Cabinda: Prospects for an Oil Insurgency in the Angolan Exclave

Angola is one of the few bright spots in global oil production—oil production is expected to increase by roughly 2 million barrels per day to around 3.4 mbpd within the next 10 years. Angola has been wracked by civil war and violence since its independence from Portugal, with perhaps 1.5 million people dying in conflict. That 27 year civil war ended, however, in 2002, and Angola is generally seen as a relatively stable host for oil production, a perception that is further enhanced because the far-offshore, deep-water nature of most Angolan oil production makes it a difficult target for local groups with an axe to grind.

Is there anything standing in the way of this “Angolan Oil Miracle?” Other than the majority of present and future oil production being locatdd in a small and ethnically separate territory, a territory with an active and violent independence movement, and with the budding capability to effectively disrupt oil production, no.

Is Angola a budding success story or the next Nigeria?

Through a quirk of colonial cartography, Angola includes the exclave province of Cabinda (it was actually three independent African kingdoms who collectively asked the Portugese for protection from the Belgians). And, to complicate matters further, the offshore territory controlled by Angola by way of this exclave is home to the most productive present and future oil fields—currently accounting for roughly 700,000 barrels per day of production, and home to many of the major production blocks currently making Western oil companies salivate.

Figure 1: Map of Cabinda Exclave, with location relevant to Angola shown in inset.

Figure 2: Cabinda's offshore oil "Production Block O"

The situation with regards to the Cabinda exclave would be far less problematic if the people of Cabinda were happy participants in the “Angolan Oil Miracle.” The huge royalties derived from Cabinda’s oil production, however, flow directly to the Angolan capital of Luanda, with very little flowing back in the form of development funds. This is especially significant considering that Cabinda has a population of only 300,000 people—that’s nearly two barrels of crude produced per person, per day, with this number expected to increase significantly over the next few years. The people of Cabinda understand that they should be among the wealthiest in Africa. Instead, only 10% of the oil revenues produced in Cabinda stay there--in theory. Because Angola hasn't held elections in 14 years, and because provincial governments are appointed top-down from Luanda, the theoretical 10% that "stays" in fact enriches the pockets of Angolan officials hand-picked for these luctrative positions (see Ghazvinian, "Untapped," pg. 154-65)

Complicating the situation further, there is a long history of armed struggle for independence in Cabinda. The FLEC (Frente para a Libertação do Enclave de Cabinda, or Cabinda Liberation Front) and FAC (Fuerzas Armadas de Cabinda, or Armed Forces of Cabinda) have been longtime participants in Angola’s past conflicts, and were the lone holdouts to the 2002 cease fire. The Government of Angola claims that the FLEC & FAC signed a cease fire in the Summer of 2006, but this is widely considered a sham by the people of Cabinda, and is disputed by the “President” of the “Republic of Cabinda,” Nzita Henriques Tiago. Communiqués by various independence organizations from as recently as March, 2007, suggest that this movement is very much alive. John Ghazvinian, while visiting Cambida several months after the "cease fire," reported that the armed conflict continued in the mountainous villages outside Cabinda City (Ghazvinian, id.).

The Potential for a “Nigerian-Style” Oil Insurgency

What is the potential for the Cabinda insurgency to significantly impact the future oil output from Angola? While some major oil facilities are located ashore in Cabinda, the majority of oil infrastructure is far offshore (See Figure 2). What are the probabilities that Cabinda will decide to target its own oil production as a means of gaining independence or autonomy? Do they have the tactical capabilities to carry out such a campaign? Are there any signs that this will happen?

In analyzing these questions, I think the “open-source” model for learning in insurgencies is highly relevant. Increasingly, due to better access to information and global communications, as well as lower barriers to entry for potential violent actors, insurgents around the world are using an open-source methodology to innovate in the areas of tactics and targeting methodology. The effect of oil-infrastructure targeting in Nigeria, for example, is likely not passing unnoticed in the cafes of Cabinda. Likewise, the tactical methods for attacking oil infrastructure—especially the developments in the tactics for attacking far-offshore infrastructure—are being effectively communicated “open-source” by the news media. To the extent that tactical and targeting innovations are being made in Nigeria by groups like MEND, or other violent factions, they are available for adoption by insurgents in Cabinda. Does this mean that insurgents in Cabinda have the means of disrupting the “Angolan Oil Miracle?” Probably not yet, but it seems likely that if more development funds and revenue sharing efforts are not advanced by Luanda, this combination of capability and intent cannot be far off.

In a troubling recent development, a Total oil platform in the Nkossa field (in neighboring Congo, see Figure 2 above) caught fire on May 10th. There is insufficient evidence at this time to firmly establish the cause of the fire, but investigations have turned up a “suspicious boat, its hull and body completely burned.” The result of the fire: 60,000 barrels per day are currently shut in, with no word on when the production will be restored. Is this the opening salvo in a new Cabinda Oil Insurgency? It’s far too early to tell, but one thing is certain: if the incident was not an intentional attack, it certainly publicized a potentially effective tactic to carry out such attacks. Admittedly, the incident did not take place in Cabinda’s “Block O,” but rather a few miles away in Congo’s Nkossa field. Ethnic groups in Africa do not tend to neatly conform to the borders laid down by former colonial masters—this may mean that there is an ethnic component to discontent in the region that has its sights set on both Brazzaville (Congo) and Luanda (Angola), it may be a mere coincidence, or it may be a very intelligent tactical move: One of the key limiting factors (at least in the past) to MEND’s operations in Nigeria was the desire to maintain future production potential—it is possible that, IF this was an attack, it managed to inform Western companies operating in the region without damaging Cabinda’s infrastructure, the revenues from which Cabinda hopes to one day enjoy.

I must concede: this is largely speculation at this point. However, given the importance of increasing Angolan oil production to a world facing the onset of Peak Oil production, and given the success of inhibiting oil production in places like Nigeria, I think that this is highly important speculation. This is yet another example of geopolitical feedback loops spawned by geological peaking in oil production. The technical complexity of oil production off the coasts of Angola and Congo are well understood. I, for one, have been generally unaware of the concomitant geopolitical complexities in the region. Will the word “Cabinda” become as commonplace as the term “MEND”? It is certainly an area worth watching. I wrote this article primarily to fill in my own knowledge gaps on this topic. I hope that it has been equally useful to TOD readers--there is no shortage of institutional knowledge to lean on here, as a quick search for "Cabinda" in the TOD archives shows that one reader had mortar shells land within 50 yards of him while in Cabinda.

Angola has always been surreal. At on time you had Cubans defending American Oil interests against CIA sponsored South African Mercenaries. Obviously, the last thing elite oil wants is the populace in control of it's own resources, so I expect we will continue to see such relationships.

Interesting information! Thanks for pulling it all together and giving it to us.
What I have been wondering; How long -if ever- will it be before some major consumer of oil (US, China, Europe, India,???) will tire of the problems caused by the "local population" and decide to just eliminate the entire population to end the problems? And if it happens in one place and is successful, what might that portend for the future? If it ever does happen, I would hazzard a guess that it would happen in Africa first? Post Peak Oil with everyone hurting quite a bit and the "locals" keep shutting in production and ????
Grizzly thoughts of the unthinkable - But then we are talking about Homo Stupidius?
I sure hope I live another 20 years (I think?) so I can see just what does happen. We do live in interesting times!

The preparations for the "bird flu" pandemic dieoff are ramping up downunder

"How long -if ever- will it be before some major consumer of oil (US, China, Europe, India,???) will tire of the problems caused by the "local population" and decide to just eliminate the entire population to end the problems?"

Well, judging by Dick Cheney's pronouncement that we can still "win" in Iraq, I don't think it is a matter of asking "when"... The way you wrote this implies an analytic difference between "[eliminating] the entire population" and what is presently going on in Iraq. I would argue that your proposition is one of semantics. Our brethren political shills decided long ago that the best way to exploit people is to shuck and jive them with feel good platitudes, while running a "business" that manages to destabilize the "enemy" (usually poor defenseless people) in order to have the leviathon's whores have better access to the energy 'teet, or lacking that at the very least markets to exploit.

The "figures" coming out of Iraq are catastrophic... Close to a million people killed, on top of millions upon millions maimed or emotionally scared--albeit, an understatement. Then, after citing this (which seems enough for any heart to bear) we must also recognize that our occupation of Iraq, and the chaos it has wrought, has caused the vast majority of "professional" Iraqis to flee the country. So, we have a population that has been bombed into "submission", a population that overwhelmingly lacks basic services like electricity, plumbing, fresh/clean water, and need I enumerate "security" for the gazillionith time? Lets not forget that they are also denied essentially human rights, and are victims of torture.

The march of freedom!

However, I agree, these are fascinating times (from a highly sadistic, unhealthy perspective) we human apes are experiencing right now...

Terry Karl seems to claim that Sudan is essentially a proxy oil war (she claims as much in Oil Crash). I think she's probably right.

It's already happening - see Iraq.

James Gervais
Hope was the last ill to escape Pandora's box.


Has anyone done a thesis on how much of the oil wealth it would take to buy off the local populations of these locations?

Even something as simple as giving away natural gas cook stoves with free refills on cylinders would create a local population that needs and wants the local oil company.

There must be some level of wealth transfer that results in peaceful co-existence, or even Americans would be kidnapping oil company employees for ransom because it pays more than not kidnapping them. At some point the marginal return on a crime has to balance against damaging a shared asset. (possibly balance because the other people are arresting the kidnappers instead of hiding them, but it is still the same).

I think that there is certainly the potential to distribute a "fair" share of this oil wealth to the populace, buying their genuine support, while maintaining exceptional profits. Today's oil production from the waters of Cabinda grosses roughly $13 billion per year. This deepwater oil is not cheap to produce, but let's say (WAG) that oil companies and the Angolan government collectively reserved $1 billion per year for the people of Cabina. Evenly distributed, this is about $3,300 per man/woman/child--an extraordinary sum for Sub-Saharan Africa. This $1 Billion is roughly the sum that Angola claims they reserve for Cabinda, but no one even pretends that this actually reaches the common people, let alone ever leaves Luanda. Just my opinion, but given what I consider the very high potential for trouble, it seems that it would be a prudent long-term investment (for both western companies and the Angolan federal government) to reinvest around that $1 Billion mark.

There is also the issue of how that money is used. Just cutting each person a check for $3,300 isn't very effective because it drives inflation. The best-practice for an oil revenue fund is certainly Norway, but to follow their lead requires exactly the kind of transparent, stable government and civil society that is lacking in Angola.

Why "[buy] their genuine support" when you can just take what you want?

And I'm not saying this from an American point of view--I'm saying this from a corrupt African politician/guerilla point of view.

I hate to be so pessimistic, but honestly--Africa has been a maelstrom of violence and corruption on the first half of the upward-bound slope (not without the long sustained "assistance" of centuries of violent european domination)... it is hard to imagine what things will look like in Africa on the other side of Hubbert's peak, but certainly they will not look as good as things are today, which, relatively speaking, is not very uplifting--but what is? Jesus! Jesus! Hallelujah!

My opinion is that no one is going to even think about "buying people off"--it is easier to be corrupt and siphon it off while *paying* political lip service. Aside from how seemingly easy it is to exploit people (especially when they are uneducated, but ironically this also holds true for highly educated people as well, *oh the despair!*), it could also start a "bad" trend of actually instilling in people the idea that perhaps what's in their country belongs to them... I know, I know an absurd idea in this era of soon to be ending globalization...

MR F--
Angolans are a very savvy bunch when it comes to fighting. They held up and defeated a well financed CIA operation for decades, with the best mercenaries money could buy.
I would not discount a Angolan resistance that would cause even a violent and ruthless oil elite nightmares.
Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea Bissau were the last colonies in Africa (Portuguese), and the fighting experience is fresh.

Sadly I think virtually no humans are ever satiated. Give them stoves and soon they want new houses. Give them houses and they want cars. etc.

The scary thing is that even if you kill them all someone will come along to kill you for whatever wealth is left.

Hello JeffVail,

Thxs for the keypost! My theory on how to minimize violence on natural mineral & FF resources:

1. Full Peakoil Outreach so the people understand the Thermo/Gene Collision. Basically, convert overly reproductive detritovores into very limited reproduction of biosolars [See Malthus, Asimov essays].

2. Oil revenue [detritus] is only sent back as biosolar goods. Bicycles, wheelbarrows, spiderwebriding railbikes, solar hotwater systems, PVs, windturbines, etc, etc. Thus, the relocalized permaculture lifestyle needs miniscule amounts of FFs for maintenance and repair. If an African gets his electricity for free from PVs-- they are disincentivized to attack detritus infrastructure; he/she does not need the FFs.

3. If #1,2 followed: Earthmarines naturally arise to protect sustainable living and conserve habitat at all costs; no moral qualms at killing someone who is acting in an unsustainable manner by having more than one child, or polluting, or looting, or by acting violent. This insures the gradual enlargement into a large, contiguous biosolar habitat by the sequential inclusion of smaller, but ever growing larger biohabitats.

4. If #3 followed: Ideal goal is to reach the point where a whole watershed or larger region [continent?] can be sustainably managed by Asimov's Foundation supercomputer concepts of predictive collapse and directed decline because the FFs and other minerals will eventually deplete. The derived logistics driven by full data processing of accumulated detritus-biosolar feedbacks and blowbacks to optimize Dieoff bottleneck squeeze.

5. First World Blackwater Mercs for outward protection, Earthmarines for inward protection. Mercs insure that no invasion occurs to thwart or decimate biosolar transition: this allows Earthmarines to concentrate on maximal biosolar transition thus promoting maximal ecohabitat optimality of extant bioforms; drastic reduction in extinction rates, etc.

6. If #5 followed: African catabolic collapse averted by this Foundation time-compression program; continental biosolar optimality achieved by ideal matching of human #'s to other species #'s. In short: maximum civilizational knowledge retention plus new biosolar knowledge inclusion with more than enough natural resources to prevent future violence. The much lower human pop. #'s and sustainable birthrate insures that there will be no fighting because there will be plenty of carrots, bananas, etc to go around.

Likelihood of this happening-- probably zip-- but one can always hope.

Bob Shaw in Phx,Az Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

Bob, you really need to write this all into a book.

Hello Greenman,

I prefer the world gets it free, then improves upon these concepts even further. As some other person said: "It will take all of us working all the time, but isn't that the point."

Bob Shaw in Phx,Az Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?


I certainly agree with you in the big picture: 1) I firmly believe that a positive, cooperative "solution" to the societal problems that Peak Oil will bring is theoretically possible, and 2) I think that the probability of such a cooperative solution happening on anything above the local level quickly reaches zero...

I think there is no fundamental difference between Africa and any other region possessing resources, oil in particular, "needed" by the empire. The empire can't win, no matter how much devastation it rains on these countries. We here and in Europe are held in subjection because we fear death and even more losing our portfolios. Both those fears are evaporating in major parts of the third world. If "we" are already having this amount of trouble in just Iraq and Afghanistan (the troubles are just beginning in Somalia), imagine what trouble there will be with yet Iran, not to mention Russia and China.

At some point the whole thing will come crashing down. One hopes for the least amount of destruction all around. I personally hope to see more Chavezes emerge, in Africa too. I think Hezbollah has gotten a bum rap -- it has Christian members too. When I say Chavez, I don't have some fixed image in mind. Its important to have hope. That's what these guys at the helm would deny us, the right to even think of any alternative to this madness.

We here and in Europe are held in subjection because we fear death and even more losing our portfolios."

--It's true. This is why the outcome of the wars for liberation in Algeria & Vietnam were inevitable. Two books highly recommended:

The parallels between these conflicts were really uncanny. The sacrifices of the people and the persistence of the leaders was astonishing unless one realizes that they had no future outside of their movement.


I too hope for the least amount of destruction all around. Although they haven't asked for it, my advice for the people of Cabinda: as you are few in number, maintain your traditional culture and ignore the offshore work. In probably 50 years or less the oil will be gone, and any "modern" infrastructure it paid for would be unsustainable. Don't run your population up. Don't fight over this flash in the pan.

In the immortal words of Clint Eastwood, "Dyin' ain't much of a living".

Errol in Miami

The Angolan civil war dis not begin in 1975 nor did it conclude in 2002. Washington has been financing conflict in Angola at least since the early '60's and conflict promotion continues to this day. Imagine 45 years of civil war. Imagine 45 years of continuous manipulation by a braindead foreign power. Now blame Angolans for their problems. They are, after all, just nappyheaded jigABOOS.

There is really no discrete beginning or end to this conflict--certainly not in the '60s, either. Cabinda is part of Angola in today's calculus for the very reason that this conflict was already well under way in the 19th Century when Cabinda asked the Portugese for protection from the Belgians. Is there really much difference from the proxy war between the Cubans vs. CIA/Executive Outcomes, or between FLEC backed by Brazzaville and Luanda backed by Chevron et al.? The manipulation by foreign powers is a constant state of affairs--I wouldn't say that the actors are in any way "braindead," just that I disagree with their value judgments.

Are the Angolans to blame? No more, or less, than the metaphorical "soccer moms" are to blame for the actions of foreign interveners. We can rail against power politics all day long, but it is the fabric of reality in international relations. Does it matter if it is "right" or "wrong" for the people of Cabinda to share in the wealth of oil that happens to lay thousands of feet underwater in an area that falls within their "territory" because of the precedent from a case in international maritime law between Germany and the Netherlands--the very "colonial powers" who are now "exploiting" them? Or is it more relevant to ask whether the people of Cabinda have the power to influence the flow of these riches? We can argue all day over the former, but it is only the answer to the latter question that will inform the future: if the people of Cabinda have the will and the power to seize some degree of "ownership" over these riches, then that is of great significance. I think that they do, but we will need to watch the situation carefully to see how events unfold.

Yes it is about power.

In the presence of great powers it is difficult/unlikely to locate any truly independent actors. Instead there are power relationships.

Independent action gets you dead.

So far as I know Washington had little presence in Angola before the '60's, certainly History always shapes the present.

While maintaining status as the big dog, USA pays very little attention to Angola, sets chaos in motion, allows institutional forces to play out.

One of the more comical stories I ran into while researching this was how the main Chevron facility in Cabinda, at Malongo, was fastidiously guarded by Cubans against CIA-backed paramilitaries (back in the '70s and '80s). How things have changed.

I wonder if you've read the older work by John Stockwell, onetime CIA station chief in Angola. Lots of bitter irony there.

Just some quick thoughts on this Jeff, I’m not retracting yuor views but this is pretty much the opposite of the news I’ve been having from Cabinda.

Armed resistance towards independence existed nearly since 1974, but kept off beat in face of the civil war. During the 1990s intermission on the civil war the fight in Cabinda come into the spotlight with some European journalists going there. It was already clear by then that FLEC-Fac didn’t have serious military power.

After Savimbi was killed and the civil war ended for good, Cabinda came again to the news pages. More than ever the military debility of FLEC-Fac was evident, and they turned to press driven operations, namely kidnappings. The problem was that they started targeting Portuguese workers, eventually shredding the support they had in Europe. At the same time the number of Angolan troops was mounting in the territory.

This takes us to August 1st 2006 when a peace memorandum was signed between the Angolan government and FCD – Forum Cabindês para o Diálogo (Cabindese Forum for Dialogue). FCD congregates FLEC-Fac and FLEC-Renovada. From then on the active rebel troops where brought back to quarters. Last January part of these troops where integrated in the Angolan Army and the rest enrolled on civil integration programs.

During this month FCD, FLEC and other organizations under FCD will cease to exist given place to a Politic Party, in a way close to what transformed Savimbi’s UNITA in a Political Party. I speculate that elections must have been a key negotiation factor of the peace memorandum. With elections taking place, the successor of FCD will probably take the political places of the region.


These are some good points. My only sources on an active insurgency in Cabinda (all linked above) come from John Ghazvinian (author of "Untapped," who visited after the recent cease fire with FLEC), from, and from the communiques on the websites of various pro-independence websites for Cabinda.

Those sources seem to conform with most of what you are saying: a peace was signed with at least part of the FLEC, but they suggest that factions within FLEC and other pro-independence groups reject that peace, and they report some ongoing violence from rebel troops of these rejectionist factions--those factions that did sign are the ones who will constitute the "political partiy" attempt.

While I think the military inability of FELC to directly confront the Angolan government is problematic, it actually suggests that remaining factions will turn to more asymetric targeting--such as targeting infrastructure.

Finally, I think that regardless of what the ideologically-motivated and independence-motivated groups do, their "cease fire" does little but demonstrate the inability of political and peaceful means to effectively bring change (and more oil revenue) to the people of Cabinda. I see this as (loosely) analogous to what happens with MEND in Nigeria--some factions of MEND are bought off, their ex-"leaders" now live in fancy government palaces or townhouses in Cheslea or Kensignton, and the people who once supported them are abandoned. Until the underlying reality of the poverty of the people of Cabinda is addressed, the incentive to use violence against the Government and against Western Oil will remain (and will grow as effective tactics are pioneered elsewhere, and as oil prices rise). Much of what takes place under the umbrella of "MEND" in Nigeria is little more than disaffected locals with a plan, and likewise cannot be stopped by a settlement with the MEND leadership, UNLESS that settlement actually addresses the grievances that underwrite the popular actions in the first place.

Angola has understandable motivation to make things in their recently-at-peace state seem peaceful, and, according to the sources I visited, there is a great deal of misinformation coming from Luanda. I don't have any direct information to support this assertion. I'd really like to avoid afro-pessimism, and I'd love the situation in Cabinda to work out the best for the locals--but unfortunately I'm not very optimistic there. The world has a nasty tendency to not conform to my personal wishes! Maybe we'll know better if more information comes to light about the recent N'Kossa oil platform fire, but unfortunately I'm betting against that, too.

As one who will be back in Luanda next week, one of the obsevations of the place is the shear mass of people drawn to the capital, and their youthfullness. I was told by Oxfam workers the average number of children born to each woman is between 5 and 6. The mean age of the population is not far over 20, if at all. This is not a population that will stop growing easily.

It is also an interesting point that not many years ago much of the Angolan offshore industry was serviced by supply lines out of Congolese ports, as these were a more stable route, despite the longer supply lines.

Pay the man and damn his impudence