Since the end of the war with UNITA, the war in Cabinda has increased in intensity, with the government conducting "mop-up operations". Angolan civil society organisations and opposition parties have traded accusations with the government concerning events in the enclave in recent years. In October 2002, the government sent an estimated 30,000 new troops, including recently incorporated ex-UNITA soldiers, into the province in an effort to repeat their military success against UNITA. Several reports have accused the government of gross human rights abuses, without, however, giving equal attention to the behaviour of the Cabindan factions. At the end of 2003, half a dozen high-level FLEC commanders handed themselves in to the Angolan authorities and were subsequently integrated into the national army, but even this serious blow has not brought the skirmishes to an end.
What is the short and medium term impact of the government's new strategy? Will it mean further radicalisation, completely dismissing the principle of negotiations, even if only for a special status for Cabinda? And what is the strategy of the separatist movement as a whole?
In summary, the Angolan government's strategy is based on two active pillars, and a further absent one. The limitations of the two active pillars of this strategy have already started to become apparent. The first pillar consists of the continued 'search' for a 'valid interlocutor', who is understood in advance to be non-existent. The government is supported – or supports itself – in this endeavour by the separatist movement's constant internal divisions
The second and more prominent pillar is the military defeat of the separatist movement. Despite the government's justifications of its right to defend any part of its national territory on the basis of sovereignty, the fact remains that military violence not only increases resentment among the population, but also puts the government in a difficult position internationally due to the flood of reports about human rights abuses. In addition, experience illustrates that fighting against movements whose bases are located over the border has high-risk regional geopolitical implications. Furthermore, this violence provides greater media exposure for the the separatist movement and their cause, until now little known abroad.
The absent pillar of the government's strategy is the socio-economic re-investment of the petrol-dollars in Cabinda, which was expected to be the first 'trump' to be utilised in such psycho-social war games. Some Angolans claim that if the post-independence government had invested oil revenue in socio-economic and infrastructural improvements, this would have decreased the grievances of the more moderate protagonists of the Cabindan cause (including those accepting only limited autonomy) and minimised the impact of separatist discourse. Although the government decided in the early 1990s to allocate 10 per cent of the annual oil revenue to the province's budget, this measure was not part of a consistent policy framework. There are already several groups in Cabinda – including some not in favour of independence – protesting against the profound degradation of the province, the absence of basic infrastructure, the pollution of the sea, and the increasingly precarious livelihoods of local fishing communities.
However, even the intelligent use of these reserves as a socio-economic and psycho-social pillar of the war against the Cabindan separatists will be insufficient if the fundamental issue – the assertion of Cabindan identity, sharpened by socio-economic frustrations and interests – is not resolved.
While the war and the militarisation of large parts of Cabinda's interior continue, the Angolan government keeps publicly reaffirming its willingness to work towards dialogue and a negotiated settlement, or even to hold a referendum on self-determination. Yet the endless postponement of broad dialogue with the separatist movements surely coheres with the strategy of maximising their fragmentation and minimising the small chance of meeting the so-called valid interlocutor the government keeps on 'searching' for. The Angolan authorities have failed to appreciate the recent, growing role of the Cabindan Catholic clergy in this matter and risk further alienating an interlocutor and potential moderator – the Church in Cabinda.
In early 2004, the Angolan authorities twice prohibited the launch of the civic association Mpalabanda, finally launched in March 2004 under the auspices of the Catholic Church in Cabinda. These events further radicalised public opinion in the enclave and demonstrated again that the position of the Church hierarchy had shifted from purely humanitarian concerns to a much more openly political stance.
The situation of the separatist movement is much less clear-cut and it is hardly possible to formulate joint strategies within such a divided universe. Everything indicates, however, that the main strategy is the internationalisation of the Cabinda question. To achieve this, there have been a number of efforts to involve Portugal in the process again, with the declared aim of persuading the Portuguese state to resume its supervisory role in accordance with the famous Simulambuco Treaty. The second component of this strategy is to get the UN involved. This would mean that Portugal, as the 'supervising power', would act as it did in Timor. Meanwhile, the most radical factions attempt to maintain the military pressure on the ground, seeming to accept the resulting deterioration in the current situation and the excesses perpetrated by both sides.
The combined components of this strategy have little chance of success. Whoever may be in power in Lisbon, Portugal cannot afford to openly confront Angola on this issue given the increasing Portuguese commercial interests at stake in the country and both countries' membership of the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries (CPLP). Furthermore, Portugal is bound by the Alvor Accords of January 1975, even if their validity changed after the MPLA unilaterally seized power on 11 November 1975.
The government strategy of forever looking for the non-existent interlocutor may eventually prove to be a double-edged sword; all this 'looking' gives increasing exposure to the separatist movement, while it pushes the Cabindan clergy to take a radical political position. This may lead to a situation in which a compromise solution based on a broad consensus (far-reaching autonomy) becomes less likely. It also perpetuates the risks of instability for the region as a whole.