Saturday, January 30, 2010

Rebuilding the National Railway

In 1899, the Portuguese government initiated the construction of a trans-nation railway to give access to the central Angolan plateau and the mineral wealth of the then Congo Free State. A concession, running for 99 years, was granted to Sir Robert Williams, a Scottish mining engineer and a pioneering explorer of Africa, on 28 November 1902. His Benguela Railway Company took over the construction which commenced on 1 March 1903.  Construction was halted until 1920 after which the railway's connection to Luau at the border to the DR Congo was completed in 1929. The primary purpose was the export trade and the 'domestic Angolan traffic would be of secondary importance.'  The line proved very successful and profitable, especially in the early 1970s after Zambia closed the border with the then Rhodesia. 

The construction and running of the railway was a huge enterprise.  At the time of full operation of the railway, the railway company owned the world biggest private eucalyptus plantationThey had imported seedlings of fast growing Australian Eucalyptus and planted vast forests ready for harvesting for locomotive fuel. With not supplies of oil or coal along the rail route, this was the perfect fuel.  Some 37 000 ha of land was used to produce the annual need of 570,000 tonnes of wood to fuel locomotives from Lobito, at the coast, to the Democratic Republic of Congo.


After Angola's independence in 1975, the Angolan civil war brought operations to a halt. In the 2000s, most of the infrastructure were still heavily damaged or destroyed. In 2005 talks were initiated between Angola and Zambia to restore operations. The government of Angola has invested to date $1.8 million dollars in repairing the Benguela Railroad, including demining, replacement of railroads, bridges construction and 16 stations construction. The People's Republic of China provided $300 to $500 million in financial aid to help the replacement of the war-damaged track.  Much of the reconstruction of the railway system has been accomplished by Chinese companies with Chinese workers transported to Angola.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Angola's Orphans

The war has had a profound impact on Angolan society and on the children of Angola. The USA-based Christian Children's Fund reports that throughout the country, approximately one in ten young people between 8 and 25 were abducted at least once during the long 27-year civil war. Boys were typically assigned to serve as personal assistants to soldiers; girls provided logistical support and accompanied the attacks. Both girls and boys describe extreme physical hardship with long- term after-effects from injuries. Few of the affected young people have benefited from formal demobilization or reintegration programs.

Additionally, as well as recovering from the affects of a prolonged civil war, Angola is having to come to terms with a rising rate of HIV / AIDS. Nearly 4% of the adult population is affected and leaving more than 160,000 children orphaned as a result of HIV / AIDS (source UNICEF).  There are social repercussions to the children as well.  “It is noticed that many children infected or affected (sons and daughters of HIV/AIDS infected people) are discriminated, abandoned and separated from the family environment,” Maria da Luz Magalhães,  Angola Vice-Minister of Social Affairs has stated.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

One of Angola's Treasures: The Giant Sable Antelope

The Giant Sable Antelope, also known in Portuguese as the Palanca Negra, is a large, rare species of antelope on native to the region between Cuango and Luanda Rivers in Angola.  The antelope is held in a great respect by the country and people of Angola and regarded as one of its national treasures.  In African mythology, just like other antelopes, they symbolize vivacity, velocity, beauty and visual sharpness.

Thought to be almost extinct, because of the ravages of the 27 year civil war which decimated the animal's population, there have been five confirmed sightings recently in its native habitat around the Cuango River.  Several animal conservation agencies are currently working to protect and repopulate the antelope to conserve its species.

The Giant Sable is a national symbol of Angola and is portrayed on numerous stamps, banknotes, and even passports of the nation. The Angolan National Football Team, currently playing in the African Cup of Nations hosted in Angola, is fondly known as the Palancas Negras in honor of this antelope.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Ovimbundu Wisdom! No.2

Here is more Ovimbundu wisdom to start the week.  Enjoy.

Proverb: Ilongo ikukuata; kaiole.  Maka akukute: kaol.

Literal Translation: Problems dry not rot. (Unresolved issues remain)

Meaning: We should not run away from problems or delay its resolution while today has the best solution.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Angola's Statues and Memorials

Angola has numerous statues and memorials signifying various religious or historical significances.  I will cover a few of the most significant and popular ones here.

Probably the most recognizable is the Cristo Rey (Christ the King) statue overlooking the southern city of Lubango.  This 30 m large, white marble statue of Jesus built in 1945 is only one of three in the world and is a replica of the one found in Rio de Janeiro. 

(When I lived in Lubango during the '90s, I used to look out my kitchen window every morning to see this beautiful statue on the hill over Lubango.)

Still in Lubango is the monument Nossa Senhora do Monte.  This religious site (Catholic) consists of a slender white concrete tower and a series of smaller white pillars whose frame enclose an altar and a tall cross.  At the back of the alter, up some steep steps is a tall, simple chapel, built in 1919, that is annual place of pilgrimage and renewal for Catholics each year.

In Luanda, the tall Mausoleum of Agostinho Neto towers unfinished over southern part of the city. Neto was Angola’s first president, leading the country from 1975 until his death in 1979. Mr. Neto was originally embalmed, in the style of many communist leaders such as Lenin and Stalin, but was apparently later cremated and transferred to the unlit depths of his mausoleum.

Next is the Momument to the Battle Kifangondo.  The battle of Kifangondo  was fought between the anti-communist FNLA, with the help of the Zairian army, Portuguese soldiers and South African Defense Force artillery and air, and the MPLA on November 10th, 1975. The Angolan forces were supported by the Zairian army, Portuguese-Angolan soldiers and South African Defense Force artillery on the FNLA side, and Cuban Special Forces on the MPLA side. The attack, launched by FNLA leader Holden Roberto, was designed to occupy Angola's capital, Luanda, less than a day before the declaration of Angolan independence and relinquishment of control of the capital by the Portuguese.  As his troops crossed, they encountered heavy rocket fire from the Cubans, who ultimately pinned the FNLA between the coast and river's lagoon, decimating them. The South African gunners, outranged by the Cuban rockets, were powerless to help. They ultimately withdrew to a South African frigate, ending SADF involvement in the Angolan conflict.

The explorer Paulo Dias de Novais (1510–1589) founded Luanda in 1575 as "São Paulo de Loanda," with 100 families of settlers and 400 soldiers. The São Miguel Fort built in 1576 by the Portuguese to serve as protectorate and as the administrative centre of the colony.  This old fortress of São Miguel overlooks Luanda Island beyond the port and was a major outlet for slave traffic to Brazil. Luanda was Portuguese Angola's administrative center from 1627, except for the period from 1640 to 1648, when the Dutch ruled Luanda as Fort Aardenburgh.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Benguela - Angola's Success Story

During the present African Cup of Nations Soccer Tournament in Angola, the foreign press is discovering previously hidden examples of Angola's progress in rebuilding the country.

Here is a good BBC report  about the rebuilding and regeneration of the city of Benguela, located along the Atlantic Ocean, some 700 km south of the Angolan capital of Luanda.  Spared the worst by the civil war that reduced most other inland towns to piles of smouldering rubble, Benguela is Angola’s second city and self-appointed cultural capital. It was founded by the Portuguese in 1617 and is a former slave port and the erstwhile terminus of the cross-continental Benguela Railway. 

Many cast the future of Angola in the railway's reconstruction. Prior to Angola's civil war, the 1,500-kilometre Benguela Railroad was a major transportation thoroughfare that carried Zambian copper to Angolan ports in Lobito and Benguela.  As one government official recently stated, "The demolition of the railway, starting at Benguela was like cutting an artery. Reconnecting it and the economy will flow once again, and then….well, who knows? Anything is possible."  It is great to see the hope and positive outlook of the people of Benguela in the rebuilding effort.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

African Folklore: How the Zebra Got Its Stripes

One day long ago, a very big, very fierce baboon came down from the trees to live on the banks of the great Umfolozi River. Here he made his home and declared to all the other animals that the land all around belonged to him, and they were not to use the water in the river. He alone was to be allowed to drink.

There was one among the animals who decided to stand up to fearful Baboon. This was a proud young zebra stallion, Dube. In those days, zebras were pure white, likethe fabled unicorn. Now Dube was brave, and he challenged Baboon to a fight. Baboon, a fierce veteran of many battles, agreed. He knew all about fighting.
"The loser of the fight:' he said, "will be banished forever to the barren kopje (hills) across the river:' And he told the zebra to come to his kraal (corral) the next morning.

The fight was long and terrible. Both animals fought with all their strength, using the weapons the Creator had given them. Dube used his sharp hooves and teeth. Baboon used his long fangs and his agility. Eventually, Baboon gained the upper hand, and poor Dube was thrown backwards into the blazing logs of the kraal fire. The cruel flames licked all over his body, searing his fine white coat. The dreadful pain gave Dube a surge of new strength, and with a mighty kick he sent Baboon flying.

Over the river sailed Baboon, right onto the rocks of the kopje on the other side. Baboon landed with such force that a bald patch remains on his behind to this very day.

But Dube too was marked for life.The burns from the blazing logs in Baboon's fire left black stripes all over his snow-white coat. But at least he had won and from that day on, the water was free to all the animals. Since then, zebras wear their stripes with pride, and while baboons are banished to stony kopjes, the zebras dwell on the open plains, coming and going to the river just as they please.  (From: When the Hippo was Hairy and Other tales from Africa; Nick Greaves.)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Rural Healthcare

Recent statistics and surveys show that almost 40 - 50% of Angolans have no access to local healthcare.  In the many cases Angolans must travel many days, often on foot, to reach an organized healthcare facility.  This state of healthcare and the amount of travel has been documented by the CEML Hospital, often receiving patients from other far off Angolan provinces who are in need of specialized healthcare or complicated surgical operations.

In some of most remote areas of Angola, local churches have taken the initiative to start healthcare stations to meet the immediate and basic healthcare needs of surrounding people.  In one instance, the national, evangelical church in Mavinga started a small clinic/hospital as pictured at the left.   The Portuguese previously called this part of Angola "the end of the world"; from Luanda, the nations capital, it is located over 1200km away and over 800km from the CEML's base in Lubango.

The majority of the healthcare workers in these clinics have received basic training from the CEML medical staff.  Additionally, CEML doctors regularly travel to these outposts via Mission Aviation Fellowship aircraft in order to conduct more intense medical and eye examinations.  While major surgery cannot be performed in these conditions and locations, CEML's opthamologist is able to perform cataract surgeries with his mobile surgery unit.

Though meeting a great need of basic healthcare in these remote areas, realistically these small clinics will never be able to meet the mounting medical needs of the people.  It is encouraging to see the investment that the Angolan Government is making in these areas to rebuild the municipal hospital which were either destoyed or abandoned during the lengthy civil war.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Angola Did You Know 3: Coffee!

Angola at one time was the world's fourth-largest coffee producer. In 1975 and 1976, Angola produced almost one million bags (61,000 metric tonnes) of robusta coffee annually.  Continued warfare, which in particular devastated rural areas, led to the slow but steady collapse of the industry. By 1985, harvests were at only 189,000 bags - in 2004, numbers even dropped to 15,000 bags.

 “Angola's robusta (coffee) bean is the best robusta in the world,” Mayimona Romulo, an engineer from the National Coffee Institute stated.  “Angola has excellent conditions for growing coffee in terms of climate and rainfall and the ability to grow many robusta varieties."

At least 15,000 tonnes of coffee were harvested during the 2009 harvest year, which is considered a drop in the ocean compared to Africa's major coffee producers such as Ethiopia (4.50 million bags), Uganda (2.75 million bags) and Kenya (1.0 million bags), according to statistics from the International Coffee Organisation (ICO). World production is now around 120 million bags annually, with Brazil and Columbia being the leading exporters.

The Angolan government has started a pilot project for coffee production in the municipality of Amboim, in the Cuanza province, which is located just east of the capital, Luanda.  With a capital injection of over USD $8.5million,is serious about its intent "to re-launch the coffee sector in Angola."

For rural Angolans around the Amboim area, which were deeply impoverished by the long war, even current low prices of coffee means an important economic advance. The Angolan government has estimated that the Amboim coffee project will lift around 4,000 rural families in the region out of poverty, totalling approximately 30,000 people. (Adopted from Afrol News 2009)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Attack on African Cup of Nations Soccer Team

The African Cup of Nations Soccer tournament, due to start tomorrow in Angola, has suffered an unfortunate setback due to a rebel attack on one of the participating African country teams.

A bus carrying Togo’s football team to the Africa Cup of Nations in Angola, was fired upon after it crossed from the Republic of Congo into Angola's oil-rich territory of Cabinda. Nine people including two Togo players were reportedly wounded on the bus as well as the death of the bus driver.  The Togo team has since withdrawn from the tournament.

The government called the incident, initiated by the rebel group Flec, an “act of terrorism.  This occurance will put an unfortunate mark on the spirit, energy and image of the Angolan tournament. Read more about the incident here.......

Angola AIDS Watch

All sub-Saharan African countries in this era have a great concern about the effects and destruction that the AIDS virus causes on their own individual societies. (This region has some 22.5 million people with HIV- the highest percentage in any region worldwide).  Angola's worries concerning the spread of this are not unfounded especially as the government opens the borders and interior with massive reconstruction.

Recently, the Angolan Health Minster stated that though "27 years of civil war in Angola caused much bloodshed and destruction, the corresponding isolation served as a protection against the deadly AIDS virus which now threatens to spread across the country."  With the reconstruction of roads and bridges, the threat of AIDS in Angola may worsen with the facilitation of the movement of people from neighboring countries: 20% of the neighboring Namibia population is infected with HIV.

Currently only 2.1% of Angolans are HIV positive.  But in the southern Cunene province which borders Namibia, some 16% of the inhabitants carry the virus.  Other provinces bordering or near the Republic of Congo in the far north of Angola have also shown steady increases in the number of AIDS cases.

Though the Angolan government has pledges multiple billions of dollars towards the education and fight against the spread of AIDS, I am hopeful that the Evangelical National Church in Angola will have an impact in changing the lifestyles and mindset against the personal actions that spread the HIV virus.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Angola's Showcase to the World

When the opening game of the Africa Cup of Nations kicks off in Luanda on Sunday January 10, it will be the first time since the tournament's inception in 1957 that Angola will be hosting the tournament.  Being a participant in this high-level athletic event for many years, Angola's right to host the showpiece of African football will most certainly allow the world to see the potential and amazing development that this country holds.

The fact that Angola has been chosen to host the 2010 cup is a sign of confidence in the stability of the region and shows how the government through this event is taking proactive steps to build up the infrastructure which can assist in bringing the country out of poverty. By hosting the African Cup of Nations over this month, Angola also hopes that it can kick start its tourism industry to showcase its pristine beaches, warm climate, and distinct colonial Portuguese architecture.

This is my personal hope through this event; that the world showcase and attention that Angola will receive will revise the world's stereotype of the country and strengthen the relief aid and tourism interest, and that this influx of capital will aid the local communities.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Ovimbundu Wisdom!

The Ovimbundu people comprise the largest 'tribe' in Angola, some 37% of the peoples, and though they are spread throughout Angola as a result of the civil war, they are mostly located in the Benguela / Central Highlands in the mid to southern part of the country.

The Ovimbundu have their own distinct and interesting culture and inherent within the culture are unique wisdom sayings in their language, Umbundu.  

I will periodically share some some of the wisdom sayings and folklore here.  Enjoy!

Proverb:  Okulya Omuma yolonjinji, okukuliha okupunja.

Literal TranslationTo eat the liver of the ant is necessary to know quartering.

Meaning:  It's the little things which show the character of a great man.