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.”

Can Muslims swing UK vote?

Updated 58 min 17 sec ago

Can Muslims swing UK vote?

  • They may be a minority, but British Muslim voters could have a major impact at the ballot box, a new report suggests
  • The Muslim Council of Britain has identified 18 constituencies in which Muslim voters could have a high impact

LONDON: With Islamophobia on the rise in the UK, and uncertainty surrounding Brexit and its implications, British Muslims could have a significant impact on the result of the Dec. 9 general election simply by exercising their right to vote.

Despite the UK’s Muslim population standing at 5 percent, there are 31 marginal seats in which Muslim voters could have a “high” or “medium” impact, according to a list published by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB).

The council has identified 18 constituencies in which Muslim voters may have a high impact, and 13 in which they could have a medium impact.

Top of the list for high-impact areas are Kensington, Dudley North and Richmond Park.

High-impact seats are those where the current margin of victory is small and the proportion of Muslim voters is significant compared to the margin of victory.

In Kensington, Labour candidate Emma Dent Coad won her seat in 2017 by a margin of 20 votes.

The number of Muslims of voting age in this constituency, estimated at 5,431, is 272 times this margin.

A British Muslim woman leaves a polling station after voting in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, UK, in a previous election. (Shutterstock)

In Dudley North and Richmond Park, the Muslim electorate — which stands at 4 percent of voting-age constituents — was over 70 times the victory margin in both constituencies, which was 22 and 45 votes, respectively. Muslims are, therefore, in a position to make a difference in high-impact seats such as these.

The MCB is the UK’s largest and most diverse Muslim umbrella organization, with over 500 affiliated national, regional and local organizations, mosques, charities and schools.

It does not endorse any political party or prospective parliamentary candidate.

Ahead of the last general election, the MCB identified 16 high- and 23 medium-impact seats where it thought Muslims could make a difference.

“Where we highlighted that these seats had the potential for Muslims to have a huge impact if they voted a particular way, we did see that actually come to fruition,” the MCB’s Public Affairs Manager Zainab Gulamali said.

In the 16 constituencies where the MCB thought Muslims could have a high impact, every one of these seats went on to be held by the Labour Party.

Eleven of these were previously Labour seats, but it increased its majority, and five were previously Conservative seats.

Of the 23 medium-impact constituencies, 16 seats in which Labour was the incumbent saw an increase in its majority, with the exception of Bolton North East.

Of the seven previously Conservative seats, five were retained with a smaller majority, one seat was gained by the Liberal Democrats, and the Conservatives increased their majority in the final seat.

The MCB’s election policy platform report said Muslims “do not all affiliate with one particular political party. Muslims vote for different reasons like all voters.”

It added that the British government’s own analysis confirms that “minorities are not a bloc vote that automatically supports Labour irrespective of Labour’s performance.”

Gulamali said: “This election is going to be a really interesting one for Muslims and non-Muslims, and the fact that the UK is going through unprecedented change means that it’s important for everyone to get out and vote.”

She added: “The choices that people will make in this election will be really crucial. We know that Muslims choose to vote for whoever they vote for based on a number of concerns, especially as Islamophobia is so prevalent in particular political parties.

“We think that would be something that many Muslims consider when casting their vote.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently apologized for the “hurt and offence” caused by instances of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party.

He said that an inquiry into “every manner of prejudice and discrimination” in his party would begin by Christmas.

Former party Chairwoman Baroness Warsi — the first Muslim woman to be part of a British Cabinet, who has been calling for an inquiry into Islamophobia within the party — said the apology was “a good start.”

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson has apologized for the ‘hurt and offence’ caused by instances of Islamophobia within the Conservative Party.  (AFP)

Johnson’s apology came as Flora Scarabello, who was running as the Conservative candidate for Glasgow Central, was suspended by the party over “alleged use of anti-Muslim language.”

A party spokesman said: “There is no place in the Scottish Conservatives for anti-Muslim language, or any other form of racial or religious discrimination.”

Johnson has remained silent about his own comments on Muslim women. Writing in his Daily Telegraph column in August 2018, he said Muslim women wearing the niqab “look like letter boxes” or bank robbers.

The MCB report said there “has been a disturbing and dangerous rise in Islamophobic incidents and support of anti-Muslim sentiments within political parties,” and urged them to investigate “issues of Islamophobia within their parties.”

Gulamali said: “Before the general election, we surveyed over 500 of our affiliates and other British Muslims, and we found that tackling Islamophobia was a No. 1 priority the Muslims that we spoke to had for political parties.”

But “Muslims don’t just care about Islamophobia and Muslim issues. They also care about all the other issues that everyone else cares about,” she added.

These include Brexit. A recent MCB survey of its affiliates and wider Muslim communities found that 77 percent of participants back remaining in the EU. The same percentage of participants support a second referendum on Brexit.

“Muslims are overwhelmingly poorer than mainstream society — 46 percent of the Muslim population resides in the 10 percent most deprived local authority districts in England,” Gulamali said.

“We know that Brexit is likely to hit people in low socioeconomic groups more than people who are well off. So Muslims will be disadvantaged by Brexit in that way.”

Muslim voters also care about issues such as the privatization of the National Health Service, tackling knife crime, unemployment and the cost of living.

Boris Johnson's apology was described as ‘a good start’ by Baroness Warsi, right, the party’s former chairwoman. (AFP)

The MCB held its first national Muslim voter registration day on Nov. 22, when it encouraged political participation among Muslims, 300,000 of whom registered to vote that day.

The East London Mosque’s London’s Muslim Centre took part in the MCB’s voter registration drive.

Dilowar Khan, its director, said by taking part in the initiative, “we hope to have played our part in increasing awareness for our congregants of their democratic right to vote and cause change.”

He added: “Overall, we hope this increased political participation by the Muslim community will help steer our country toward a better society.”

Khan said: “It’s only through engagement that we can identify and voice key issues affecting Muslim communities.”

He added: “It’s important that everyone realizes their potential to cause change via political participation.

“Muslims make up a significant minority in the UK, and it’s of utmost importance that our concerns are validated and that our politicians address these issues,” Khan said.