The Conclave of Exclaves

By: Sam Vaknin, Ph.D.

Also published by United Press International (UPI)

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Cabinda is a member of the Hague based UNPO - the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization. Among the dozens of other members are Abkhazia, the Albanians in Macedonia, Bashkortostan, Gaguzia, and Iraqi Kurdistan. Some erstwhile members became independent states - including Estonia, East Timor, Armenia, Georgia, and Latvia. The Cabindese Government in Exile (in charge of a little more than a poorly designed Web site and a few badly trained guerillas) thinks it is a good omen and a portent of things to come.

The history of the past five decades is littered with artificial polities, ethnically heterogeneous and internecine entities, unsustainable borders, divided loyalties, corrupt, self-serving regimes, civil wars, and looted natural endowments - all the tragic outcomes of the chaotic disintegration of colonial powers. Among the debris are a series of exclaves - "a portion of territory of one state completely surrounded by territory of another or others" (OED). Cabinda is an exclave, as are Ceuta, Melilla, Kaliningrad, and, of course, Gibraltar. But while the latter - a bone of contention between two EU members, Spain and the United Kingdom - is constantly in the limelight, not much is said (or done) about the former four.


Cabinda is 2,800 sq. m.. (7,300 sq. km.) of sweaty tropical forest and less than 200,000 inhabitants strong (counting more than 20,000 refugees in Congo). Nominally, it is an Angolan province separated from Angola by a Congolese corridor leading to the Congo river and thence to the sea. It is inordinately rich in natural resources: hardwood, cassava, bananas, coffee, cocoa (cacao), crude rubber, palm products, phosphate, manganese. quartz, gold, potassium, and, above all, oil (about 500,000 barrels per day). Huge rigs have been producing most of Angola's GDP off Cabinda's luscious shores since 1968. Cabinda has the second richest variety of forest trees after the Amazon. Unending strips of invaluable species such as black wood, ebony, and African sandal wood still harbor (protected) mountain gorillas. Wood of Cabinda origin is avidly sought by connoisseurs in Portugal, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands.

Had Cabinda been an independent state and had all 400,000 Cabindese repatriated - GDP per capita would have still amounted to $7000, making it the richest territory in Africa. Small wonder that many of the bloodiest battles in Angola's protracted war of independence from the Portuguese (1961-1975) took place here.

Yet, even after the coveted independence was achieved, very little of the oil bonanza trickled back to the disgruntled Cabindese. They still depend on subsistence agriculture for a living. Infant mortality is among the highest in the world and only 3 in 10 people have access even to rudimentary health services. The average life expectancy is 47 years and the literacy rate is 42%.

Cabinda mostly has dust roads, deforestation, desertification, soil erosion, and oil spills to show for its gifts of nature. The Cabindese blame foreign oil firms (Chevron, Elf) for importing goods and services duty free - rather than purchase them locally or invest in local infrastructure and industry. Hence the Cabindese rebelliousness, constant strife, and low intensity warfare. The peace agreements in Congo mean that Angola may have a shot at taking over the Congolese strips that separate it from Cabinda and at attacking rebel UNITA camps on Congolese soil. In short, Cabinda is running out of friends and out of its insular geography.

"Today, the Angolese colonialiste (sic) and their agents are occupying the Cabindese territory and become the enemies of the Cabindese people. We are Cabindese in our heart and our soul and we are sadly witnessing the destruction and the ransacking our country." - says the "government". It is open to an economic federation with Angola but wishes to "develop agriculture by supporting and stimulating the creation of farmers' cooperatives in the free zones and refugees' camps". And what would be its economic philosophy after Cabinda's yearned for independence? "Promote an economic policy of free exchange and humanitarian vocation." More specifically, the government has plans to develop Cabinda's largely untapped diamond, cobalt, and uranium veins. But it all sounds desperate and self-delusional. Abandoned by the international community (Cabinda was once a member of the Organization of African Unity as an independent state), bereft of its strategic importance, economically raped by east and west alike - Cabinda is fast dwindling and literally dying.

This by no means is the universal fate of all exclaves.


Kaliningrad port is ice-free. It is so unusual in the Baltic Sea that this serendipity led to prosperity throughout the illustrious history (Kant lived and taught here) of this region and its eponymous capital (formerly known as Konigsburg). It attracted a navy base (home to the Russian Baltic fleet), fishermen, logging companies, and derivative industries (shipping, processed food, machinery). Kaliningrad has the makings of a "Hong Kong on the Baltic Sea" as Chernomyrdin predicted when Russia established it as a "pilot" Europe-orientated Special Economic Zone (really a hybrid customs and offshore investment zone) in 1996. Yet, in 1998 it attracted only $11 million (and a year later, only $18 million) in investments, both foreign and inward. This reluctance was a penalty for its political affiliation, being a part of Russian and its (until recently) impossible tax code, capricious and venal legal system, prying intelligence services (on the lookout for separatist tendencies), lack of funding from the centre, the regional administration's blatant protectionism and interventionism, and discrepancies between the legal systems (e.g. VAT rates).

Things, though, have improved recently.

To quell secessionist stirrings, the Pravoslav Church has come out unequivocally in favor of a Russian Kaliningrad, as have all the governments of the region. The investment climate in Russia itself has improved dramatically since 1998 with a new tax code and other pro-business bits of legislation enacted by a Putin-awed Duma. Both Poland and Lithuania - which sandwich Kaliningrad between them - are slated to join the EU. Kaliningrad's workforce is highly qualified and polyglot. The city is bristling with more than 50,000 small and medium enterprises (mostly trading companies). Its transport infrastructure (inherited partly from the military) and banks (some Polish and German) outshine most other provinces in Russia. It is rich in certain mineral resources: amber, (high grade) oil, peat, rock salt, brown coal (merely 50 million tons), timber, and construction materials. Of course, there is an impressive variety of high value fish (eel and salmon being the most lucrative).

Various Swiss, Polish, Lithuanian, and German firms have started to shift their production facilities to the exclave. More than 1200 joint ventures with foreign partners from more than 50 countries have been registered. BMW and KIA cars are already produced there - as well as pulp and paper (Cepruss). Even the EU has chipped in and provided grants and credits of almost 10 million euro. The Autosan bus enterprise (part of the Zasada Group in Poland) decided to assemble there buses for sale in the Russian market. Vicuinai, a Lithuanian food concern will launch a $5 million fish processing plant in Kaliningrad in July this year. German firms are all over the place - from oil production equipment ("Baltkran") to a sewing factory ("Grammer AG"). German banks extended tens of millions of dollars in credits to the regional government. German Lander (such as Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein) have their own representation.

Still, its cosmopolitan aspirations as a bridge between Russia, the EU, and the Baltic notwithstanding, Kaliningrad is a part of decrepit and drab Russia. Baltiyisk, a 50,000 strong town in the Kaliningrad region, went without water on New Year's day due to a ruptured pipe. Production, since 1990, declined precipitously in the important food, machinery, and fishing industries. The fate of exclaves is oft determined by their political affiliation rather than by their geographical realities or geopolitical aspirations.


Indigenous Moroccan Jews call them "Morocco Spaniol". These are the Jews who were expelled from Spain in 1492 and who chose to settle in self-imposed ghettoes on the shores of Morocco, a few kilometers from their abandoned homes. Their return is imminent, so they believed. They preserved their Ladino dialect (a mixture of Hebrew words and Castilian Spanish), their social hierarchy, and their institutions for centuries of forlorn yearning.

Today there are very few Jews in Morocco but native Moroccans (and an assortment of other Africans and Asians) cross the straits to Spain clandestinely. They do so mostly from two Spanish exclaves, together 31 sq. km. big, on the Moroccan shore (it is the shortest distance) - Ceuta (73,000 people) and Melilla (65,000). The smuggling of immigrants may be the single biggest economic activity in these two heavily subsidized territories. Until recently, C&M were flanked by huge camps of would be migrants who survived on the charity of the locals and on drug trading. Ever since Spain, at the EU's panicky behest, cordoned off the beach with barbed wire and fortifications, the camps have dwindled (though the Red Cross still feeds 1000 people daily in and around Ceuta alone).

Yet, not only people make use of the age old smuggling routes through C&M. The Riff area, Morocco's Wild West and major drug growing zone, smuggles its $3-4 billion a year in produce to Western Europe using very much the same infrastructure (a fleet of tiny and capsizing boats). Child prostitution rings have sprung up. Remittances from those who made it into the heartland amount to at least another $1 billion (many say double that). Money laundering is a thriving activity among both bitter rivals: the Moslem and Christian Spanish residents of the exclaves.

Not everything is crime and corruption in C&M. Ceuta sports a thriving food processing and handmade textile industries. It is an important refueling and fishing port and a trendy tourist destination. It used to be duty free until 1995 (Melilla's similar status was revoked in 1992), but its port facilities are still active. The city fathers are trying to develop aquaculture. Still, official unemployment is near 30%. The situation in Melilla is even worse.

The irony is that C&M (where the euro is legal tender) receive dollops of cash from the EU in "regional aid" and preferential fishing quotas (both territories are excluded from NATO, though). Spain has just increased by 55% (to 200 million euros) the subsidy it pays Endesa, the power utility, to light up C&M (and other Spanish territories the world over). This means that c. 2% of the electricity bills of every Spaniard go towards subsidizing the energy needs of these strategically meaningless locations. Spain also doles out cash (c. $10 million a year) to its national ferry companies to provide maritime links with C&M and other overseas territories. In a recent tender not one foreign or domestic private shipping company presented a bid. Spain expressed astonishment.

Morocco hotly contests Spanish sovereignty in Ceuta and Melilla, but hitherto to no avail. Spain holds local elections there (recently won in Ceuta by the ex-convict mayor of the Andalusian city of Marbella and his people). The tacit understanding is that Morocco will accept back Moroccan illegal immigrants caught by Spanish authorities. In return, Spain invests in Morocco (in labour intensive industries, to keep the human tide at bay). Morocco depends on remittances from expatriates and so promotes with the EU the idea of an immigration quota.

C&M are at the heart of the tension between established, wealthy, sated societies and hungry, deprived and bitter immigrants from developing countries. To the former it is a threat - to the latter a promise. In this bottleneck of festering corruption and crime, the future of Europe unfolds in slow motion: barbed wire, drug dealing, violence, aid dependency, and the inevitable opening of its gates to the manpower it so direly needs and so long exploited in its colonies.

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