CONGO: Vice Governor of Cabinda Province, João Santos de Carvalho Mesquita
Authorities hope the push towards economic development will quell the push for independence
NAIROBI, 6 October 2003 (IRIN) - QUESTION: Does the recent visit of Ranque Franque, the original founder of FLEC (Front for the Liberation of the Cabinda Enclave) to Luanda, the capital of Angola, signal progress on peace talks between the government and the separatist group?
ANSWER: The central government in Luanda is responsible for any negotiations with FLEC and it would be better if they answered that question in Luanda. But, to my knowledge, there hasn't been any progress [on talks] since the last meeting in Paris in January. All I can say is that at the moment some of the main FLEC leaders are living comfortably among the Cabindan people. Q: Did the exploratory talks in Paris offer any solution to the ongoing political impasse between the two belligerent parties?
A: The government presented the FLEC leadership with a number of proposals, but all the ideas put forward by the government were dismissed by the group. Those proposals are still up for discussion, as the government has said that it is committed to ending this problem through dialogue. Q: Following the government's counterinsurgency campaign in October 2002, which reportedly decimated FLEC's military might, would it be a fair assessment to say that the group no longer poses a serious military threat in the province?
A: Yes, it would be safe to say that FLEC no longer poses the same kind of threat that it did about a year ago. But there are some pockets of resistance which, from time to time, stage attacks on the army - but these are becoming less frequent. Q: Local human rights groups have documented numerous cases of human rights abuses in the province as a direct consequence of the ongoing hostilities. Although FLEC has come under fire from the rights groups, the bulk of the blame is laid on FAA [Angolan army]. Have the authorities investigated these claims?
A: The provincial government is aware of these reports and the accusations made against the army, but I must point out that these are isolated incidents and not institutionalised behaviour. These kinds of abuses are carried out by individual soldiers. The problem is not only in Cabinda, but throughout the country. The armed forces need to be educated on the rights of the citizens. This will take some time. Q: In the meantime, has the government taken any steps to investigate these allegations raised by rights groups, some of which include summary executions, illegal detention and sexual assault? If so, has any action been taken?
A: The investigations are ongoing and some action has been taken, but it has proven to be ineffective. This is not good for the government's image, especially since the government takes these accusations seriously. The situation has been very difficult for everyone, and there are individuals on both sides who share responsibility for some of the acts of violence. Q: Civic leaders have dismissed a recent economic revival plan, claiming they were not consulted in the drawing up of the project. What is your view on this?
A: The plan is expected to deliver roads, schools and clinics which are adequately resourced, to Cabindans. In some cases, roads have been closed for 25 years and have only recently reopened. The plan is expected to run until 2005. Our main focus is the improvement of infrastructure, so that there is circulation of goods and services, which would improve the livelihood of the Cabindan people. These ideas come from many visits the governor [Anibal Rocha] made to villages throughout the province. Certainly, all the major political, business and civic players were invited to the launch of the programme. Q: Observers have said the government's shift to improve the living and economic conditions of Cabindans is a little too late, and say the move is designed to divert attention from the political aspirations of Cabindans.
A: There are always going to be those who criticise the government's intentions. But when we talk about Cabinda, we have to talk about politics. You cannot escape that. However, it is every government's responsbility to take care of its citizens - and this plan is intended to do just that. Q: It is estimated that oil exports from the province are worth some US $100,000 per annum, but Cabinda is the poorest province in the Angola. Have Cabindans been short-changed by the central government because of their calls for self-determination?
A: Yes, the poverty is a very troubling aspect of this situation - especially since the wealth is a lot more obvious than, say for example, in Huambo province [central Angola]. This could have been an extremely wealthy province, and it still has the potential to do very well. The poverty today is a direct result of this war that started in 1975. Since then the economy has been in ruins and people's lives have been destroyed. Q: But, there is an argument that state corruption is to partly to blame for the current situation.
A: Yes, the mismanagement of public funds by successive provincial governments here in Cabinda has contributed to worsening the situation. Some officials in the past have used their public office to enrich themselves tremendously - but this is set to change as the government moves forward to becoming more transparent. Q: The oil companies operating in Cabinda have remained largely detached from the ongoing tensions in the province, preferring to concentrate on doing business. But Cabindans have voiced their frustration to IRIN about the oil companies' perceived lack of commitment to developing the province. Is this a fair assessment?
A: There is an agreement between the national and provincial governments, which says that 10 percent of Cabinda's oil revenues should be given back to the province. However, if you look around there is very little to show that this has been the case. It is unfair to say that the oil companies have not contributed anything to the province. There are a number of schools and health posts constructed by Chevron. Q: But a recent visit by IRIN to a Chevron-sponsored health post revealed a building without water or electricity.
A: Yes, we are working on these shortcomings and hope to rectify this in the near future. Q: In recent months, civic groups have emerged at the forefront of calls for independence and made very public statements. Is independence an option?
A: In a democratic country everyone has the right to voice their opinions. And we have said we are committed to continue talking about a number of options - namely, some kind of autonomy. We also have to consider that granting independence to Cabinda may set a precedent for other provinces. If, for example, the people of Cuando Kubango decide one day that they want independence, should the government also agree to that? Q: But the Cabindans have argued that they are culturally distinct from other Angolans?
A: There have been several arguments over the years and the government is willing to talk about these in the future. Q: Would the government consider holding a referendum to allow Cabindans to decide for themselves?
A: No. That is not an option. We hope to improve the living conditions of Cabindans. After that, if they still want independence, we will have to revisit the issue.