Oil wells have nice names, the sort you want to stick your tongue around and through and say over and over again. Massamabala is one. In fact, it’s called Massamabala-1, which isn’t quite so seductive. But the -1 draw you out of the tongue-wrapping, into the real world, to remind you that this is business. This is oil. And this, in particular, marks the return to onshore drilling in Angola for the first time in 35 years. The operating company, Roc Oil, sent me and many others this message today:
‘The commencement of the first well in 35 years onshore Cabinda might be regarded as a significant event, but ROC’s focus is not on any sense of occasion, as much as the operational end of our business, including the continuing interaction with the local communities, who have been very supportive of our efforts to date… ‘
Of course, that’s not quite the whole story. The local communities in Cabinda are not on the whole, happy. They’ve been battling against the Angolan government in a vicious conflict for about three decades. Last year they were dealt a farcical peace deal which was fabricated by the Angolan authorities with the assistance of certain foreign governments. The man who signed the deal on behalf of the Cabindan communities was one António Bento Bembe, a former Cabindan rebel who the FBI had been after since 1990 for so-called terrorist activities. In fact he assisted in the kidnapping of an American oil worker, one Brent Swan (now a free man). Faced with the choice of prison in the US for life or signing a peace deal that would be good for the Angolan government, the oil companies and no one else really, Bembe opted for the latter. And luckily for him, the Americans forgot about his past, and were the first to congratulate the Angolans on the peace deal. They said it was ‘more than just a document on peace and reconciliation; it is the promise of economic development and increased political influence’.
Meanwhile the Cabindans continue to be very unhappy and disgruntled. Their tiny enclave produces about a third of Angola’s oil, but they reap little reward. Most are very unhappy about onshore oil drilling and there is already lots of talk among Cabindans about ‘another Niger Delta’.
Keep your eyes and ears peeled for Cabinda. See what happens there. The rush for oil in Africa’s Gulf of Guinea is on. Often we hear that the real advantage is that oil in this area (apart from Nigeria’s Niger Delta) is offshore and therefore a long way from the hassle of poor, angry local communities. But that’s not the whole story. Oil companies are greedy and greed makes people very bold. Roc is onshore. It has started.