Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Historic City Series: Huambo

With its public parks, open-fronted villas and pavement cafés, Huambo has been said to feel more European than African. Add the Mediterranean climate and the tree-lined streets and you can see why the Portuguese called the city Nova Lisboa (New Lisbon) after their own capital.

Located in the country’s lush central highlands, among hundreds of thousands of hectares of rich agricultural land and connected to the coast by the Benguela railway, Huambo was once a wealthy and successful city and was even planned to replace Luanda as the country’s capital.
Huambo receives its name from Wambu, one of the 14 old Ovimbundu kingdoms of the central Angolan plateau. The Ovimbundus, an old tribe originally arrived from Eastern Africa, had founded their central kingdom of Bailundu early as the 15th century. Wambu was one of the smaller kingdoms and was hierarchically under the king of Bailundu and came of interest through the advent of the construction of the Benguela Railway by the Portuguese. Though the kings of Bailundu and Wambu (particularly Ekuikui II and Katiavala I) opposed the penetration of the railway by ambushing workers and settlers, they were eventually subdued by the Portuguese Army and Huambo was officially founded on 8 August 1912 by Portuguese General José Mendes Norton de Matos.

Huambo was found to be a strategic place for many reasons. A benign climate (greatly due to its high altitude, 1,700m) and the presence of abundant water resources in and around made of it an ideal spot to have a hub on the railway.  A rail system was devised by the British entrepreneur Sir Robert Williams as the easiest and cheapest way to link the rich copper mines of Katanga (Shaba) in Belgian Congo to the Angolan port of Lobito on the coast from which the mineral could be exported; the Lobito bay was admittedly the best natural seaport in the whole continent.
By the 1920s Huambo already was one of the main economic engines of Portuguese Angola. It had some important food processing plants, served as the main exporting point for the Province's considerable agricultural wealth and was also known by its numerous educational facilities, especially the Agricultural Research Institute (currently part of the Faculty of Agricultural Science).
Decades of war, however, stunted Huambo’s ambitions of greatness. The city was a major flashpoint between the ruling MPLA and the rebel group UNITA and it saw some of the worst fighting in the country. Its beautiful buildings were devastated, the countryside peppered with landmines, and hundreds of thousands of people were driven from their homes. 

In Huambo’s heyday during the 1960s, it was known as the “granary” of Angola and a major exporter of products such as beans and maize. The legacy of war and landmines still looms large in the province, however, and the majority of farming is subsistence and small scale. Analysts predict that it will take time to relaunch Huambo as a major agriculture exporter, but in the meantime the city is marketing itself as an eco-city.  Home to the country’s Institute of Agricultural Research and Faculty of Agricultural Science, Huambo is the national leader in environmental matters.

It also has the Casa Ecologia, an environmental study and education venue, and the park in the city center with its Estufa Fria (greenhouse), which is to be redeveloped and expanded to become a base for researching and preserving indigenous plants.

In another reinforcement of its ecological importance, the province has been chosen by the government to
pilot a project aimed at reducing land degradation. The scheme, in partnership with the Global Environment Facility and with input from the United Nations, aims to reduce unsustainable agriculture, stop deforestation, prevent overgrazing and promote better environmental practices, particularly among subsistence farmers.  (Wikipedia,  Sonangol Universo Magazine)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Angolan Food: Kizaka Peanut Stew

Kizaka is a traditional Angolan dish widely consumed in urban and rural zones of Angola.  Kizaka, sometimes spelled as Quizaca, is basically made of cassava leaves stewed in finely ground peanuts (peanut butter). The full recipe of this popular dish of Angolan traditional cuisine is as follows:


1 kg shredded cassava leaves, 250ml smooth peanut butter, salt and olive oil to taste. Optionally, you can add some hot chili, 250g of smoked catfish or dry prawns. Meanwhile, the fish have to be well cleaned and broken into pieces, removing as many bones as possible.

Preparation Method:

Add the leaves to a pan, cover with water and boil half-covered for about 60 minutes. When ready, drain. Mix the peanut butter with 250ml water then transfer to a pan with the greens and bring to a boil. Season to taste then add enough water to cover.  Bring to a boil, reduce and simmer and cook, partially covered, until the water has reduced and the dish is almost dry. It can be served over plain rice, with funje, plantains, or boiled cassava. (Recipe from

Friday, October 14, 2011

Tackling Angola's Teacher Shortage

(The Guardian, Oct 13) The dusty playground around Primary School 200 is filled with children. It could be breaktime, except that everyone is sitting in attentive groups. Some pupils are gathered beneath trees; others bake in the heat under a long, shiny sheet of corrugated metal that looks like a bike shelter.

In her job as a teacher-training co-ordinator in Huíla province, 43-year-old nun, Sister Cecília Kuyela witnesses school overcrowding every day. Primary School 200, which serves the poor area of João de Almeida, has 7,348 pupils for 138 teachers and eight permanent classrooms. At peak periods, classes are held in the street. But that is the least of Sister Cecília's worries.

Amid the hum of singing and recitation, 33-year-old teacher Rosa Florinda is drawing on a blackboard. "She is teaching her second-graders to tell the time,'' says Sister Cecília. "She has drawn clock faces on the board but that is not going to work. These children do not have watches. Neither, probably, do their parents. She needs to do things differently,'' she says.
Outdated teaching methods are only a fragment of Angola's education challenges. When the country's 27-year civil war ended nine years ago, its education system faced a standing start. Millions of people had moved into cities and provincial towns. The schools that were still functioning in 2002 had been built before independence in 1975 to cater essentially for the children of Portuguese settlers. The curriculum had scarcely evolved beyond some Soviet-influenced tinkering. Teacher training had stopped.

Angola signed contracts with China, trading oil for infrastructure projects such as roads, railways, hospitals and schools. Angolan cities became, and still are, building sites. But the realization loomed that without teachers, schools are just empty shells.

In his office in the provincial capital, Lubango, director of education Américo Chicote, 48, describes a "crisis'' that seems without end. "Our biggest challenge is to get children into school but then we have to find people to teach them. In Huíla province we have about 700,000 children of school age and 19,000 people teaching them. At the end of the war we had 200 schools. We now have 1,714 schools but we are still teaching 40% of our pupils under trees, and the school-age population is growing at a rate of 3% per year. Results are suffering. There are 171 days in the school year but there are not 171 days of good weather. We just have to do our best.''

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Angola's Diverse Vegetation

It has been said that Angola has the most diverse vegetation of any country in Africa.  The country has vegetation commonplace to highlands, lowlands, desert, savannah and rainforest. 

The Maiombe forest,  which spreads from the DRC through Cabinda, Congo and Gabon, contains rare tropical woods such as blackwood, ebony and sandalwood. There are other areas of tropical forest in the northern third of the country. 

Afromontane forest
A particular type of forest that occurs only above 2000m in isolated spots. The dominant tree here is the yellowwood. 

Miombo woodlands 
Covers central Angola and contains tropical woods like Angolan mahogany which makes excellent timber.

Mopane woodlands
A dry area of woodlands and savannah containing mopane, a single-stemmed tree with distinctive, butterfly-shaped leaves. 
Coastal plain
The lowest-lying part of Angola. Along the coast you can often see the famous baobab tree.

The land of the Welwitschia Mirabilis, an astonishing desert plant that resembles a giant octopus. It produces only two leaves, spans six to nine fee and can live as long as 2,000 years.  The plant is unique to this province and neighboring Namibia.  (From: Sonangol Universo Magazine)