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Angola: Blogging from inside the country (I)

With a total population estimated at just under 16 million, five years after the end of the thirty-year long civil war, the state telecommunications enterprise Angola Telecom’s fixed-line network still serves less than one percent of the population, Internet Service Providers hardly serve one person per one thousand people and there are just around fourteen Internet users per one thousand people.* Still, in spite of this grim picture, there are a handful of bloggers in the country, although most blogging from the capital, Luanda. There are also at least two brave souls blogging from the interior provinces. Of these, I have been following the postings from “Serra da Chela”, a blog (commemorating this month its first anniversary) by Manuel Vieira, a journalist based in Lubango, the capital of the Southern province of Huila. Though blogging mostly on/from that location, he also posts from Luanda and other interior provinces (and, in the last few days, from Mozambique and Swaziland).

One of his posts that has particularly called my attention was on an issue that brings to the fore, on the one hand, the spectrum of hunger caused by climate and local weather conditions and, on the other, the conflicts opposing local authorities, on behalf of their communities, and extractive companies exploiting natural resources in the region while dodging their social responsibilities:

Populares do município dos Gambos, província da Huíla, denunciam gritantes espectros de fome no interior daquela localidade.
Os casos de fome terão se agravado nos finais de Novembro do ano passado, quando a seca na região semi árida dos Gambos começou a ser sentida, com os sinais mais evidentes serem a destruição das culturas e a seca das chimpankas ( lagos artificias para a acumulação de agua para o uso humano e abeberamento de gado).
Grandes hectares cultivados com massango e massambala são descritos como totalmente secos devido a falta de chuvas em claro contraste com o resto do país onde caiem fortes cargas de aguas pluviais com destruição á mistura. As localidades de VILHAMBWNDO, CHIANGE ( sede municipal) e CHIMBEMBA são as mais visadas. Os gritos de fome terão chegado em Dezembro ultimo ao conhecimento das autoridades do governo da Huíla, no Lubango, mas ainda não há informações de um “plano de emergência” para travar ou minimizar a situação por forma a evitar a perda de vidas humanas e mesmo de gado bovino, principal riqueza das populações agro pastorais do municípios.
Numa deslocação recente ao município o chefe do executivo huilano, Ramos da Cruz, terá sido confrontado com as informações dos sobas da zona, devido as dificuldades por que passam populações de pelo menos quatro comunas, onde a falta de mantimentos a mais sentida. Noutras localidades desta província, no principio do ano passado, varias localidades tiveram o mesmo problema devido a destruição das culturas de milho e massango por acção directa das intensas chuvas que se abateram sobre a região. Na altura a reacção das autoridades foi tímida na contenção das consequências do problema. SOBAS E EMPRESAS DE EXTRAÇÃO DE MINEIROS EM PÉ DE GUERRA Nas ultimas semanas subiu de tom o latente conflito entre as autoridades tradicionais do município e as varias empresas que a varias anos trabalham na exploração de granito negro, mármore e outras rochas ornamentais no município dos Gambos. Em causa está um acordo firmado entre as empresas e o governo provincial para que as primeiras, para além do seu ramo de actividade possam tratar da construção de escolas, hospitais, abertura de furos de água entre outras benfeitorias, por forma a levar desenvolvimento á região.
Cerca de quatro anos depois do acordo ter sido firmado não houve cumprimento das obrigações, acto continuo quando o assunto chegou ao conhecimento das autoridades tradicionais começou a pressão para a retirada compulsiva destas empresas do município em causa. O conflito foi travado “ in extremis” pelo governo local que mandou ao terreno uma alta delegação para encetar contactos com as partes. Volta e meia, segundo as nossas fontes, essas empresas voltam a ludibriar os sobas e as comunidades. No terreno nada é feito a não ser actos do governo. As empresas ANGOSTONE, ENGRAMA e ROREMINA são as mais citadas. Apenas a OMPUNDA KAJAC ( próxima de dignitários locais) estará a cumprir, segundo as fontes, com o seu papel. O governador terá conseguido travar o conflito mas não termina-lo. * PUBLICADO NO JORNAL REGIONAL KESONGO
Gambos*Serra da Chela

PEOPLE OF THE GAMBOS MUNICIPALITY, HUILA PROVINCE, DENOUNCE THE GRIPPING SPECTRUM OF HUNGER IN THE LOCALITY**
The cases of hunger are thought to have been aggravated towards the end of November, when the drought started to grip the semi-arid region of Gambos, with its tell-telling signs of destruction of planted fields and the drying out of the chimpakas (artificial lakes for the storage of water for human and cattle consumption).
Vast hectares of land cultivated with massango and massambala (local staple cereals) are described as totally dried due to faulty rains, in total contrast with the rest of the country, where heavy downpours have occurred leaving destruction behind. The localities of Vilhambwndo, Chiange (municipal headquarters) and Chimbemba are the most affected. The cries of hunger might have reached the ears of the provincial government’s authorities, in Lubango, last December, but there are still no reports about an “emergency plan” to halt or minimise the situation in order to prevent loss of human life, and even of cattle –- the main source of wealth for the affected municipalities’ agro-pastoral populations.
During a recent visit to the municipality, the head of Huila’s government, Ramos da Cruz, is said to have been confronted with the region’s Sobas (traditional authorities) reports on the difficulties facing the populations of at least four comunas (sub-municipalities), where the food shortage is most felt. At the start of last year, in other regions of this province, various localities have faced the same problem, although caused by the opposite weather conditions: they were fustigated by heavy rains which caused the total destruction of maize and massangano cultures. At the time, the authorities showed some shyness in tackling the problem.
MEANWHILE, SOBAS AND EXTRACTIVE COMPANIES ON THE BRINK OF WAR. Against the above background, the brooding conflict between the local traditional authorities and the various companies, which for several years have been extracting black granite, marble and other ornamental stones in the Gambos municipality, has heightened in tone during the last few weeks. At stake is an agreement signed by the companies and the provincial government committing the former to, alongside their main business, among other contributions to the region’s development, build schools, hospitals and water boreholes. However, four years since the signature of that agreement, there hasn’t been any honouring of those obligations, in response to which the local authorities started exerting pressure for the compulsive retreat of the said companies from the municipality.
An open conflict was stopped “in extremis” by the local government, which sent a high-level delegation to mediate negotiations between the parties. Yet, according to our sources, time and again, the companies have been succeeding at cheating the Sobas and the communities and, on the ground, nothing gets done apart from government-sponsored activities. The companies Angostone, Engrama and Roremina are the most cited. According to our sources, only Ompunda Kajac (a company close to local dignitaries) is thought to be honouring its obligations under the agreement. The governor might have succeeded at suspending the conflict but not at terminating it.* Latest available statistics (2003) taken from here.** Published in the regional newspaper “Kesongo”.
Gambos*Serra da Chela

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