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Strengthening Angola’s social fabric

Article - October 6, 2011
Initially formed to provide humanitarian aid, FESA has become the place where socioeconomic strategies are born
During the civil conflict that ravaged Angola from 1975 until 2002, the government was too preoccupied with fighting to spend much time or effort on the more basic tasks of the state, namely working to improve the welfare of citizens through education, health care, sanitation and economic growth.

The Eduardo dos Santos Foundation, known as FESA from its initials in Portuguese and named after the country’s President, was founded in 1996 with the goal of aiding the government by providing help to the country’s least fortunate people, especially those most affected by the ongoing war.

“We saw that the state could not do everything by itself, and we thought we should complement what the state was not able to do,” says Ismael Diogo da Silva, FESA’s president. “At that time, the state was very concerned and absorbed with the war, while increasingly the issue of poverty and misery became more pronounced among the population.”

During its first ten years in operation, the foundation spent more than £66 million supporting activities in the areas of health, education, professional training, culture, scientific research, and others. The main beneficiaries of most of the projects were Angola’s children.

In FESA’s first decade, about 250,000 children around the country attended Christmas and International Children’s Day events where they received toys and meals. The foundation funded the building of 14 new schools and renovated 11 more, for a total of 116 classrooms.

In the area of health, FESA provided about 24,555 medical packages, each one with enough drugs to help about 100 people. Hospitals and clinics received beds, other types of furniture, laboratory equipment, ambulances and medicines. FESA carried out many other worthy projects as well during the war, but with the end of the conflict, the government was able to devote more energy to aiding the populace, so the foundation began to concentrate on fewer projects and began to consider other functions it could carry out in Angolan society.

“After ten years of existence the amount spent was around £66 million,” says Mr da Silva. “We had to slow down then but continue with a portfolio of projects that has consumed much effort. Today we have an average of 36 to 39 million pounds worth of investment projects in progress.”

FESA has started to turn itself into a think tank as well as a charitable foundation. The group organises workshops and symposiums intended to discuss the problems facing Angola, and suggests practical solutions to many of them.

One of its best-known events is a week-long annual scientific and technical conference known as the “Jornadas Tecnico-Cientificas”. At these conferences attendees have discussed the transfer of knowledge to African countries and energy as a source of revenue for economic development.

The greater emphasis on the intellectual pursuits discussed at these events, and the decline in direct humanitarian activities is in fact a point of disagreement about FESA’s future mission, according to Mr da Silva.

“There are two schools of thought on this dilemma,” he says. “One maintains that it is still time for us to deal with issues of health, schooling, etc. The other approach believes it is time to move to the type of foundation universally famous that capitalises on study and encourages research.”