Thursday, July 17, 2014

Esteeming the Albinos in Angola

It is increasingly common to find people with albinism in the streets of Luanda, the capital of Angola. Though living in normal surroundings, in the African context, albinos live with constant social misunderstandings, prejudice, and discrimination concerning their medical condition.  

The word albinism (from Latin albus, 'white', is a congenital disorder characterized by the complete or partial absence of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes due to absence or defect or an enzyme involved in the production of melanin.  Many forms of albinism are associated with sensitive to light (photophobia) and rapid eye movement.  The lack of pigmentation of the skin causes the body to become more susceptible to sunburn and skin cancer.

In Africa, especially in the eastern area, people with albinism have their lives constantly at risk because of superstition that gave them super-natural powers. Many believe that they are “luck” creatures, hence they are killed so that their organs can be used in witchcraft or so that the perpetrator can “inherit luck” of the deceased. The legs and hands amputated are sold to people who use them as talismans, for according to their beliefs, luck or repel evil spirits. Fishermen put albinos’ hair in their fish nets to succeed in the fishery. Miners hang amulets on their necks made from crushed bones and believe that the powder resulting from the bones, after some time buried, turns into diamonds. Those albinos who die are buried by their relatives in places where the remains cannot be unearth by the wizards’ suppliers.

A report published by the UN says that albinos “are often considered ghosts and not human beings”. In some areas they are also killed and buried with the deceased tribal chiefs so that they are not left alone in their graves. Some politicians want to get an amulet to ensure their victory in the elections. Groups of experts of the UN have spoken out and warned against such behavior. One of them is Christof Heyns, Special Rapporteur on Extra-judicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions. 

Angola is one of the few countries where prejudices against people with albinism is not as strong when compared to other African countries. They have a normal life, some occupying positions of responsibility within society.  One of the main reasons may be due to the fact that the use of popular skin whitening products is not part of Angolan culture, which creates an acceptance and an inherent mixing index between peoples. With these features, Angola turns out to be a peculiar country in the African context in light of the Angolan behavior of respecting albino's differences, allowing them to feel proud of what they are in their condition, to thus foster a high self-esteem.

Not everything is perfect as expressed by albino Guilherme Santos, President of ADRA. He adds that often the harassment, discrimination and stereotyping arise from family members. Thus, there remains some prejudice in society from psychological baggage which can be overcome if everyone is involved in giving psychosocial support to family members of people with albinism. 

To provide support, that emerges in a natural and spontaneous way, the Volunteer Support Group for People with Albinism in Angola   Grupo Voluntário de Apoio a Pessoas com Albinismo em Angola (GVAPAA), has been formed. Comprised of a group of citizens of various nationalities who do not seek legal or financial gain, these individuals joined in order to support Angola albinism in a sustainable manner. They believe that education and informing of the people with albinism as well as their families and their community, is the best and most sustainable way to help. In the same line of action, the Association of Support to Albinos of Angola (AAAA), represented by the acronym “4As” includes all persons who wish to join for the good of the Association. It is a philanthropic organization, of National character and unprofitable. (TAAG Austral Magazine 2014)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Choosing the 7 Natural Wonders of Angola

Following 10 months of public vote casting, the 7 Natural Wonders of Angola were chosen – the Tundavala Fault in Huíla; the Maiombe Forest in Cabinda; the Nzenzo Grottoes in Uíge; Lake Carumbo in Lunda-Norte; the Moco Hill in Huambo; the Kalandula Falls in Malanje; the Rio Chiumbe Falls in Lunda-Sul. 

These were the beauties of nature in Angola that received most votes from July 2013 to May 2014, chosen from 27 finalists. Before the voting took place, six tele- vision channels showed 27 short films with previously unseen footage of all the finalists. The six channels were TPA1, TPA2, TPA International, RTP International, SIC International and TVI International. 

According to the organizers of the event, National Seven Wonders: “This was pioneering. Nothing like it had been done before in Angola.” There was also a road show, traversing the country’s 18 provinces, with live television cover- age of the finalists, the culture and the tradition of each area. 

The choice of the 7 Wonders was part of the program “Amo Angola” (I Love Angola), billed as a way of “preserving the wealth of nature, highlighting the national heritage, promoting tourism and regional culture.” For the selection procedure, a scientific council was set up, comprising of representatives of the Ministries of Culture, the Environment, and the Tourism and Hospitality Industry, celebrities and well known figures from each of the country’s 18 provinces. 

Angola became the first country in Africa to choose its Natural Wonders and is a first stage in the selection of the New 7 Wonders of the World, an initiative of the New 7 Wonders Foundation, which is headquartered in Zurich, Switzerland. It was set up in 2001 by the Swiss philanthropist Bernard Weber. (TAAG Austral Magazine 2014)

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Angola's Heroic Queen

Queen Njinga a Mbande was a 17th-century Angolan queen of the Mbundu people in the Ndongo Kingdom, is one of Africa's best documented early-modern rulers and is considered to be a heroine not only in Angola, but across Africa and in the African diaspora.

Historians speak of her as "a legend in her lifetime, who, with her heroics, was able to preserve the sovereignty of the peoples of Angola and because of this she became a symbol in the whole Congo basin."

Njinga first appears in the historical records as the envoy of her brother, the King Ngola Mbande at a peace conference with the Portuguese governor João Correia de Sousa in Luanda in 1622.

The immediate cause of her embassy was her brother's attempt to get the Portuguese to withdraw the fortress of Ambaca that had been built on his land in 1618 by the Governor Mendes de Vasconcelos, to have some of his subjects  who had been taken captive during Governor Mendes de Vasconcelos' campaigns (1617–21) returned and to persuade the governor to stop the marauding of Angolan mercenaries in Portuguese service. Queen Njinga's efforts were successful. The governor, João Correia de Sousa, never gained the advantage at the meeting and agreed to her terms, which resulted in a treaty on equal terms. One important point of disagreement was the question of whether the Ndongo Kingdom surrendered to Portugal and accepted vassalage status.

A famous story says that in her meeting with the Portuguese governor, João Correia de Sousa did not offer a chair to sit on during the negotiations, and, instead, had placed a floor mat for her to sit, which in Mbundu custom was appropriate only for subordinates. The scene was imaginatively reconstructed by the Italian priest Cavazzi and printed as an engraving in his book of 1687. Not willing to accept this degradation she ordered one of her servants to get down on the ground and sat on the servant's back during negotiations. By doing this, she asserted her status was equal to the governor, proving her worth as a brave and confident individual.

Njinga converted to Christianity, possibly in order to strengthen the peace treaty with the Portuguese, and adopted the name Dona Anna de Sousa in honour of the governor's wife when she was baptised, who was also her godmother. She sometimes used this name in her correspondence (or just Anna). The Portuguese never honoured the treaty however, neither withdrawing Ambaca, nor returning the subjects, who they held were slaves captured in war, and they were unable to restrain the mercenaries.

In 1657, weary from the long struggle, Njinga signed another peace treaty with Portugal. After the wars with Portugal ended, she attempted to rebuild her nation, which had been seriously damaged by years of conflict and over-farming. She permitted Capuchin missionaries, first Antonio da Gaeta and the Giovanni Antonio Cavazzi da Montecuccolo to preach to her people. Both wrote lengthy accounts of her life, kingdom, and strong will.
She devoted her efforts to resettling former slaves and allowing women to bear children. Despite numerous efforts to dethrone her, especially by Kasanje, whose mercenary band settled to her south, Njinga would die a peaceful death at age eighty on 17 December 1663 in Matamba. Matamba went though a civil war in her absence, but Francisco Guterres Ngola Kanini eventually carried on the royal line in the kingdom. Her death accelerated the Portuguese occupation of the interior of South West Africa, fueled by the massive expansion of the Portuguese slave trade. Portugal would not have control of the interior until the 20th century.

Today, she is remembered in Angola for her political and diplomatic acumen, great wit and intelligence, as well as her brilliant military tactics. In time, Portugal and most of Europe would come to respect her. A major street in Luanda is named after her, and a statue of her was placed in Kinaxixi on an impressive square. Angolan women are often married near the statue, especially on Thursdays and Fridays. (TAAG Austral Magazine, Wikipedia)

Friday, December 13, 2013

Drought Contributes to Cholera Outbreak in Southern Angola

DECEMBER 5, 2013 (IRIN) A protracted drought followed by the onset of the rainy season in southern Angola has triggered a sharp increase in cholera cases, mainly concentrated in Cunene province, around the provincial capital Ondjiva, where over 1,000 infections and 48 deaths were recorded during a two-week period in November, according to figures from the Ministry of Health.
Cholera is a highly contagious disease associated with poor sanitation and access to safe drinking water. It is endemic in Angola, where nearly half of the population live in conditions conducive to the spread of the illness, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).  A year-long outbreak that started in the slums of the capital, Luanda, in February 2006 and spread to 16 out of 18 provinces, resulted in over 80,000 reported cases and 3,000 deaths.
So far, the current outbreak has remained almost entirely confined to Cunene, although neighboring Huila province has also recorded some cases. Since January 2013, the country as a whole has recorded just over 5,600 cholera cases and 190 deaths, about 70 percent of them in Cunene.
A drought that started at the end of 2011 is now affecting over 1.8 million people, with five provinces in the south worst affected, among them Cunene. Acute malnutrition rates as high as 25 percent in areas experiencing food shortages due to the drought have left children highly susceptible to waterborne illnesses including cholera, notes a November statement from the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Protecting Angola's Cherished National Park

The Angolan government has endorsed a $10 million project to further protect the 1.5 million hectare Iona National Park, a conservation area shared with neighboring Namibia.

The Park, (Parque Nacional do Iona) is situated in the south-western corner of the Namibe province, about 200 km from the city of Namibe.  Iona National Park was proclaimed a national park in 1937, and it covers an area of 15,150 km2, or 5,850 square miles, making it the largest national park in the country.  Iona National Park has natural borders - the Atlantic Ocean in the west, perennial Cunene River in the south with the Curoca River forming both northern and eastern borders.  

Before the Angolan civil war, Iona National Park was known as an animal paradise, rich in big game. Unfortunately, illegal hunting and poaching, as well as the eradication of infrastructure have caused considerable damage to Iona, as well as most other national parks in Angola.  The wildlife in all the parks have been almost completely wiped out after the devastation wrought by decades of war.  However, efforts are now underway to replace most of the lost wildlife. The “Big Five” of Iona National Park now include: Springbok (Gazelle), Kudu, Ostrich, Oryx and (very rare) cheetah. Other animals in the park include mountain zebra, impala, klipspringer, and the quelengue.  Although the landscape is empty, many animals (especially Springbok) can still be found inside and outside the park.

Iona National Park is also home to over 15,000 indigenous peoples such as the Mucubal and Himba, as well as many Kimbundu groups. Most are subsistent farmers and herders who remain isolated and oblivious to the outside world.  The indigenous people of this region have been studied by anthropologists, who say they are the most culturally intact on the African continent.

In the new agreement, the Ministry of the Environment will work with the Global Environment Facility, the European Union and the UN Development Program to monitor the size and dynamics of plants and animals and ward off the continual threats, such as poaching. (Sonangol Universo Magazine)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Stirring Initiatives: Angola's Coffee

Thanks to a number of new initiatives, there is a resurrection in Angola's fortunes in the world's most valuable farm commodity, coffee.

Angola was formerly the industry's fourth-largest grower, but its coffee output plummeted in the 1980s and 1990s as farmers abandoned the land to seek the safety of towns because of the civil war. The country produced a quarter of a million tons of coffee beans at its peak in 1973, but it sank to a low of point of just 3000 tons in 1992.

A farming project in the Porto Amboim region of Kwanza Sul province is in the vanguard of efforts to reinstate Angola's past coffee glories, but this time with added incentive of ensuring better prices and conditions for the producers.   The project has the financial support of the International Coffee Organization (ICO), the Angola and US governments and sales assistance from US Aid and the Cooperative League of the USA (CLUSA).

The Porto Amboim project started in 2008 when the government and NGOs encouraged 4,917 families to farm 8,000 hectares of neglected plantations covering three types of farming areas; low-lying savannah, cool forested highlands and an area of transition between the two.

The lower areas could grow the more resilient yet less valuable coffee variety, Robusta, while the highlands were suitable for the more sought-after and thus pricier Arabica variety.  Arabica is milder tasting, while Robusta gives higher yields and is used more in instant coffee and in stronger roasts.

Each family was given $500 in credit, around two hectares of land and 2,000 coffee plants in plastic bags from a stock of 10 million.  The families had to nurture these young plants in home-made nurseries and then replant the mature bushes on their plots.  So that the families could survive during this process, they also received help to farm a mix of subsistence crops such as bananas and cassava.
Replanting of the coffee saplings had an excellent success rate of 87-90%.

Coffee production rose steadily thanks to local model farms which served as examples of best practice.  Here growers were taught the importance and benefits of pruning and adding organic fertilizer made from coffee husks to add yields.  In order to improve coffee flavor, farmers learned to use simple, raised drying tables to reduce the earthy taste of the coffee and thus gain higher prices.

Because the previously abandoned coffee plantations had not used mineral fertilizers nor industrial insecticides for over 40 years, the Angolan coffee farms had the right to claim in their marketing that they had been organic for longer than most.

The Porto Amboim project also addressed the wider development issues of education and healthcare. Project workers and coffee-growers in areas with difficult access have communally constructed 17 classrooms from local materials to serve almost 1,700 pupils.   Community health centers and small-scale infrastructures such as bridges have been developed with the government providing teachers and health workers.

Over the next five years, Porto Amboim farmers are expected to produce 6,000 tons a year, double the low point for the whole country in 1992.  Amboim coffee can be the reference point for all of Angolan coffee and in fact the high quality of the Amboim's Robusta variety is very similar in taste to the region's much higher-valued Arabica variety.  (Sonangol Universo Magazine)