Instituto Amaro da Costa – IDL
Conference: Listening to Cabinda
CABINDA: A CIVIL SOCIETY TESTIMONY
Father Raúl Tati
Vicar General of the Diocese of Cabinda
On 10 December 2002, the anniversary of the proclamation of the UN Charter of Human Rights, a group of independent citizens who were concerned with the shocking situation in Cabinda - particularly since the government forces launched their latest military offensive - presented to the public the cases of serious human rights violations which had been discovered during the course of thorough investigations within the territory.
However, in spite of the international impact of this report, its signatories realise that it revealed only a small fraction of the problem. They are aware that it is not enough simply to expose abuses; what is needed now is to take action that will help bring to justice those who bear moral and material responsibility for these deeds. To this end, it will be necessary to engage with international human rights organisations, independent individuals, etc. We are therefore here not to weep over the tragedy of Cabinda, but to bring the world’s attention to the atrocities, which the ruling MPLA regime is committing systematically in Cabinda, where a climate of fear and terror prevails.
1. Understanding the Cabinda conflict
If we are to find a fair and coherent solution to the Cabinda conflict - commonly known as the “Cabinda case” - we need to know and understand its precise nature and history.
To this end, there are fortunately various documents and works of judicial and historical theory, which may offer help in getting to know and understand this problem. Yet in all the works and documents that I have read, I have never come across one very important fact that might help us objectively to understand everything that is going on in Cabinda.
Therefore, without any further delay let me state my profound conviction: that the Cabinda conflict arises above all from the denial of autonomy to the Cabindan people. And when we talk of human rights violations in Cabinda, we need to understand that these stem primarily from their right to live as a free and politically emancipated people. The systematic violations that we see in the enclave are just the tip of the iceberg. The denial of an independent status separate from Angola must be seen as the first major violation, which the MPLA regime has imposed, with impunity upon Cabinda ever since 1975, when, with the active complicity of Portugal, it invaded and occupied Cabinda.
Unable to win over the Cabindans by force of argument, the communist MPLA regime imposed a forced integration by military means and through the use of political violence.
In this light, I cannot understand why the regime and various Angolan political parties who are denying Cabindans the right to self-determination nevertheless propose autonomy for the region.
If they summarily deny all the historical, legal and geographical arguments put forward by the Cabindans to support their pro-independence position, where are they going to find the justification for a pro-autonomy position? In other words, why should Cabinda have a special political and administrative status to set it aside from the other Angolan provinces? That leaves us in a contradictory position both in terms of identity and in terms of constitutional law. This is therefore a matter that needs to be discussed in greater depth by its proponents and by Cabindans themselves, for them to avoid falling into a trap from which they would then be unable to extricate themselves.
From here one may deduce that to speak of the Cabinda conflict is to speak firstly of the political and military aggression against the Cabindan people, and secondly of the will of Cabindans to exist as a mature and free people, which drives them to put up political, military, and cultural resistance throughout the years of forced Angolanisation.
FLEC (Liberation Front of the Cabinda Enclave) is simply a symbol of this resistance. FLEC may be important historically, but the Cabindan people’s desire for independence has an existence quite separate from that of FLEC.
The MPLA wrongly believes that it can resolve the problem by putting down the insurrection.
President José Eduardo dos Santos himself, last year, declared that Cabinda had not received much attention in previous years, but with the end of the war in Angola, the government was committed to improving Cabindans’ living conditions. According to him such conditions are the basis of their complaints. I regard this is a “severe error of political judgement”, since when a people’s stomachs are full the thirst for freedom only becomes more intense.
The people indeed want bread, but they want bread with dignity. Black South Africans, during the time of apartheid, enjoyed an acceptable standard of living, better than that of other African countries, but they never renounced their desire for liberty nor the struggle against racial discrimination. The many social problems faced by Cabinda’s people may be resolved, but the cries for freedom will always be there beneath the surface, and might explode at any time. A people with a conscience can never agree to trade dignity for a plate of lentils. What I mean is that the conflict cannot be treated symptomatically. It will take courage to find deeper and lasting solutions, and to this end, we need to deal with the underlying problem.
2. De-monopolising and de-politicising the Cabinda conflict
During the long years of political and military conflict, the Cabinda problem has become over-politicised, becoming the exclusive preserve of political elites, be they of the MPLA or of FLEC.
The Cabinda problem has become hostage to the bipolar politics of the MPLA and FLEC. Civil society and independent voices have been shut out or made subordinate to those of the main parties.
After 28 years of conflict, despite the official propaganda, a solution has not yet been found. The reason for this is very simple: as long as the Cabinda problem is held hostage to politics and to political monopolies, the impasse will continue even longer.
The Cabinda problem is not only a political or economic one, but above all a human problem, a moral problem which affects, directly or indirectly, the lives of thousands of people. It has to do with the collective imagination of a people, in which their legitimate hopes and aspirations reside.
As long as politicians engage themselves in a Machiavellian manner in the waging of war, blatantly showing off their victories in the theatre of war, the people suffer, cry out and die.
Dishonesty, lying, incoherence and self-love are the attributes that characterise those in power. They are slave to the illusion of eternal power, and care little for the misfortune of the people whom they claim to govern.
Amid this reality, it is my profound conviction that we cannot continue forever in the hope that our political liberators may appear. I do not really believe in liberators, since history has shown that these people usual turn into dictators.
Paulo Freire, in his “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, argues that true liberation springs from a consciousness-raising movement at the point where the oppressed themselves transform the desire for freedom into revolutionary practice.
Thus we hope that civil society, as the main victim of the conflict, will organise itself and become a source of pressure, forging peaceful and constructive civic initiatives aimed at clearing the air for broad and transparent dialogue.
3. The regime’s deceit
The latest developments in the enclave, especially the recent military offensive, have revealed the real intentions of the Dos Santos regime in relation to Cabinda and the Cabindans. At the moment, any attentive observer can easily come to the following conclusions:
1. President dos Santos has shown that he never had any intention of finding a peaceful solution to the Cabinda problem; his promises are just talk aimed at deceiving those who know no better.
2. He displays complete disdain and disrespect for the Cabindan people, whose reactions can be seen in the report on human rights in Cabinda, published in Luanda and in Cabinda last December; it is clear that this man has never been a friend of the Cabindan people.
3. He is prepared to take these atrocities as far as he sees necessary so as to safeguard petroleum interests in the region. One only has to look at how much attention the regime is paying to the Malongo petroleum compound in terms of security; the Secret Police have infiltrated the compound to keep a close eye on the activities of Cabindan employees.
4. He clearly displays a colonial attitude, showing no concern for the welfare of the local people, who have been abandoned to misery for the last 28 years, but always extremely attentive when it comes to the exploitation of the territory’s wealth.
5. The continuing acts of terror carried out in Cabinda constitute crimes against humanity, something not befitting a State that has taken its place as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.
Bearing in mind all we have said about the feelings of civil society in Cabinda, let us take the opportunity to bring to the attention of Portugal and the world this urgent appeal: Do everything, absolutely everything, to stop the slaughter in Cabinda, and to bestow dignity on its people.
I end by paraphrasing a Cape Verdean poet: We die and are resurrected every day, to the despair of those who prevent us from going further.
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