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Economic revolution in one of Angola’s least developed state

Interview - August 18, 2014
For most of his career, General Francisco Higino Lopes Carneiro has been a leader. He has served as Minister of Territorial Administration, a military commander of the Angolan armed forces from 1977 to 1979, and Minister of Public Works for almost 11 years. His experience in leadership is now serving him well as leader and Governor of Cuando Cubango, a state in which there has been an “economic revolution” during the last two year, according to the General. The province was once known as the ‘Land at the End of the World’ because of the lack of roads and basic infrastructure, but the name is no longer warranted as the Governor has a plan to build 4,00km of road through 2017.
Cuando Cubango was until recently considered an extremely underdeveloped area of Angola. What has been the starting point for changing this perspective?

The cross-border agreement of the Okavango-Zambeze program, which includes five countries that decided to put part of their territory at the disposal of this cross-border zone, with the goal of allowing the free circulation of people to facilitate other aspects of its tourism offer. Within this context, we understand that the issue of visas is still an element that hinders investment and tourism, but the good news is that, at political level, the decision has been made a few days ago to implement some revisions to the Immigration Law.

In the past, Cuando Cubango was the least developed province in Angola, so much so that it was known as the ‘Land at the End of the World’ because there really were no roads or any basic infrastructure. Today, we want to build approximately 4,000 kilometers of roads until 2017, and the last two years represented a great economic revolution for the province.

During your two years as the head of the province, what steps have been taken?

The first step was to run a diagnostics check against the development plan for the province and, based on that, we have been working in all directions. In addition to this, there is the knowledge and life experience that I have, not only as Provincial Governor (South Kwanza), but also as Minister of Territorial Administration; in the Armed Forces, I am a General and was a military commander from 1977 to 1979; and I was Minister of Public Works for almost 11 years—I was the one who directly promoted the entire development of construction throughout the country. As I was saying, throughout my life, I was able to collect elements that I am now able to put in the service of the development of the Cuando Cubango province in all directions.

To that end, it was only necessary to create a local team that corresponded to my demands. Projects like the agricultural one were stuck, but we decided to change our approach methods completely in 2012, and, now, the agricultural project has been completed—and the others are slowly progressing as well.

Which would you say are the most important projects undertaken by the Provincial Government?

The most important ones are those related to education, health, water treatment and supply and electricity supply. When we talk about education, we are including vocational training, because we think that the development of the national human capital is essential. Until 2016, I intend to see the problems in the health sector solved with the construction and rehabilitation of efficient hospitals at communal, municipal and provincial levels.

Until 2017, we want to see the problems regarding water supply solved at all levels. With regard to electricity, the problem in the capital is solved, although we intend to do an update to increase the available capacity. Still with regard to electricity, this year we intend to solve the Mavinga e Rivungo problems, and I expect that, until 2017, we may also solve all the basic issues inherent to the ones already mentioned.

One issue that still concerns me has to do with the road infrastructure, because we are talking about a country that was involved for a long time in a devastating civil war and that still has a lot of mine fields. To solve this, we have over 42 demining brigades working throughout the territory.
Little by little, the roads are being opened, and with them comes tourism. There is a large scale project scheduled for seven years from now and which should start in 2014, with the goal of feeding Angola from Cuando Cubango, which is an investment that is being made by a French-Swiss-Angolan group, in addition to other complementary projects that I have been authorizing in the field of cereal production, meat production, etc.
My role here is always to stimulate and facilitate investment, no matter where it comes from, and never stand in its way. To the investors that have not been able to stay here, I advise them to come because it is better to come and see it once than listening about it a hundred times.
There are investors creating spectacular tourism projects, there is the Ritz Group that is building four hotel complexes here, and there is yet another tourism project at Cuito Cuanavale—and they all can and do have full support of the Government and any assistance required.

Talking a little about the competitiveness factor, what do you think is necessary for domestic production to compete with imports, and what must be done in that regard?

We need to increase domestic production, especially in terms of agricultural fertilizers. We produce almost no fertilizer, we produce no machinery, and those are elements that add to the cost of national agricultural production. We have a lot of water resources, a lot of fertile land and a lot of manpower.

It may still take a while, but we intend to create the internal conditions to support national agriculture so that it may experience more competitive stages. For that, the Government of Angola has created a series of incentives. For example, the investments made in Cuando Cubango come with 10 years of tax exemption; the retailers in border areas have assess to customs facilities, etc.

What satisfies you the most, in the exercise of your duties, for the development of the province?

In reality, I wanted to be an agronomist. So much so that one of my first training programs was a technical course—a bachelor's in agronomics—but when the revolutionary stage against the Portuguese colonization began, the circumstances of the times led me to set aside the dream of being an agronomist in order to become a master of military science. That stage of my life taught me a lot; I had to be at the head of the negotiations for the peace agreements, which allowed for the cease-fire and the signing of the Bicesse Accords in May 30, 1991. Then followed the signing of other agreements, such as the ones that established the Angolan Armed Forces, which I coordinated.

With the non-acceptance of the results by UNITA, a new war broke out, which only slowed down with the Lusaka Protocol, which I myself wrote and negotiated with the late Dr. Savimbi, whom I met countless times.
Because I am a person with vision, I was entrusted by the President of the Republic with the mission of transforming this area of Angola and there I am, with that spirit of mission and as a member of the military, I hold as a principle to fulfill the missions with which I am entrusted. It is with great pride and joy that I put my experience and capacities in the service of this territory of the nation of Angola.

If you had to travel and carry three things from Angole in your bag to show the world, which three things would you choose?

First, I would take the character of the Angolan people, easy-going people who are always ready to collaborate with others so that, together, they can develop. We are a country that cannot be compared to other African countries, we have our peculiarities. We are sometimes accused by out African brethren of displaying too many European tendencies, when in fact we are merely adaptable to the context of globalization.

Among the states, there are no friends; there are interests, and therefore we must know how to frame our interests within the global context, as long as there is respect for our development and for our territory, without promiscuity.