Many of the problems come from the fact than Angola is divided in two by a narrow strip of DRC territory. This narrow piece of territory is DRC's only access to the sea, giving it a coastline of only 37miles. Angola's territory north of DRC is an exclave, Cabinda, a region that has been engaged in a secession dispute for over 30 years.
Angola and DRC have both land and maritime disputes, and while they seem to be inching towards resolution on both fronts, continued political instability in the DRC and expulsions of nationals from both countries means full resolution is probably still many years away.
What is the history of Cabinda?
In 1885, the Treaty of Simulambuco established a Portugese protectorate over the area of Cabinda, through agreement with Cabinda's princes. Cabinda originally had the Congo River as its boundary with Angola, but in 1885, the Conference of Berlin extended Congo Free State's (ie DRC) territory along the Congo River to its mouth at the sea, creating the narrow strip of Congolese territory that exists today. Congo Free State was at that time under the personal rule of Belgium's King Leopold II, although it became an integrated Belgian colony in 1908.
Cabinda was called Portugese Congo while under colonial rule and it was an important area of raw resources, including oil found offshore Cabinda, for its colonial master. In 1974, political upheaval in Portugal resulted in Lisbon granting independence to all Portuguese Overseas Provinces in Africa. In the 1975 Treaty of Alvor, Cabinda was integrated into Angola, but this was rejected by all Cabindan political organisations. Angolan troops invaded Cabinda in 1975 to assert their authority, and groups in Cabinda have maintained a secession campaign ever since, albeit with varying intensity.
Why is Cabinda important?
Despite Cabinda's small size, its abundant natural resources, particularly hydrocarbons, mean it has been hotly disputed over by foreign powers and nationalist movements.
Cabinda first struck oil in Block Zero in the near offshore waters in 1962. The block has been producing oil since 1968, and for many years was the bedrock of Angola's petroleum industry. Major new discoveries were made in Block 14 in the 1990s and first production started in the vast Kuito oil field in 1999.
These blocks are controversial, however, because the angle at which they are aligned seriously restricts DRC's access to the sea. About 65per cent of Angola's petroleum comes from the regions off Cabinda, and DRC has long been claiming that it deserves a portion of the income.
The government in Kinshasa has argued that the generally accepted boundary is not the result of any international political agreement, but rather the result of an arbitrary agreement drawn up with Gulf Oil, which is now part of Chevron, after the Second World War. They argue that the dispute is depriving DRC of 200,000b/d.
The Angolan parliament approved a resolution in March 2010 authorizing the government to enter into negotiations with DRC to resolve their maritime border. Angola also plans to enter a claim with the UN to extend its maritime boundary from 200 miles to 350 miles offshore.
What are the prospects for the future?
Angola has established a Joint Development Zone (JDZ) with Conga-Brazzaville covering maritime territory beyond the area disputed by Angola and DRC and revenues in the 'Zone d'Interet Commun' are to be split 50:50. The zone covers mainly deepwater areas, encompassing part of Congo-Brazzaville's Haute Mer field, as well as Angola's Block 14.
The successful establishment of an agreement with Congo-Brazzaville gives hope that Angola might also be willing to establish a JDZ with DRC. DRC's position, sandwiched as it is between Cabinda and Angola, and with a very narrow coastline, however, will not give it a very strong bargaining position. It has been suggested that Angola is likely to take a very tough stance with the DRC, offering only the narrowest of corridors to the limit of its territorial sea, and DRC may end up struggling to get out to 200nautical miles. Still, that the two countries seem dedicated to discussions is positive.
Political instability in DRC has meant that the country has no offshore oil production currently, but this is likely to change in coming years. DRC seems to be keen to establish its boundaries in order to unlock the resources that lie close to many of its nine international borders. The Memorandum of Understanding that it signed with Uganda in December 2010 over Lake Albert is a positive step forward, and if DRC is able to fully establish some of its often porous and changeable boundaries, it will undoubtedly prevent undue human suffering.
For more information on the land dispute between Angola and DRC, as well as information on the expulsions of foreign nationals and mass rapes, see the full Border Focus.