The small province is responsible for 60 percent of oil production in the country but locals say they do not benefit from its revenues.
Sandwiched in between the Republic of Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the exclave province of Cabinda illustrates the sharp contrasts of Angola.
The country’s smallest province with just 400,000 residents, it produces 60 percent of Angola’s oil.
The oil from this tiny province has been crucial for the Angolan economy and the industry accounts for 95 percent of exports in Africa’s second-largest oil producing country.
However, despite its considerable contribution to the national economy, the people of Cabinda believe they have not seen any windfall from the commodity.
“The people of Cabinda have never benefitted from its oil”, said lawyer Arao Bula Tempo, who campaigns for an independent Cabinda.
“The unemployment rate is 88 percent and the infrastructure that exists dates back to colonial times,” said Tempo. “Angola is doing nothing here.”
Even though it is entirely cut off physically and culturally from the rest of the country, Cabinda is considered an integral part of Angola.
But it 1885, Cabinda became an autonomous kingdom under the Portuguese protectorate and was completely separate from Angola, which was known as Portuguese West Africa.
Portugal gradually blended Cabinda and Angola into a single colony. When the end of the Salazar dictatorship in Portugal meant the country’s withdrawal from African colonies, Cabinda was declared part of a newly independent Angola in 1975.
New is a continuation of old in Angola
Since he came to power in 2017, Angolan President Joao Lourenco has promoted himself as a transparent, moderate leader, keen to draw a line under the 38-year rule of Jose Eduardo dos Santos.
But in Cabinda, the security forces still remain and the Cabindans accuse Lourenco of launching a crackdown.
“What the Angolan state is doing to us is persecution. The authorities treat us as terrorists,” said Jeovanny Ventura, a longtime Cabinda independence activist.
“And it has not improved under Joao Lourenco; everything we organise always ends up with supporters being taken into detention.”
Last January, security forces targeted supporters of the Independence Movement of Cabinda (MIC), a small secessionist group.
Around 70 people were arrested as they prepared for a demonstration to mark the 134th anniversary of the treaty that made Cabinda a Portuguese territory in 1885.
Human rights groups have denounced cases of torture and arbitrary detention in the region.
“Unlike other parts of Angola where we have seen progress in the right to protest and in freedom of expression, the situation in Cabinda remains tense,” Zenaida Machado, Angola Specialist at Human Rights Watch said.
“Arbitrary arrests happen on a monthly basis,” she added.
Many locals are suffering from a lack of electricity, drinking water or sewage systems.
In a rare cabinet meeting last November in Cabinda, Lourenco told locals: “I will personally follow up on all the Cabinda projects in order to improve the situation.”
But for residents, such promises mean little. “The government regularly promises new infrastructure but these are just lies,” said Carlos Vemba, General Secretary of MIC.
“So our fight continues. We will do everything we can to raise awareness and fight for our independence.”
For Vemba and his fellow activists, the fight comes at a high cost -- two weeks in jail for him, up to three months for others, until they are released without charge.
Vowing for more death
To break the economic and political isolation, the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC), a separatist insurgency, has been fighting against the Angolan government since 1975.
Since 2000, FLEC has kidnapped a handful of foreign oil workers, but the group hit international headlines in 2010 when gunmen shot up a bus carrying the Togo soccer team to an Africa Cup of Nations match, killing the side’s assistant coach, spokesman and driver.
FLEC said the attack was aimed at the military convoy escorting the coach, not the Togolese.
There has been nothing similar since but the authorities remain on alert, with soldiers stationed at government-backed construction sites along the coast and around the barbed-wire fenced compound where foreign oil workers live.
“Our will to defend Cabinda against Angolan colonisation remains intact,” insisted FLEC spokesman Jean-Claude Nitza.
“We are open to dialogue, but the Luanda government does not want to negotiate a solution.”
The insurgent group has recently asked for a mediation process led by Felix Tshisekedi, the new President of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The suggestion, like others in the past, has not received any response from Luanda yet, but the militants say they are still pushing for a breakthrough.
“I ask Lourenco to be flexible,” said Tempo. “If nothing is done, more Cabindans will die, and so Angolan soldiers.”
A government was founded by dissidents in exile in the Congo and Paris, but no nation on earth has recognised the existence of the Republic of Cabinda yet.