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).

Friday, October 29, 2010

Angolan Humor 1

Like other cultures, Angolan humor is often tied to the farcical events of everyday life.  See an example of a daily comic page from Journal de Angola, a daily Angolan newspaper.

"Sir, is this in a hurry?"   

                                 "No, I have only waited here three hours!"

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Report: Angola Poverty Level Drops

(ANGOP) The United Nations Resident Coordinator in Angola, Koen Vanormelingen, said last week in Luanda that poverty levels decreased in Angola, measured in monetary income, from 63% in 2002 to 38% in 2009. At a press conference held by agencies of the UN System in Angola,  Vanomelingen said that the country is headed toward a secure way to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), given the advances in the past decades, such as peace and the consolidation and economic growth and social development.

In a previous UN report in June, some other impressive figures emerged: malnutrition dropped from 35% in 2002 to 23% in 2010, school enrolment has surged to 76%, and gender parity is close to being achieved in schools, with 98 girls with every 100 boys.

The attraction of considerable foreign investments, the progress on the rehabilitation of socio-economic structures and the expansion of national health network in infrastructures and staffs considered the basis for these economic and social advances.

Contary to the UN's report findings, other resident aid agencies and economists in in Angola have considered that the recent statistical drop in poverty is only within the confines of the major Angolan cities.  From their observations, the rural areas are still suffering; Angola has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world. A rival United Nations agency, the UNDP (United Nations Development Program), also issued its annual Human Development Report stating that still one out of four Angolan children dies before the age of five. This is the same as in Sierra Leone, yet the Angolan GDP per capita exceeds $ 6,000, which is more than eight times higher than in Sierra Leone, with a GDP per capita of roughly $ 750.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

African Folklore: Why Hippos Don't Eat Fish

When God was giving each animal a place in the world, the pair of hippos begged to be allowed to live in the cool water which they so dearly loved.

God looked at them, and was doubtful about letting them live in the water: their mouths were so large, their teeth so long and sharp, and their sizeand their appetiteswere so big, He was afraid that they would eat up all the fish. Besides, He had already granted the place to another predator - the crocodile. He couldn't have two kinds of large, hungry animals living in the rivers. So God refused the hippos' request, and told them that they could live out on the open plains.

At this news, the two hippos began to weep and wail, making the most awful noise. They pleaded and pleaded with God, who finally gave in. But He made the hippos promise that if they lived in the rivers, they must never harm a single fish. They were to eat grass instead. The Hippos promised solemnly, and rushed to the river, grunting with delight.

And to this day, hippos always scatter their dung on the river bank, so God can see that it contains no fish bones. And you can still hear them laughing with joy that they were allowed to live in the rivers after all. ( From: When the Hippos was Hairy and Other Tales from Africa: Nick Greaves) 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

An Undeniable Impact on Angola; Mission Schools and Stations

An important part of Angola's history includes the existence and impact of evangelical missions. The influence of Protestant missionary schools is evident considering that many of the Angolans who are currently leaders in government and business today were in fact educated in Protestant schools. In fact, the three leaders of the political movements that emerged at the end of colonialism: António Agostinho Neto who was head of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and current President of Angola; Holden Roberto of the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA); and Jonas Savimbi who was the head of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), were all Protestant School products.

Of crucial importance in this history was the Dondi Mission, established by the Congregational Church near the current city of Huambo at the beginning of the 19th century.  Dondi was the only mission in the nation at that time that provided high school level education and full medical services for Angolan indigenas, the local African population that were considered beyond civilization and denied much of the state-sanctioned social services that were available to Europeans and to the people of mixed race (meticos).

Dondi was located in Angola’s fertile central plateau of Huambo, which had long been the nation’s breadbasket as well as a retreat for wealthy Portuguese settlers fleeing the humidity and congestion of Luanda. The main city in the province, known as Nova Lisboa, under the Portuguese, was also a bustling commercial center that relied on its status as an important stop on the Benguela Railway. The Dondi Mission's approach to work with the local Angolan population immediately drew criticism from the mostly Catholic Portuguese settler community. Most questionable, in the eyes of the Portuguese settlers, was the fact that the missionaries’ primary goal was to convert indigenas who occupied the lowest rung of the colonial hierarchy. Dondi missionaries aggressively reached out to these local African villages and rather than speaking in Portuguese, worked to communicate with Africans win their local languages. They published bibles and flyers in Umbundu and taught Angolans to become pastors so that they could minister to local populations and convert their own communities.

In 1975, the upon the beginning of the civil war, the Dondi Mission was evacuated and henceforth was destroyed during the many years of civil war.  At this time, many groups within the United Church of Canada are organizing a campaign to rebuild the Dondi mission and continue its impact on the nation.  (info from Kate Burlingham: "In the Image of God": Missionaries and the Mapping of Angolan Politics)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Truly a Hard Life

(Submission by Nicolas Cominellis, visiting doctor to CEML Hospital) "A short time ago in the hospital, I was talking with a 35-year old Angolan lady who 10 years earlier lost her left leg to a land mine. Angola was once home to the highest per capita concentration of land mines in the world! During the recent war years, this lady lost 8 of her 10 children to fever and diarrhea. No one knows her own diagnosis for sure because medical care facilities from her district are sparse. Without the support of her husband, who was lost to combat during the civil war, she somehow managed to escape starvation. Then a few days ago this remarkable lady fell, could not get up and was brought to the CEML Hospital with pain in her only remaining right leg. Check out the X-ray below!"

Sadly, similar cases as these are all too common within CEML's rural outreach area of southern Angola. The Hospital is aiming to expand its medical services to meet the great exent of these needs.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Angola's Passion for Fashion

After many years of isolation by the civil war, the Angolan fashion industry and its designers are now emerging and is winning plaudits for its fusion of African and interational style.  There was certainly no shortage of interest in Angolan's designs during Angolan's Fashion week in June 2010. There were eight Angolan designers altogether, including designers from Portugal, Brazil and the UK were present with an interest in the emerging designs.

Lucrécia Moreira, one of Angola's top designers states," Urban Angolans are characterized as very good consumers of fashion. This can be seen by walking down any street; they all like to dress well and look good. You can see all the new boutiques opening in Luanda – this is a big industry. When the Hugo Boss store opened a few years back, it made the most sales on its opening night of any Hugo Boss store in the world, which gives you an indication of the appetite people here have for fashion in Angola.”

Moreira’s work is a fusion of influences. She likes to use traditional African fabrics, patterns and colours with European flourishes to create a modern style but one with its roots in tradition. Explaining her style, Moreira said: “The education that we had during the long years of Portuguese colonisation did not allow us to interpret our own culture, so Angolans were not used to wearing African clothes.

“But through travelling around the continent I started to see that people in other African countries used African-style clothes and identified themselves as Africans through their clothes. It was from there that I started to create African fashion."

Ginga Neto, as pictured at left, has a Luanda boutique, Mahinda Prestige, that is becoming a fashion landmark. It is one of the few shops in the country where you can buy Angolan designed and produced clothes. The big attraction this season is Ginga’s new Jeanswear Collection, the first Angolan denim range, which comes with unique symbols of Chokwe sand paintings on the pockets. (Adapted from Sonangol Universo Magazine September 2010)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Rise of the 'Rural Mercedes': the Bicycle

Transport and development go hand-in-hand. In Angola's burgeoning rural economy and society, virtually everything traded must be transported, and almost everyone needs wheels to develope social structures.  The rise of bicycle use in rural Angolan areas represents simple, affordable transportion which can generate wealth, as well as saving lots of time and back-breaking work.  Most importantly, this rise has occurred due to widespread war damage and devastation that has left many secondary roads decrepit and rivers uncrossable by 4 X 4 vehicles swept away by floods.

Bicycle use is also widespread amongst NGO and relief agencies trying to reach remote populations overcome with logistical difficulties in efforts to bring aid and medical relief.  Recently, MSF (Medecins Sans Frontieres) an international medical response organization, used bicyles to reach many remote villages in the remote northern parts of Angola; in regions where many of the paths are not big enough for a car. As well, the roads are suspected of being mined so access is often only on foot or by bicycle. MSF frequently uses bicycles in Malange to do vaccinations in communities without access by road.
Bicycles are now being used as a useful tool in Angola to present the Gospel and build up church congregations. Angola, much like many other parts of Africa presents a unique challenge to Christian pastors and evangelists. Due to the high illiteracy rate among the Angolan population, often the gospel has to be spread orally. However, communities are far-flung which means that great distances have to be covered in the quest to spread the gospel. In addition to this, the terrain is frequently inhospitable and unforgiving, making the lack of a properly developed transport infrastructure more sorely felt.  Since most rural Angolan pastors are very poor, the bicycle is the most practical and affordable answer to these financial and logistical challenges. A bicycle can go where a 4 X 4 cannot go.

Friday, October 1, 2010

New Bid to Halt Polio in Angola

(BBC News - Oct 1, 2010)  A mass polio immunisation campaign is starting in Angola in a bid to vaccinate all children under five.

The campaign is part of a series of programmes aimed at stopping a polio outbreak that has paralysed 24 children this year alone. Over 7 million vaccine doses are set to be delivered.  The World Health Organisation (WHO) says previous attempts to stop the virus circulating failed because too few children were vaccinated.

This outbreak in Angola started in 2007 and the WHO now considers it the greatest risk to Africa's polio eradication efforts.

Polio is a highly infectious virus which mainly infects young children. It is transmitted through contaminated food and water and once it enters the intestine it multiplies and can spread into the nervous system. "The good news is that we know this outbreak could be stopped very rapidly”  Oliver Rosenbauer,  Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

In the worst cases, polio causes paralysis which is often permanent. Current vaccines are highly effective in protecting children against infection. This outbreak, despite previous vaccination campaigns, has now spread to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The virus can only be stopped if all children receive the vaccine. The WHO estimates that in some areas of Angola more than a third of at risk children have not been immunised. Oliver Rosenbauer, spokesperson for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative at the WHO said: "Children across Angola, and indeed Africa, will continue to be paralysed by this awful virus, and it's completely needless because it could so easily be prevented.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

One of Angola's Natural Wonders.

Angola is home to some relatively unknown treasures of this world. As spectacular as any other world-wonder, the Black Rocks of Pungo Andongo rise up majestically over the African savanne landscape. Known locally as the Pedras Negras de Pungo Andongo, these rocks are one of the main tourist sites of the Malanje province. They are steeped in history and intrigue, since no one really knows how the colossal rocks, some up to 200 metres high, came to be here as their geological formation is out of keeping with the surrounding savannah.

Legend has it that in the sixteenth century, Pungo Andongo was the capital of the ancient Kingdom of Ndongo ruled by King Ngola Kiluanji and Queen Ginga Mbandi. Rock carvings found there are said to represent footprints of the fleeing queen who was disturbed by soldiers as she bathed in a stream at the foot of the stones.

In later years, the Portuguese established a military fort among the rocks which was notorious in Portugal. Its name was used to scare naughty children, their parents telling them they 'would end up in Pungo Andongo" if they misbehaved. In the 1920's political prisoners were held at the fort and during Angola's civil war the rocks were a key battleground between opposing forces. (Sonangol Universo Magazine, Sept 2010)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Angola's Day on the World Stage

Yesterday, Angola received a moment in the world spotlight during 'Angola Day' at the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai, China. Of the 228 countries and international organizations that are participating in the six month Exposition, yesterday was Angola's day to be showcased.

The World Expo is essentially a global exhibition where the participating world countries can not only develop their relationship with the host country China, but also create and grow national, commerical, and cross-culture dialogues with visiting dignitaries from around the world.

In a ceremony chaired by the Angolan Vice President, Fernando da Piedade Dias dos Santos, the Vice President explained to the public at the venue the current political and economic situation of Angola, highlighting the Angola' growing economic potential and the government’s commitment to improving the living conditions of citizens.

The design of the Angola Pavilion was inspired by the welwitchia mirabilis, a flower unique to Angola.  The brightly-colored dangling straps on the pavilion's exterior walls resemble the leaves of the flower that lives between 300 to 1,000 years. 
The graceful, modern and attractive pavilion has the theme of 'Angola Ensures a Better Life,"  Divided into seven exhibition areas, the pavilion exhibited Angola's diversified landscapes and beautiful scenery, history, and culture. The second floor of the pavilion houses a business center, which is a platform for cooperation and exchanges between Angola and investors from different parts of the world.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

New Hope for Angola's Amputees

Benadito Cacoma Boeis, now 27, was 12-years-old when he was walking down to the river in his native Luena to wash his shorts and go for a swim. It was a sunny day and his friends were already in the water, calling to him to jump in. Just at the water’s edge, he stepped on a landmine that instantly destroyed both of his legs.

This is an all too common story in the lives of many Angolans living in rural areas. The amputee population in Angola has been calculated as being over 100,000, the highest in the world, of which 8,000 are children under the age of fifteen.

Following the 27-year civil war which ended in 2002, Angola is one of the most mine-contaminated countries in the world. The Landmine Impact Survey of 2007 identified 1,988 communities as impacted by landmines and other remnants of conflict, with all 18 provinces, and an estimated 2.4 million people affected.

Despite these grave statistics, great progress has been made by multinational deming groups in clearing landmines and providing rehabilitation services to the heavily affected Angolan peoples. These NGO groups help thousands of Angolan demobilized soldiers and disabled civilians regain their dignity and become productive citizens through physical and psychosocial rehabilitation.

Besides the detailed process of individually examining and fitting the proper prosthesis to each amputee, counseling is given to address the social and psychological issues that often prevent war-wounded and other disabled Angolans from leading productive lives by partnering with a local organization to carry out educational and counseling activities. Recreational and sports activities are offered through the “Sports for Life” program, which demonstrates to both patients and their communities that those with war injuries can still be active, competitive and productive.
New Science in Detecting Landmines!   Weeds and humans to the rescue! Scientists in Denmark have been tinkering with Arabidopsis thaliana (the homely Thale cress) trying to produce a plant whose flowers will change color in the presence of landmines.
“Within three to six weeks from being sowed over land mine infested areas the small plant…will turn a warning red whenever close to a land mine.” Arabidopsis can be genetically sensitized to the nitrogen-dioxide (NO2) that leaches from buried explosives.

Arabidopsis, lab rat of the plant world, sprouts and blossoms quickly. “The seeds could be dropped from an airplane over a suspected minefield. After a few weeks of growth, soldiers and civilians could judge by the plants’ colours whether the area is safe. The plants could be a huge help to civilians who want to reclaim farmland after a war.” (Human Flower Project 2008)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Homeward Bound!

Eight years after the end of the civil war, Angolans are coming home. By the time the peace accord which brought hostilities to a close was signed in 2002, an estimated 600,000 had crossed Angola’s borders to neighbouring countries as refugees.

Now about 70,000 remain in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with 25,000 in Zambia and smaller groups in Namibia and the Republic of Congo. These remaining Angolans who fled decades of fighting in their country will be urged to return home next year, the UN refugee agency said Tuesday. "There are no more well founded grounds for fearing persecution. The war has stopped.... It is safe to return home," said Bohdan Nahajlo, the agency's representative in Angola. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees will stop supporting the camps after next year. Each host country can decide whether to accept the refugees as immigrants.

At the end of 2011, Angolans living in refugee camps in neighbouring countries will no longer be considered officially as refugees, meaning they will either have to return home or seek a visa to stay where they are, he said. "Refugee status is not a privilege. It is something that happens because of a desperate situation where people need additional protection," he said.  "But it cannot turn into a never ending, an open-ended situation, which may appear privileged in the eyes of the community living around the refugee settlements."

Returning to their homeland will be a pleasure spiced by the cruel events of the recent past. Many in their exiles countries will have attended courses on landmines and will have been given HIV-Aids awareness instruction. And after the excitement of renewing ties of kinship, the real struggle begins. Refugee families receive government-funded basic equipment: farming implements and seeds to grow crops; plastic sheeting, kitchen equipment, blankets and enough food for six months to nurture family life. (Reliefweb, June 22, 2010)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Profile of a 'Soba'

In all of Angola's provinces, the title “Soba” is given to the traditional community leaders to provide local guidance and leadership in solving social and physical community matters.

Sebastião Manuel Napoleão is the “Soba Grande” of the Ilha do Cabo in Luanda, the Big Soba, meaning he is the top man of his neighborhood. At 88 years of age, Grande Soba Napoleão is one of the most recognised faces in Ilha and earns the community respect with 24 children, 71 grandchildren, 21 great grandchildren and three great great grandchildren.
Previously, Sobas were chosed through traditional order of ancestry.  In these modern times, an open-air community meeting creates a shortlist of their desired leaders to have the final choice of the Grand Soba being made by the government.
The Grande Soba describes his job: "Some people see me as a traditional doctor, so people come here to seek cures. Sometimes the police send people here. Just say there is a fight between two people. They say that the first port of call is always the Soba. There are many incidents that the police will not deal with. For this there is the Soba. At the Soba’s place, everything can be sorted out. I give advice to young girls who get pregnant and have problems with their parents. I go and speak to the parents. The people always accept what the Soba says. If I am reprimanding some young men, I have to say things in a way that they get afraid."  (Sonangol Universo Magazine 2009)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Making Music, Angolan Style

Like all other African countries, Angola’s music defines the nation, enshrining the fibre of its culture, its aspirations and its dreams.  That unique music is generated from its own unique instruments.

In fact, Angolan musical instruments are a rare collection of odd and not-so-odd gadgets, simply crafted with the wisdom of sound, African sound, playing notes and rhythms that strike a chord in the roots of the soul.

Each instrument assumes a specific role for which it was crafted and is represented in almost all Angolan traditional events, ancient and modern from storytelling, folklore, music and dance to meetings and special gatherings, even healing rituals and in battle, as an instrument to communicate with soldiers or the enemy.

One of the most important Angolan instruments is the Marimba (as pictured above), a kind of xylophone made from wood with different sizes of gourds attached, which produce a highly recognisable sound for all Angolans. They can be played by two or three people using wood sticks similar to the familiar drumstick.

Then there is the Kissanje (or Mbira), Chisanji and Likembe, depending on the region and its native language), one of the oldest which because of its portable size is commonly carried during long trips “to keep away the solitude and warm the heart with familiar sounds”. This instrument is made usually by fixing metal blades in a plank of wood, and is played using the thumbs.

There are different types of drum according to their function, type of membrane and size of resonance box, but all usually have carved inscriptions to mark their relevance, or for purely ornamental purposes.

Other types of drum are the Phwitas, to be found along the coastline of Angola, used centuries ago for signalling in battle. This type of drum was also used to send messages between tribes, due to the penetrating and loud sound it makes.
(From Sonangol Universo Magazine Autumn 2007)