DRC and Angola’s Borders and barrels

By François Misser

Posted on Friday, 4 July 2014 14:45

The conflict over the maritime border between the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Angola is heating up.

In April, the DRC government contested Angola’s request to extend the length of its continental shelf by more than 200 miles. At stake is a share of billions of barrels of oil.

In an 11 April letter addressed to United Nations (UN) secretary general Ban Ki-moon, the DRC’s foreign minister Raymond Tshibanda said the map that Angola supplied to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf on 6 December 2013 was “unilaterally drawn” by the Angolan government.

The UN says that Angola’s submission is due to be discussed by the commission during its session from 21 July to 5 September.

The DRC government has requested that the commission refuse to review the map to allow an international tribunal to rule on the dispute.

United nations convention

Tshibanda says that Angola’s request ignores the DRC’s rights as enshrined in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which entitles the country to a territorial sea of 12 miles, a contiguous zone of 12 miles and an exclusive economic zone of 200 miles.

According to the Convention on the Law of the Sea, coastal countries have the right to access the high seas.

However, Angola’s map only recognises a triangle limiting the territorial sea, which was the border recognised in 1974 during the regime of Mobutu Sese Seko.

The DRC became party to the Convention on the Law of the Sea in 1989.

The Congolese parliament repealed the Mobutu-era law on 7 May 2009 and retraced the border in the form of a long rectangle that includes an exclusive economic zone.

Angola rejected these new borders on 31 July 2009.

During the Congolese national conference in October 2013, deputy Ezéchiel Kasongo Numbi pointed out that Angola solely occupies and exploits the areas claimed by the Kinshasa government.

The loss for Kinshasa is measured in billions of dollars. Part of the proposed border cuts through Angolan offshore blocks 14 and 15, operated respectively by Chevron and ExxonMobil.

Chevron plans to achieve production of 100,000 barrels per day this year and estimates reserves on the block to be around 3.5bn barrels.

The Congolese government is showing new determination.

Not only did it reject Angola’s demarcation, but it is also preparing a legal case to enforce its rights.

In the letter to Ban, Tshibanda announced the government’s intention to take the case to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.

Kinshasa’s choice is explained by the fact that the Angolan government itself has agreed to use the tribunal to adjudicate conflicts and so will not be able to avoid its jurisdiction.

A compromise solution seemed unlikely for some time.

The Angolan government immediately began exerting pressure on Kinshasa when it started to claim its maritime rights.

President José Eduardo dos Santos’s government expelled 115,000 Congolese people from Angola between December 2008 and July 2009, has been regularly deporting Congolese garimpeiros (artisanal diamond miners) from Lunda Norte Province and sent its armed forces into the DRC in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

In addition, since 2007, the Angolan army has occupied a dozen villages in the southern part of the DRC’s Bandundu Province.

For the moment, Angola has not responded to the DRC’s rejection of its maritime border demarcation.

The chill in relations could lead Dos Santos, the current president of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), to be less willing to help the DRC’s President Joseph Kabila to resolve the problem of instability in eastern DRC.

The attendees at the ICGLR’s 24-25 March summit in Luanda resolved to provide help to Kabila’s government. ●

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