Angola vs. Congo: Oil, soccer & refugees

One of the great things about blogging that I can pontificate about things I don’t know a great deal about. Here we go.

Tensions remain high between Angola and the Congo. Many well-informed people in Kinshasa have been floating theories about how Luanda may have a hand behind the recent events in Equateur region, either by providing direct support to the rebels or by looking the other way as some of their allies (Congo-Brazzaville? MLC? ex-FAZ?) helped stir up trouble in the north of the country. This is still highly tendentious, but there is definitely trouble between Angola and the Congo.

First, oil. The Congo has next to no production at the moment, a mere 25,000 barrels of oil per day, which is dwarfed by Angola’s 2 million barrels/day. Still, even at such low outputs, oil produces revenues easily captured by the central state – around 8% of total revenues already come from oil. With the collapse of the diamond parastatal MIBA, the government badly needs a reliable source of income that is not watered down by layers and complex and corrupt bureaucracy.

Congo has been complaining for a while that Angola has been encroaching on its territorial waters, where some of Africa’s largest oil fields are located. In particular, the Congo is complaining about Block 14, which is being managed by Chevron-Texaco and produces 168,000 barrels/day and Block 15, managed by ExxonMobil and producing 600,000 barrels/day. (At $80/barrel, both blocks produce around $61 million/day in gross value). You can see why they are eager to get their hands on these concessions – even if they can get half of each field, they could be magnifying their oil production by a factor of 15. Of course, the Angolans are not happy – these two fields produce about 35% of their total national output. The US government is also following this closely, as the US imports 7% of its oil from Angola (three times as much as from Kuwait).

So the Congolese asked Angola to sit down with them and negotiate – Kinshasa set up a commission in April 2009 led by Kabuya Lumuna, a former Mobutist Katangan now close to President Kabila. They argued that according to the Montego Bay Convention, their territorial waters extend 350 miles out into the Atlantic, cutting Blocks 14 & 15 in half. Angola hired some Portuguese lawyers and hit back, saying that the current state of affairs is justified. See the map below to see how the Angolans have chipped away at Congolese territorial waters – the colored blocks are all Angolan-owned oil field, the small blue triangle in the middle is all the has been left to the Congolese.

Not to be persuaded by legal arguments alone, the Angolans have put another issue on the table to balance the scales: their support to Kabila’s government between 1998-2003 (and even today, as they still maintain a battalion in Kitona to train the Congolese army). Laurent Kabila would have probably been overrun by Rwandan troops in August 1998 if the Angolans hadn’t stepped in, along with Zimbabwe, to protect the capital. Similarly, after Laurent Kabila’s assassination in 2001, security in the capital was maintained by Angolan troops. Reliable sources reported Angolan support during the fighting in Kinshasa in 2006/7 with Jean-Pierre Bemba’s troops. Other Angolan interventions have been less welcome: the Angolan army has invaded Congolese territory in Bas-Congo and Bandunde provinces on several occasions since 2007.

These tensions have only risen over the past month. Some sources indicate that Angolan rebels who attacked the Togolese national soccer team a few weeks ago in Cabinda fled into the Congo. The attack was extremely harmful for Angola’s reputation, as they had poured billions of dollars into organizing the African Cup of Nations to show the world that they had emerged from 30 years of civil war. At the same time, reports keep streaming in about Congolese being expelled from diamond fields in northern Angola, which for some time was being reciprocated by Congolese authorities in Bas-Congo.

Apparently the Congolese are now considering going to an international court for arbitration over the oil fields. Relations between the two countries will be influential in Kinshasa. While Kabila is concerned about the Kivus and Rwanda’s influence there, he is even more concerned about Angola’s influence, as Luanda has close ties with many in Kinshasa’s political elite and could seriously destabilize the situation there if it so chooses.