In Angola’s oil region, separatists accuse president of crackdown

Cars are seen in front of the head office of Angola's state oil company Sonangol in the capital Luanda, Angola. June 7, 2016. (Reuters)
Updated 18 May 2019

In Angola’s oil region, separatists accuse president of crackdown

CABINDA: 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 the northern oil-rich province of Cabinda, Lourenco is accused of turning the screws on separatists who say they have been targeted by a new wave of state repression.
Cabinda is a small, poor, coastal province that produces 60 percent of Angola’s oil — despite being entirely cut off from the rest of the country, sharing its borders instead with the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In January, the security forces targeted supporters of the Independence Movement of Cabinda (MIC), a small secessionist group.
About 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.
“What the Angolan state is doing to us is persecution. The authorities treat us as terrorists,” Jeovanny Ventura, a longtime Cabinda independence activist, told AFP.
“And it has not improved under Joao Lourenco — everything we organize always ends up with supporters being taken into detention.”
With a population of 400,000, Cabinda has experienced a low-level separatist insurgency since it officially became part of Angola at independence in 1975.
The struggle has been led by FLEC (the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda) and fueled by anger over the government taking huge profits from the province’s oil reserves that make Angola one of Africa’s top two producers.
“The people of Cabinda have never benefited from its oil,” said lawyer Arao Bula Tempo, who campaigns for independence.
“The unemployment rate is 88 percent and the infrastructure that exists dates back to colonial times — Angola is doing nothing here.”
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have denounced cases of torture and arbitrary detention in Cabinda.
“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 HRW, told AFP.
“Arbitrary arrests happen on a monthly basis.”
Driving from Cabinda city airport, the pot-holed road reveals the province’s dire plight.
The city’s roads flood every time it rains, and many neighborhoods have no electricity, drinking water or sewage systems.
Last November, Lourenco held a rare cabinet meeting in Cabinda. “I will personally follow up on all the Cabinda projects in order to improve the situation,” he told the gathering.
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.
The government’s tactics include harassment and manhunts, all carried out by the thousands of police and soldiers deployed in Cabinda, say independence campaigners.
“It is catastrophic because the Angolan government does not want to talk to us,” said Alexandre Kwang N’sito of the Association for the Development of Human Rights Culture (ADCDH), a Cabinda civil rights group.
Provincial governor Eugenio Laborinho disagrees.
“I speak with all opposition parties,” he said. “I do not talk to them every day but every time they ask for an audience, I receive them.
“The situation is calm and under control. There was a bit of social unrest around unemployment but no more. Everyone says ‘FLEC, FLEC, FLEC,’ but I’ve never seen it.”
FLEC regularly claims to have killed Angolan soldiers in guerilla ambushes, but military and civilian authorities in Luanda never comment and independent verification is often impossible.
As the conflict grinds on, FLEC’s bold statements claiming victory have become rarer.
“Our will to defend Cabinda against Angolan colonization remains intact,” insists FLEC spokesman Jean-Claude Nitza.
“We are open to dialogue, but the Luanda government does not want to negotiate a solution.”
FLEC has recently asked for a mediation process led by Felix Tshisekedi, the new president of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
That suggestion — like others in the past — has received no response from Luanda, but the separatists say they are still pushing for a breakthrough.
“I ask Lourenco to be flexible,” said Arao Bula Tempo, the lawyer. “
If nothing is done, more Cabindans will die, and so will Angolan soldiers.”


Go to Israel, see ‘cruel reality of the occupation’: Omar

US Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) hold a news conference on August 19, 2019 in St. Paul, Minnesota. (AFP)
Updated 20 August 2019

Go to Israel, see ‘cruel reality of the occupation’: Omar

  • The Republican president subjected them to a series of racist tweets last month in which he called on them to “go back” to their “broken” countries

ST. PAUL, Minnesota: Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib sharply criticized Israel on Monday for denying them entry to the Jewish state and called on fellow members of Congress to visit while they cannot.
Omar, of Minnesota, suggested President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were suppressing the lawmakers’ ability to carry out their oversight role.
“I would encourage my colleagues to visit, meet with the people we were going to meet with, see the things we were going to see, hear the stories we were going to hear,” Omar said at a news conference. “We cannot let Trump and Netanyahu succeed in hiding the cruel reality of the occupation from us.”
At Trump’s urging, Israel denied entry to the first two Muslim women elected to Congress over their support for a Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions global movement. Tlaib and Omar, who had planned to visit Jerusalem and the Israeli-occupied West Bank on a tour organized by a Palestinian group, are outspoken critics of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.
Tlaib, a US-born Palestinian-American from Michigan, had also planned to visit her aging grandmother in the West Bank. Israeli officials later relented and said she could visit her grandmother after all.
But Tlaib got emotional as she told how her “Sitty” — an Arabic term of endearment for one’s grandmother that’s spelled different ways in English — urged her during a tearful late-night family phone call not to come under what they considered such humiliating circumstances.
“She said I’m her dream manifested. I’m her free bird,” Tlaib recalled. “So why would I come back and be caged and bow down when my election rose her head up high, gave her dignity for the first time?“
Tlaib and Omar were joined Monday by Minnesota residents who said they had been directly affected by travel restrictions in the past. They included Lana Barkawi, a Palestinian-American, who lamented that she has never been able to visit her parents’ homeland.
Barkawi said she had a chance to visit her father’s village in the West Bank near Nablus during a family visit to Jordan about 25 years ago, but her parents decided not to risk crossing the border.
“My father could not put himself to be in a position where an Israeli soldier is the person with control over his entry into his homeland,” Barkawi said. “This is an enduring trauma that he and my mother live.”
Before Israel’s decision, Trump tweeted it would be a “show of weakness” to allow the two representatives in. Israel controls entry and exit to the West Bank, which it seized in the 1967 Mideast war along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, territories the Palestinians want for a future state.
White House spokesman Hogan Gidley kept up the administration’s criticism of the two lawmakers.
“Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar have a well-documented history of anti-Semitic comments, anti-Semitic social media posts and anti-Semitic relationships,” he said in a statement. “Israel has the right to prevent people who want to destroy it from entering the country — and Democrats’ pointless Congressional inquiries here in America cannot change the laws Israel has passed to protect itself.”
Supporters say the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is a nonviolent way of protesting Israel’s military rule over Palestinians, but Israel says it aims to delegitimize the state and eventually wipe it off the map.
The two congresswomen are part of the “squad” of four liberal House newcomers — all women of color — whom Trump has labeled as the face of the Democratic Party as he runs for reelection. The Republican president subjected them to a series of racist tweets last month in which he called on them to “go back” to their “broken” countries. They are US citizens — Tlaib was born in the US and Omar became a citizen after moving to the US as a refugee from war-torn Somalia.
“There is no way that we are ever, ever going to allow people to tear us down, to see us cry out of pain, to ever make us feel like our (citizenship) certificate is less than theirs,” Omar said. “So we are going to hold our head up high. And we are going to fight this administration and the oppressive Netanyahu administration until we take our last breath.”