Friday, December 31, 2010

Feliz Ano Novo (Happy New Year)

I pray that you have a blessed New Year.  

Below is a picture from last year's New Year's fireworks celebration over Lubango's Cristo Rei statue. (Regards to my missionary friend living in Lubango for passing on the picture)

Monday, December 27, 2010

Angola's Railways are Back on Track

Today marks the initial full-length test of the newly reconstructed rail link between Luanda and Malange tinto Angola's agriculture-rich central north-eastern region.  This link will be put to the test before the first commercial trip planned for January 13.

Inaugurated in 1909, most of  railway company CFL's (Caminho de Ferro Luanda) 424 kilometers of track and rail traffic stopped for 18 years due to war, the CFL rail line linking Luanda to Malange via Ndalatando, capital of Kwanza Norte, is considered key to open up the interior of the country and is one of the major issues of program national reconstruction started after the war ended in 2002.

The rehabilitation of the line began in 2005 and has reported cost $350 million. The track was laid by the China Railway construction Company which also built various train stations enroute which can hold between  200 to 500 passengers.

In addition to the thousands of passengers who will utilize the trains between Luanda and Malange, the trains are planned to decrease transport times of locally grown agricultural produce and cattle to Luanda, overcoming the current problems that still exist regarding the storage and conservation of fresh products.  The reopening of the rail line also brings improvements in the distribution of gasoline and diesel fuel to interior regions with the creation of three storage depots by national fuel company Sonangol.

The fleet of diesel locomotives serving the CFL are proudly painted in the Angolan colors of red, black and yellow with a national flag attached to the door of the engineer's cab. Along with the replacement of track and infrastructure, a major challenge for the CFL administration has been the training and replacement of executive and technical staff after most of the employees have died or left the service during the many years of the civil war.  

For the railway system in Angola, the next two years will be decisive with the opening of an important eastward link in the south in 2012.  The Caminho de Ferro Benguela (CFB) is the longest railway in Africa, stretching 1,344 km (835 miles) from the port city of Lobito on the Atlantic coast to the small town of Luau, on the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Reopening the line will establish the only international connection to the DRC and Zambia, potentially utilizing the important transport of minerals from those regions. (Excerpts from BBC News, Angola)

Friday, December 24, 2010

'Running' into the New Year

On December 31, Luanda will again host the 55th annual mini-marathon named Sao Silvestre de Luanda.  A regular year-end sporting event in Lusaphone countries, the event has its roots in Brazil where the first race was run in 1925 and has now become the oldest and most prestigious street race in Brazil.

Known as Saint Silvester's Day, December 31 marks the day on Catholic calendars when the Catholic saint, Pope Silvestre, died in the 4th century of the Christian era.

For Angola's race, the Angolan Athletics Federation confirmed the entry of Ethiopian runner Derib Merga, the 15,000 meter race world record holder. Last year, Derib Merga won the half marathons in Boston, Houston, New Delhi, Dubai and Ottawa. Merga will have competition from compatriot Hail Gebrsalassie (holder of the world's best marathon mark) and the Kenyan Josphat Menjou, the world record holder in 10,000 meters.

The San Silvestre de Luanda has a route length of 10 kilometers, starting off in the area of Mutamba and ending in Luanda's Conqueiros Stadium.  The winners in both men's and women's classes will receive USD$10,000 each. (ANGOP)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Doubling of Electricity Production

The government of Angola has just announced that it intends to invest 18 billion dollars by 2016 in the construction of energy infrastructures, in order to remedy the shortfall which is affecting the country. Statistics show that less than 30 per cent of the Angolan population has access to electricity.

Speaking on the sidelines of the recent state visit of Angolan President Eduardo dos Santos to South Africa, Minister of Energy and Water, Emanuela Vieire Lopes stressed that a substantial increase in the production of energy in Angola, some 7,000 megawats, would be achieved only with use of hydroelectric generation.  At least 68 sites for building of mini-hydroelectric powers have been identified with the objective of reaching 100% of power supply to the population.

The realization of these investments  is stated to be accomplished by setting up a fund which will be fed by oil revenues on 100 thousand barrels/day and executed in accordance with the rules of the General State Budget. (ANGOP)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Opening 'Roads' to Freedom and Mobility

One of the most impressive rebuilding efforts in rehabilitating Angola's infrastructure has been in area of rebuilding the road system.  During the armed conflict, the interprovincial roads were not able to receive any maintenance services which resulted in the gradual deterioration and destruction of much of the infrastructure.  Aside from air transport, this lack of road access essentially isolated the isolated, interior regions from the major urban areas.

New 2010 year-end reports show that the efforts of this reconstruction have rebuilt more than 6,000 kilometres (3,600 miles) of roads in Angola between 2005 and 2010 under the National Reconstruction programme.

Joaquim Sebastião, director general of the Angolan National Roads Institute (INEA), said more than 7,500km would be rebuilt between 2011 and 2013. Future construction programmes also included repairing and rebuilding 1,400 bridges.

The rebuilding of the roads and bridges has now re-established links between the provinces' chief towns, showing the direct effects of increased trade and decreased transport costs of produce and products. (ANGOP)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Angola Humor 2

See another example of a daily comic page from Journal de Angola, a daily Angolan newspaper.  This comic strip highlights the typical slow internet speeds and the long wait for improved, faster service.

Translated: "Poor situation.  They both (the man and the computer) waited for high speed internet and they fell asleep!"

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Going Bananas!

Bananas are one of the very few things in which Angola is self sufficient. There are thousands of hectares of both dessert and plantain (cooking) banana plantations, mostly in the southern province of Benguela, but they also grow wild up in Uíge.
Bananas, however, are quite difficult to grow commercially on a small scale. They are perishable and fragile, so need to be handled with care. Clumsy transportation can cause blemishes, which is unattractive to customers. Logistical problems such as a lack of good transport, bad roads and a congested port all add to the difficulties of getting high quality fruit into the marketplace, and exportation compounds these challenges.

Because of the high levels of waste, bananas grown in Angola are not cheap. A trial export deal with the South African-based supermarket chain Shoprite failed because the company could import bananas into Angola for less than it was paying for them locally. However, exports could soon become a reality with Angolan bananas being sold in European supermarkets and beyond.

In order to assist in economic development amongst small farms run by individual Angola farmers, efforts have been initiated to grow the banana production on a smaller scale. The Co-operative League of the United States of America (Clusa), thanks to funding from USAID and Chevron, is working with small farm-holders in Benguela to help them increase their yields and to set up co-operatives to boost their buying and selling powers. Banana production in the Benguela area represents about 10 tons per hectare in traditional production, with the commercial farms using modern technology yeild 80 tons per hectare.

“The challenge is to increase the yield,” says Estêvão Rodrigues, Clusa’s Angola representative. “By using better plants, taking better care of them and by moving from flood irrigation to micro-sprinkle irrigation, you can increase yields from 25 tonnes a hectare to 50. I definitely think bananas will do well here, especially if the exporting mechanisms are put in place".

“Once we get the banana sector going, there’s hope for other fruit too, like pineapples and citrus fruit. It’s a big hope.” (Sonangol Universo Magazine)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Cell Phone: Angola's Poverty Reduction Tool?!?

At a recent United Nations conference for Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in Luanda, UN delegates issued a report on Economics of Information with suggestions and recommendations on the advantages of using the 'phone' in the reduction of poverty.

Speaking to the press, UNCTAD representative Nuno Fortunato gave highlights of the report which documents the usefulness of the phone as a strong tool to combat hunger.  The main recommendations are those that fall within the policies of the states to reduce the cost of refills, to increase the validity of a phone subscriber's balance and charge the calls in seconds rather than in minutes.

Amidst its economic boom, Angola is experiencing exponential growth in cellular techonology and users, currently logging some 8 million users; 65% of the population.  Logically, the majority of these users are within the urban cellular signal range and within the economic capabilities of affording such communication services.

"In countries where there is an exponential growth of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in their rural communities, it appears that there has been a direct link to an increase in the improvement of living conditions, mainly to the resident peasant farmers and fishermen," he expounds.

Fortunato supports this theory by the statistical proof of the develop in China and India which have the highest rate of development and widespread use of ICT.  Conversely, in Africa, except for South Africa, many African states are lagging behind on the expansion of the use of mobile phone in their rural areas as compared to these two Asian countries.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Bending Angola's Wind

The Bay of Luanda, shielded by the long arm of the Ilha peninsula, makes a near-perfect environment in which young people can endeavor to pursue a new-found watersport. The recent growth in popularity of sailing is just another sign that normality is now quickly returning to the life of Angola, with its hundreds of kilometres of beautiful and relatively benign coastline.

Despite its image as an elite pastime, the interest in sailing among young Luandans is stretching across all economic levels, showing a steady growth in the numbers joining sailing clubs and learning the skills of bending the wind to their pleasure.

José Junça, the president of the Angolan Sailing Federation, says that as a rule the children are only allowed to sail if they succeed in school – but no matter what the family income, they have the opportunity to join a sailing club. “The kids quickly form a strong bond, no matter what their skill, social level or school grades,” he says. “I have noticed that this is a very character-building activity at their age.”

“These are two principles that we intend to keep up, but it’s hard,” says Mr Junça. “This connection with the sea is important for Angola. It is quite possible that some of the kids, somewhere in their future, may thus be  directed to study marine biology, naval engineering or something else related to the sailing environment which they now find themselves in.”

Altogether, more than 100 Angolan children are signed up as members of the three most popular classes:  Optimist (one crew, hull weight: 35 kg, sail area: 3.25 sq.m), Laser (one crew, hull weight: 59kg, sail area: 7.06 sq.m)  and Vaurien (two crew, hull weight 95 kg, total sail area: 16.2 sq.m).

Almost all of the young Angolan sailors are eager to go abroad and show to the world their enthusiasm for the sport. “Their first wish is really to compete outside the country and meet other people,” says Mr Junça. In  fact, most of them are sufficiently experienced to take part in international competitions, and have made many foreign friends with whom they share their interest at every level.

Eighteen-year-old Osvaldo Tati, sailing in the Laser class, has been three-times national champion, and says that the top places in the international competitions are well within Angola’s reach due to its young sailors’ dedication and enthusiasm. (Sonangol Universo Magazine)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

History and Culture Written in Sand

In looking at pictures of Angola’s traditional sand drawings, the uninitiated would never believe they were viewing an artform dating back more than 300 years. Stylish and clean cut, these mono-linear designs would surely grace the walls of any modern-day gallery or art-lover’s plush apartment, but in reality they are telling stories of history and culture past.

Sona sand drawings (LuSona) are native to the Chokwe people, of which an estimated 500,000 live in Angola’s eastern provinces of Lunda Norte and Lunda Sul. Striking in their elegance, the illustrations disclose a much deeper form of communication, encompassing traditional rituals, problem-solving techniques and ancient legends of Angola. Even today, they remain a key adjunct to Angola’s age-old tradition of storytelling and a vital tool in educating local communities of the region.

The drawings themselves, according Mrs Skogen, an anthropologist and designer, are not dissimilar to Celtic knot designs, the geometric algorithms used by the ancient Egyptians, the mono-linear images drawn in Mesopotamia and by the Tamils in India. But she maintains that the Sona created by the Chokwe people, regarded as the main developers of the sand drawing tradition, are some of the finest around.

“I believe the Chokwe people are the best in the world at this technique,” Mrs Skogen says. “Their drawings are very sophisticated. They produce beautiful designs, but they also reveal fascinating stories; treasures of Angolan culture that reveal a 'distant heritage'".

Here is an story example based on the drawing seen on the left titled, The Boy and the Lion    A boy and a lion, who had grown up together and had always been good friends, went hunting one day. The boy killed a deer, after which he fell unconscious. Immediately, the lion made a fire and prepared a remedy to revive him. When the two friends returned to the village with their trophy, there was a celebration which cemented their friendship.

Some time later, the two went hunting again and this time the lion killed an antelope buffalo. The lion then fell to the ground, pretending to have fainted. The boy thought the lion was dead and wishing to be considered the bravest hunter in the land, he prepared to make an amulet with the dead lion’s eyes, nose and ears. As he got ready to cut the lion, it jumped up, and seeing the treachery of his friend, slew him. Ever since, those two great hunters – lion and man – have never been seen together.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Keeping out the Lions. Not Your Everyday Intruder!

Recent reports tell of lions causing panic to the people of the village of Cowpea, Cutato the riverbank to the north of the town of Calussinga in the Andulo district. This region is part of the Andulo nature reserve of the Luando area where there is an attempt to raise up the numbers of wildlife to enhance the tourism industry. Bund Faustina, the communal administrator, explained to the press yesterday that the end of Angola's armed conflict created ideal conditions for the return of wildlife and these animals are returning to areas closer to the communities that were once abandoned during the conflict.

The official said that while pursuing other large mammals at night, the felines are now circulating through the outskirts of villages where people are now planting their gardens.

The administrator not only urged people to avoid taking up residence in their gardens during the growing season, in view of the new dangers there, but also appealed to the population to not kill these wild animals indiscriminately since there is need to conserve wildlife.

In this area of the country,many people previously engaged in hunting wild animals, taking into account that the municipality of Andulo has a varied fauna, which features lions, elephants, deer, hippos, rabbits. The inhabitants of Calussinga practice mainly subsistence agriculture. (Journal de Angola)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

New Driving Freedom and its Effects

With the new economic and mobility freedoms enjoyed by Angolans now after the many years of civil war, there has been an explosion of road traffic.  Drivers with economic means are now able to experience the ability to drive their vehicles to different provinces on vastly improved roads, in addition to the the compounding increase in motorcycle and public road transport for the middle and lower economic class populations.

This increase in road traffic has not only brought unbelievable 'road confusion' in the urban areas, but has also lead to an astronomical number of road injuries and deaths.  In a Global Status Report on Road Safety for 2009 published by the World Health Organization, Angola was listed as 7th in the world in accordance to the rate of traffic deaths.  The WHO report for 2009 lists Angola as experiencing 37.7 deaths per 100,000 people and having 2358 traffic deaths.  Comparatively, the USA and Canada have road death rates of 13.9 and 8.8 respectively.  While these figures in 2009 do not list the number of traffic injuries per capita, a preliminary WHO report for Q1 - Q3 of 2010 list Angola as having the 3rd most traffic injuries per capita.  Non scientifically, the CEML Hospital medical staff are seeing a greater percentage of interned patients as those suffering from injuries experienced from either motorcycle or car accidents.

In order to combat the growing trend of road accidents, the Angolan government issued a new Highway Code in 2009, which has divided society. On one hand, the new code is seen as a good measure taken by the Government as it will educate some of the drivers who are less attached to life. Nevertheless, the legislation contains costs that not everyone is able to meet. The compulsory use of seats for children under twelve, may be an example. There are now well informed thieves who have begun stealing these items each of which costs around 30 thousand Cuanza (approximately 385 USD at the date this piece was published).