July 5, 2007

HARRISONBURG—In his weekly “Strategic Interests” column for the World Defense Review, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, looks at the generally little-known conflict in Cabinda, an enclave incorporated into Angola in 1975.

Angola is the second most important African source for United States oil imports, behind first-place Nigeria. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, Angola shipped 68,527,000 barrels of oil to America during the first four months of this year, making it the country’s sixth largest supplier, accounting for a little less than 5 percent of petroleum imports. More than half of Angola’s oil is produced in and nearly all of its foreign exchange derives from Cabinda, a 7,283 square kilometer enclave surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the Republic of Congo ( Brazzaville), and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Dr. Pham’s column focuses on the protracted conflict that has been going on in Cabinda since the Angolan takeover of the territory. While acknowledging that “ what the future holds for Angola and Cabinda cannot, of course, be charted with precision ” and that “conflicts in that subregion have very long lives, during which their lines meander with extraordinary complexity,” the essay notes:

First, in addition the somewhat abstract identity question, there is the very concrete economic one … income from the enclave’s oil production brings more than $4 billion a year in taxes and royalties to the government in Luanda, which can hardly do without it. Yet, if the Cabindans had this sum for themselves, their nominal GDP per capita would put them on par with the Czechs while the purchasing power parity GDP per capita would peg them just behind the Taiwanese.

 Second, while the conflict in Cabinda has, on the surface, nothing to do with the West’s war against Islamist terrorism, at another level it has everything to do with that monumental struggle…There is very little preventing [the Frente para a Libertação do Enclave de Cabinda (“Front for the Liberation of the Cabinda Enclave,” FLEC)] from adopting the large-scale kidnappings so successfully used by Nigeria’s Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) or, for that matter, precluding an outside terrorist group with a different agenda to operationally assist FLEC just to disrupt the flow of petroleum from Cabinda.

Dr. Pham concludes: “The same potential risk that has haunted the Niger Delta today also exists in Cabinda, especially when one considers the threat from within the enclave and without, the vulnerability of Angola’s oil infrastructure, and the cost that attacks would exact on those countries like the United States which depend on oil extracted there. It is yet another reminder that in today’s global economy, especially in the midst of the war on terrorism, we can ill afford to ignore any ‘forgotten conflicts.

To read the full text of Dr. Pham’s article, “ Cabinda: The ‘Forgotten Conflict’ America Can’t Afford to Forget,” click here.