The story of a development project that destroyed a village in Angola

Estação de Bombagem do Cafú

Cafu Pumping Station | Photo: Simão Hossi/Global Voices

The Cunene River Water Transfer System was opened in the Cafú Channel in Angola in April 2022. The system is responsible for bringing water to the municipalities of Okwanyama, Ombandja, OuNamakunde, and areas of Ndombondola and Ombala-Yo-Mungo, in the province of Cunene, in the southern region of the country.

Inaugurated by the President of the Republic, João Lourenço, the construction of the Canal left hundreds of residents and villagers’ farms, houses, crops, chimpacas (open ponds), wild fruits groves, and other community facilities destroyed. Residents say they were not notified about the project, did not get to have input about its development, and have not been compensated for their losses.

The canal work began in late 2019, with officials claiming it would help mitigate the effects of the drought in Cunene province.

Bombagem do Cafú | Foto: Simão Hossi/Global Voices

Residents of the villages and communities of Onamwenho, Oukango, Oshikololo Sha Nanga, Onanime, Epolo, Omatemba, and Onangwena have all been affected by the development. The canal is more than 160 kilometers long and passes through countless communities and villages. It is not known for sure how many people have been affected by the situation.

The project has become one of the biggest tourist attractions for those visiting this part of the national territory.

What do the residents say?

During visits to the communities between May and June 2022, Global Voices interviewed several individuals, including elders and community leaders in the aforementioned villages and beyond.

Cafú Pumping | Photo: Simão Hossi/Global Voices

Global Voices’ spoke to two women in the village of Oshamutitima, a little over 50 kilometers from the capital Ondjiva. Reginalda Longehiliwa, 63 years old, revealed that she was not opposed to the Canal Project, but that she was unhappy with how the construction company (Sinohydro) carried out the work.

Longehiliwa also stated that she was not aware that there had been an anticipated study on the environmental impact in the locality, to assess possible damage with the existence or completion of the work.

Não houve consultas, se houve, aqui na aldeia não chegou, não houve informações para as pessoas daqui na aldeia (comunidade). Nós fomos surpreendidos com a presença dos homens a fazerem as marcações, desmatando o percurso onde passou o canal.

Nós só estamos a ver as destruições dos nossos bens, divisão das nossas lavras, divisão das nossas casas com as dos nossos filhos, sem mesmo sabermos onde e a quem reclamar ou ainda pedir informações e contas sobre uma possível compensação, indenização dos bens que perdemos com a existência do canal.

There were no consultations, if any, here in the village it did not arrive, there was no information for the people here in the village (community). We were surprised by the presence of men making the markings, clearing the path where the channel passed.

We are only seeing the destruction of our assets, the division of our farms, the division of our homes with those of our children, without even knowing where and to whom to complain or even asking for information and accounts about possible compensation, compensation for the assets we have lost. with the existence of the channel.

According to Longehiliwa, she only learned about this situation through some members of the village who told her that construction was underway for the water channel.

Ninguém aqui na comunidade recebeu uma compensação ou foi indemnizado pelas perdas dos seus bens, lavras, árvores frutíferas, cultivos, chimpacas, casas e outros bens da comunidade.

No one here in the community received compensation or was compensated for the loss of their property, crops, fruit trees, crops, chimpacas, houses and other community assets.

According to some villagers, shortly after the Cafú Canal was inaugurated, the justification they received for the lack of compensation is based on the supposed benefits of the development for the community, as mentioned by one of our interviewees:

As respostas que recebemos das autoridades é que a melhor recompensa, indemnização ou mesmo reparação dos danos causados e destruições dos nosso bens eram ou seja se refletiam na entrega do canal que leva a água para os aldeões que vivem perto ou arredores do percurso do Canal do Cafú, a (menina bonita) da província do Cunene.

The answers we received from the authorities are that the best reward, compensation or even reparation for the damage caused and destruction of our goods were, that is, reflected in the delivery of the channel that carries the water to the villagers who live near or around the route of the Canal do Cafú, the (pretty girl) from the province of Cunene.

Cafú Pumping Station | Photo: Simão Hossi/Global Voices

Engracia Tulengepo, 48, also a resident of the Oshamutitima community, said that she sees the canal project as an opportunity to solve her water scarcity problems.

However, her fields and pastures for grazing animals were completely destroyed during the canal construction — and recovering these spaces remains Tulengepo's main concern. She reports facing problems of lack of food due to the lack of rain to fortify the production of massango (an Angolan grain), the largest agricultural product in the region, followed by cattle, in the Oukwanyama culture locations, throughout the Cunene Province.

The resident also did not have any information about the construction before the work began, nor did she have any idea about why officials initiated the project. She stated that residents were never consulted about the Canal project:

Não houve compensação ou indemnização pela destruição dos nossos bens mais preciosos, as nossas lavras, as nossas terras, os nossos cultivos, as nossas chimpacas, zonas de pastos dos nossos animais. Estou ciente de que os benefícios que o canal trará para as nossas vidas, após as conclusões das obras.

There was no compensation or compensation for the destruction of our most precious goods, our farms, our lands, our crops, our chimpacas, areas where our animals graze. I am aware of the benefits that the channel will bring to our lives, after the completion of the works.

The canal is the first work of its kind in Angola and is being referenced as a major political achievement by the current President, who is running for re-election. It is not known what the position of the justice authorities is in solving the case of lack of compensation, and the residents remain left to their own devices.

Start the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.