The Angolan government chose to use the northern enclave of Cabinda as a venue for the Africa Cup of Nations to improve the province’s war-torn image and drive investment.
But its plan has turned out to be a tragic own goal, with reports of three dead, Togo set to pull out of the tournament and Angola in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
The Togolese team – which includes Manchester City striker Emmanuel Adebayor and Aston Villa midfielder Moustapha Salifou – were shot at by a group of gunmen as they travelled by bus from Congo Republic into Cabinda, which is separated from Angola by a strip of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The small jungle province is home to much of Angola’s offshore petroleum activity and has been at the centre of a long-running independence fight led by various splinter groups of Flec (the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda).
Despite a so-called peace deal in 2006, low-level insurgency has continued and there have been sporadic reports of attacks on members of the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA) and some on Chinese and Brazilian nationals working in the province.
Flec had made some veiled threats that it might attack during the Cup of Nations – when it knew the world’s media would be watching – but the Angolan government gave assurances security was in place and there would be no trouble.
Antonio Bento Bembe, a former Flec leader who was made a government minister as part of the 2006 Memorandum of Understanding, had said ahead of the tournament: “Cabinda is safe and security there is guaranteed. The Cup of Nations is an opportunity for Cabinda to receive visitors and it will bring money and investment to the province.”
Later, responding to the shooting, the minister said he had made the statements in good faith and added: “I am really sad to think that our African brothers came to Angola to take part in the Cup of Nations and this has happened.”
An investigation has been launched into what happened, but questions are also being asked about why Togo chose to drive through a notoriously dangerous part of the province, a known location for insurgents, instead of flying to Cabinda city directly, according to the Confederation of African Football regulations.
No risk assessment
“The mistake is that the team travelled by road, they had obviously done no serious risk assessment of the area,” said Alex Vines, of London-based think tank Chatham House.
“This is the Mayombe rainforest and where radical Flec separatists have operated for decades.
“They number just several hundred but they can be disruptive, despite the large number of Angolan military and security deployed in the province, and international companies in the zones have been targeted with abductions and killings.”
Such attacks rarely hit the headlines because of an ongoing clampdown on media activities in the province and the government’s refusal to acknowledge Flec’s actions. Angola has reportedly spent $1 billion preparing for the biennial tournament. (BBC Online)