's large onshore oil reservoirs was made by a Portuguese university professor in Lisbon. The professor was speaking to 'Público' on conditions of anonymity as he was afraid of problems with Angolan authorities. The issue of natural resources in Cabinda is still a hot topic, which for decades has fuelled the war in the region. Oil exploration has been confined to offshore areas, where Angola is in firm control.

This is however about to change. Angola's state-owned oil company Sonangol in November last year announced that it was to start oil exploration onshore in Cabinda. Also sources from within the disputed territory now claim that Cabinda's oil potential is greater onshore than offshore, terming Cabinda the future "African Kuwait".

However, there is an important part of the pro-autonomy movement that is strongly opposing any onshore oil exploitation. They point to political and environmental motives and allege that the Angolan state is aiming at "fleecing" local riches without caring about "the roads full of pitch holes and a ruined health system."

Despite of this opposition, Sonangol and the Australian company ROC Oil three months ago reached an agreement to start joint explorations of the South Block of Cabinda. This coincides with the opening of the first experimental onshore oil wells and the celebration of the 120th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Simulambuco. The 1885 Treaty between Cabinda princes and the Portuguese Crown is a symbol of local identity, not to be confused with the Angolan identity.

Young activists of this territory of 500,000 inhabitants have started threatening to create a more radical and violent guerrilla than the recently defeated Liberation Front of the Cabinda Enclave (FLEC). They want to hinder the plundering of their lands, which already in colonial times were known to be rich on oil but have never been exploited, due to four decades of instability in Cabinda.

POC Oil now has production rights to 80 percent of the oil that will be found on Cabinda's new onshore block. In Cabinda's offshore sector, the main players are the American Chevron-Texaco and the French Total. The companies employ thousands of people, but mostly outside the territory. In Cabinda, the unemployment rate is estimated at close to 90 percent.

Angola, mostly thanks to Cabinda, is currently sub-Saharan Africa's second biggest oil producer, following Nigeria. The country expects to double its production during the next three years. But for this to happen, it is expected that Angolan authorities will have to come to an agreement with the Cabindan Dialogue Forum, which includes FLEC and civil society groups under the leadership of professor António Bento Bembe.

The Forum, which is leading peace and autonomy negotiations with Angola, includes the civil Mpalabanda association, the 32 Catholic priests of the territory, its Protestant reverends and other influential groups. They all demand improving living conditions for the population in Cabinda, based on the locally extracted resources.

Cabinda had always been a separate Portuguese colony, on the same level as Angola, shortly until liberation, when the Lisbon government united the two colonies. It was on the Organisation of African Unity's list of countries to be liberated before 1975. With Portugal's withdrawal from Angola and Cabinda came troops from Angola.

FLEC and other armed groups have fought for Cabinda's independence since the 1960s. They were militarily defeated after Angola's own civil war ended two years ago, giving Luanda the opportunity to launch a massive campaign in Cabinda. Now, the Cabindans opt for autonomy within Angola, including wide control over their own natural resources. Negotiations with Angola are however going slowly.

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