ANGOLA marked its 40th birthday this month and while the south African country blew off the candles, there’s one situation it would be happy the world didn’t pay much attention to.
The “Republic” of Cabinda has even set up its own de facto government, but Angola has no doubt about who the area falls under, having steadfastly held that it is sovereign territory administered from Luanda.
The geography, and history, however stokes the debate: not only is the area completely separated from Angola by a narrow strip of territory belonging to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but it was also only a protectorate of the Portuguese (called Portuguese Congo) and was only formally integrated into Portuguese Angola in the 1950s. In 1963, the Organisation for African Unity - now the African Union - recognised the distinction between Angola and Cabinda by ranking Cabinda as the 39th state. Internationally though, the area is recognised as part of Angola.
Following independence from the Portuguese, the self-determination movements in Cabinda carried on in the activities of FLEC (Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda), this time against their African colonisers. The Cabinda people have not given up, even though the region has now become the country’s most militarised area as a way of control. FLEC continues to carry out a low-level insurgency in the area, with sporadic attacks on army patrols and oil workers - one high profile attack included a bus carrying the Togolese football team in 2010.
So why won’t Angola let go? Though Cabinda represents just a tiny part of Angola’s overall territory - it’s about the same size as The Gambia - it holds vital economic importance to the country producing most of Angola’s oil wealth - up to 70%—and therefore the revenue on which the government survives.
Cabinda is not alone. Across Africa there are areas which have famously called for secession such as Western Sahara, Somaliland and Puntland - functioning with their own governments and in some cases getting increased international recognition, but there are still others which fly low below the radar…where their “African masters” like to keep them:
The people and royal household of Barotseland, in western Zambia, have been agitating for the region’s independence. They accuse the Zambian government of ignoring a 1964 treaty which established Barotseland’s position within Zambia as an autonomous region, in place of the earlier agreement between Barotseland and the British Government.
Barotseland, the kingdom of the Lozi people ruled by the Litunga (king or paramount chief), was a protectorate under British colonial rule and became part of Zambia at the country’s independence in 1964. In 2012, a group of traditional Lozi leaders, calling itself the Barotseland National Council, declared that Barotseland was now free to pursue its own peaceful “self-determination and destiny.”
Zambia was quick to quash these declarations and in December 2014 the administrator general of the Barotseland transitional government, Afumba Mombotwa, and three other secessionists were arrested for treason. If they are found guilty they will be hanged. Their trial, which began in August 2015 is still underway though petitions have been handed to the UN demanding the release of the political prisoners.
So why won’t Zambia let go of the Kingdom? Barotseland is in the upper Zambezi valley which means it has very fertile land. The floodplain is also something of a tourist attraction but the main reason could be because the region has oil potential, in addition to other minerals. In 2011 the government awarded the first petroleum exploration licence to a Zambian company, Barotse Petroleum Company, to explore oil and gas in the province.
Free Republic of Rehoboth
Chances are that you’ve not heard of this one.
The Rehoboth Basters, descendants of Cape Colony Dutch settlers and African women, number about 35,000-55,000 people and live in an area of 14.216 sq.km south of Windhoek, the capital of Namibia. They claim they settled in the late 1860s and developed their own legislation, years before the Germans installed their colonial rule over Namibia in 1885, giving them a right to independence.
With Namibia’s independence in 1990 they lost their status, which they have been demanding back. The United People`s Movement (UPM) was established in 2009 to unite the Baster People and provide them with a political voice, pushing for autonomy of their political affairs.
However, in the case of the Basters, it’s not that the government doesn’t want to let the area go - they are simply not seen as being of consequence because of their small numbers. Their traditional authority is not being recognised anymore and the Namibian government has registered Rehoboth as commercial land.
Under the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), founded in 1990, the people of Ogoni are attempting to disengage from Nigeria having declared independence in 2012. They also presented a Bill of Rights to the Government of Nigeria calling for political control of Ogoni affairs by Ogoni people. It states that the Ogoni people seek, “political autonomy to participate in the affairs of the Republic as a distinct and separate unit (by whatever name called), provided that this autonomy guarantees political control of Ogoni affairs by Ogoni people”.
MOSOP claims that the Ogoni people’s independence was first violated by British colonialism and then “handed over to some other Nigerian ethnic groups in October 1960.” The problem is in 1957 Shell Oil Company struck oil in Ogoniland, which set in motion a process transformed both Ogoni society and Nigeria as a whole. Today, oil accounts for over 90% of Nigeria’s export earnings and some 80% of government revenue, controlling the entire Nigerian economy.
The independence movement is driven by the community feeling inadequately compensated for the take-over of their land by the oil companies and the environmental damages they suffered.
Nigeria has also seen activism around Biafra, for which hundreds of people marched this week, as marginalisation grievances swirl over an area that caused a major civil war in the 1960s.
In Ethiopia the Oromo people - the country’s largest community with 30 million members, constituting 34.49% of Ethiopia’s population - lay claim to the country of the Oromo, called Biyya-Oromo or Oromia. Oromia is described as one of the free nations in the Horn of Africa until its colonisation and occupation by Abyssinia at the end of the nineteenth century. Their self-determination movement is being pushed by the Oromo Liberation Front, or OLF, an organisation established in 1973.
Their attempts for secession however are being fought by a central government that cannot afford to lose this bread basket, with human rights groups saying there have been excesses. Oromia is the region where coffee first originated, today it accounts for more than 65 % of the country’s total coffee growing land and coffee is the country’s largest export.
The Senegalese region has also since the 1980s waged low-level resistance over what it says is marginalisation. Successive peace deals have been signed, and the central government has pushed economic plans to stamp out the disquiet, which has been quiet for the last few years.