- The oil-rich exclave of Cabinda, mostly seen as an Angolan province, has fought for independence since 1975. Cabindan rebels now follow the example of Western Sahara's exile government and have set up an oil licensing agency to lease oil and gas operations in the "territory secured by the Cabinda Defence Force". The territory is seen as immensely rich in oil.
The "Cabinda National Petroleum Plc" made this announcement from its base on the British Atlantic island of St Helena yesterday evening. According to the company, it is entitled to announce the "commencement of oil and gas lease operations in [the] territory secured by the Cabinda Defence Force," commonly known as the rebels fighting for the independence of Cabinda.
Cabinda, which is a small territory between Congo Kinshasa and Congo Brazzaville, is internationally recognised as a province of Angola. This was however not always so. Cabinda was an autonomous Portuguese colony and the 39th African state recognised by the Organisation of African States (OAU), but was occupied by Angolan troops almost immediately upon achieving independence from Portugal in 1975.
The territory, despite its small size, is of great importance to Angola and the world economy. Had it been independent, it would have been Africa's second biggest oil producer, following Nigeria. Currently, most of Cabinda's oil production is run by multi-national companies offshore, thus fully under Angolan control.
On the land territory, however, Cabindan rebels claim to control most of the countryside, something that is denied by the Angolan army, saying rebels only manage to hide out in some villages. Several analyses hold that the largest oil and gas reservoirs found in Cabinda indeed are onshore. Due to security reasons, however, these remain totally untapped and mostly unexplored.
Also the Cabindan pro-rebel oil company holds that possibilities onshore are immense and interesting for foreign oil companies, given "the increased demand for oil worldwide" and with oil prices topping US$ 70 a barrel. "While Cabinda's offshore oil resources are estimated to be worth billions of dollars, the eventual value of untapped oil and gas reserves onshore, which have been off limits due to the military conflict, are thought to be much higher," the company promises investors.
Cabinda National Petroleum (CNP), based in Saint Helena and in London, says it is now "actively seeking partners in exploration, financing, and production." The company further claims it has "obtained an oil and gas lease from the Republic of Cabinda and will shortly commence operations in the eastern part of the nation."
Cabindans thus are following the example of Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara, where the government of Morocco has contracted foreign oil exploration companies in the waters off Western Sahara. The exiled Sahrawi government has answered by issuing exploration concessions to companies on its "liberated territories". The Western Sahara government is however in a better condition to follow this policy as it is recognised by the African Union (AU) and no country has recognised the Moroccan occupation.
In the case of the Cabindan rebels and their oil licensing, foreign companies would probably violate international law if dealing with the non-recognised Cabinda government. Such deals would however not at all be unique. Only a few months ago, the breakaway republic of Puntland (north-eastern Somalia) sold mining licences in its territory and in occupied parts of neighbouring Somaliland to an Australian mining company.
The non-recognised "Republic of Cabinda" in any way holds it is totally in its rights to offer lease operations to foreign companies. Currently, "little if any of the proceeds of the 'black gold' return to Cabinda except to finance the Angolan army of occupation," CNP holds, pointing to the extreme poverty experienced in Cabinda. As for now, in Cabinda, "the Angolans loot the natural resources to pay off their national debt," CNP adds.
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