Malanje Province in the Northern Angola is the epicenter of Angola’s agricultural revival. As one of the most bio-diverse and naturally beautiful provinces in Angola, it is also hopes to develop a thriving tourism industry. In this interview with United World, Governor of the Province Norberto dos Santos talks about the development of the agriculture, infrastrucutre and education sectors in the province, as well as efforts to kick start tourism. He also discusses the 2014 Census, the first to be conducted in Angola since the 1970s.
What benefits do you hope to get from the data gathered in the 2014 General Population Census and what are the plans of the Provincial Government for the development of Malanje?
The Census is very important, if you take into consideration that the last census that was held in Angola was in 1970 by the Portuguese. Until now, we have been working with figures that, statistically, are not very realistic. As you can imagine, this census will allow us to know how many we are, how and where we live, among many other questions, which will help the Government make decisions for the country and for its population. In Malanje, the census reached a number of almost 100% and, with that number, the provincial government will be able to program its social and economic activities more easily and more efficiently. With the figures from the census, we will be better prepared to comply with our National Development Program for 2014-2017.
It is known that the provincial government is very strongly focused on social programs. Could you describe the social programs currently implemented in the province?
It starts with education—which in reality goes hand-in-hand with fighting hunger and poverty—and we also have important programs in the areas of health, drinking water supply and school lunch distribution, because a child well fed is essential for better education. We also have a program for the construction of 200 homes in each of the 14 municipalities in the province, which is already near completion.
We have a strong impact in the social arena. In each neighborhood or village, we prioritize the construction of schools, hospitals and water supply stations. We are still working to train young teachers so that we can fight illiteracy more efficiently.
We are working in the extraction, treatment and distribution of water through projects in cooperation with the Ministry of Energy and Water and the Provincial Government. Children aged zero to five are being provided with a place to prepare, learn and play—from where they leave when they are 5, ready to go to school. Our administrators are being convinced to follow this standard of teaching for the children.
Would you agree that there has so far been little interest by the private sector in investing in education?
It is true that the private sector does not have a great deal of interest in education, and that is why the government takes on that responsibility. Nevertheless, it also accepts the existence of private education, with the difference that the educators, regardless of what their field may be, must first undergo teacher training.
Still in the area of education, we have vocational training schools where we prepare and train our youths in accordance with their talents. We have, in the province, a medical school, from where the first group of doctors will graduate this year. The provincial government sent medical students who are in this group to Lisbon for three months to pursue a specialization. This will allow us, in three years, to have more doctors working in the province, where we at the moment have doctors through cooperation with Cuba. In Malanje, education is free, up to and including higher education.
With electricity, education, and functional roads, the province has the chance to develop more easily. Within the scope of our municipal program for fighting poverty, we built schools and homes for the teachers, as well as for doctors and nurses.
At the moment, we are building infrastructures integrated in the city that will provide for adjacent neighborhoods with regard to electricity, water, and sanitation, and, later, afforestation and creation of green areas to make the city more pleasant. We painted the facades of all houses at zero cost, in order to give a different image of the city. And now we are beginning to set up the vertical and horizontal road markings and signs.
How do you deal with the demand for human resources required to make the province grow?
Malanje is an essentially agricultural province, which is why the government considered Malanje as a logistics center for the production of corn, beans, soy and cotton. In colonial times we already used to produce a lot of cotton. The Baixa de Cassanje Day, celebrated on January 7, was created so that we may remember the massacre of Angolan people that stemmed from the men who worked at the coffee plantation protesting for better pay.
There is the Biocom project being produced by Gesterra at the Pedras Negras ranch, where large quantities of corn and beans are being produced. Malanje, because of its location, can easily operate as a support hub for the eastern provinces, because we have the railroad that can serve the neighboring provinces instead of going to Luanda.
What is your mission and vision for Malanje?
With regard to my vision for this province, in the field of employment, we must prepare the youths with good academic education and technical-vocational schools in every sector, but especially in agriculture.
One of the ways we found was for the Government to prepare the land and then divide the plots among the families, so that they are the ones working the land. During colonial times, family production was even enough to sustain exports.
Personally, I cannot accept that, 12 years after the war, we still have to import products that we could very well produce locally, especially for us in Malanje, since our soil is naturally very fertile. In order to move on to the stage of development, we must leverage our agroindustry to better cover the chain of production, which has greater impact in terms of employability than the oil or diamond industries.
The roads are another of our priorities precisely because they facilitate the movement of people and goods; and, on a third stage, we want to widen the current narrow roads and turn them into highways.
Could you talk a little further about your plans for the development and promotion of the province's huge tourism potential?
The president created the Kalandula development center that depends directly on him and that has the objective of studying the area and defining a master plan for the municipality and for Kalandula. That plan will define the infrastructures that are to be built in the municipality and which ones will support the tourism sector.
When that development plan is approved by the Council of Ministers, it will clearly determine which plots will be destined for each area of investment and where the social infrastructures are to be located or built.
In addition to the Kalandula Falls, we also have the black rocks at Pungo Andongo, which are a great wonder, as well as Cangandala; one gets the distinct feeling that someone made them. For entrepreneurs and investors that want to invest here, we have good incentives, like tax exemptions and many others, depending on the specific area of investment.
Our tourism potential has not been properly promoted abroad yet. That lack of communication has been a flaw of ours. We also have the giant sable antelope, which is unique in the world.
In the field of agriculture, the government is establishing partnerships with foreign companies to produce sugar and electricity starting this year. Our complete dependence on imported sugar will, little by little, become a thing of the past.
Little by little, we are expanding our industrial sector, we are producing cotton, two textile factories have been rehabilitated (one in Luanda, Textang, and the other in Benguela, África Têxteis), although it is a shame that they are still not in operation as is our goal, because we have to import all the cotton.
What we want is to abandon our oil dependence by diversifying our economy, to make the country more competitive in terms of imported goods, especially those that our soil can produce.
In Huambo, the characteristics of the soil are also good and the locals know how to work with composts, fertilizers, plows; therefore, it is not by accident that the President instructed us to establish those partnerships with the private sector to develop the sector. At this moment, we are only establishing them with the Chinese, but it would very good if we could do it with entrepreneurs of other nationalities.
How would you describe your style of leadership here in Malanje?
My style of leadership involves drafting a program for the province, and then explain it to the population, so that they can participate in what the Government wants for the province.
Ever since I got here, a year ago, our slogan has been, "Together, we can make Malanje happen," which means that only through the combined efforts of everyone can Malanje be restored and move on toward development in terms of water, electricity, roads, schools, hospitals and other social facilities that are essential to the wellbeing of our people.
It is obvious that implementing this style of leadership is only possible with a team that is capable of understanding the challenges of the province. I work a lot with our youths, because they are our future and therefore must be preserved and taken care of. At the highest levels of the nation, we have been ensuring that openness and transparency by listening to the youths so that, together, we can minimize the concerns of the population.
There was a meeting in Luanda to listen to representatives of the youths from all over the country, which resulted in a plan directed only at our youths, who, as happens all across the world, want everything right away. In that meeting, we encouraged their participation in this process of change and reeducation.
There has always been a great concern with our youths in terms of education, with scholarship programs to Eastern Europe and Cuba, because we understand that a population without education cannot understand the challenges of a modern world that is extremely demanding and competitive. We will continue to invest in the training of people and of our youths in particular.
What would you say are the three things about Angola that make you the proudest and that you would like to tell about to our American readers?
On February 3, there is a festival in Malanje with various entertainment programs and people use the opportunity to present their produce. Malanje was one of the provinces selected to host the Roller Hockey World Cup. Talking about Malanje is also saying that our queen Nzinga Mbande was from this region. To answer your question, I think that, as an Angolan, one of the things that make me the proudest is peace.