Wednesday, April 15, 2009


A long weekend in Lubango seemed a bit too long and boring to me, so I had booked myself into the Flamingo Lodge over Easter. The lodge is situated along the coast of the Angolan province Namibe, in the Namib Desert. From Lubango it takes about three hours by bus to Namibe ’city‘ and there the people from the lodge pick you up. That last bit proved a little bit tricky because the bus company had not paid road tax on the particular bus I was travelling with and therfore, the police took the bus, with all the passengers still aboard, to the police station. I had to phone the people from the lodge and ask them to pick me up at the police station rather than the bus station.

After that, all went smoothly and I arrived at the Flamingo Lodge just before lunch, which I considered excellent timing. After lunch I wandered through the desert. The landscape is desolate, but very impressive. The desert is mostly rocky, but it is a very soft sandstone full of fossils. It appears that a muddy bottom with lots of shells in it was pushed up not too long ago. The fossils seem so young that I am not sure they actually deserve the name fossil.

The next morning I travelled further into the desert and saw some jackals and a springbok. In the afternoon I visited a canyon. Very impressiove and somewhat scary. Those sheer cliffs are made of the same soft crumbly sandstone as the stuff i saw the day before.

On the last day I went fishing for a few huors and I even caught a cod-like fish (the South Africans call it kob) of about three kilos. The freezer of the lodge was already full and I did not fancy fish for dinner, so we released the little beast.

Sunday, April 5, 2009


The African Cup of Nations will be held from 10 to 31 January 2010, in Angola. And the city where I live, Lubango, is one of the four cities hosting the tournament. The Angolans are, of course proud to host the championship. Almost everyday the news states how many days are left until the tournament starts and that the building of the stadiums is on schedule. I can personally assure you that this is correct, because I can just about see the new stadium from my flat.

And, more imortant, one of the training fields is just opposite my flat and is also being renovated. I look forward to seeing the training sessions of at least one team. And to having inside information about the tactics of that team.

However, since last week the Angolan pride is mixed with some trepidation. You see, the national team is not performing very well at the moment. Yes, they made it to the world cup in 2006, and the Angolans were probably more surprised by this than anybody else, but no, they have not scored another win since. Last week Angola played Cape Verde and Marocco. Losing to Marocco is probably nothing to be ashamed of, but losing 1-0 to Cape Verde is not a good sign.

The qualifying games last until November 2009, and double as qualifying games for the world cup. The first three of each og teh five groups qualify for the African Cup of Nations and the winners qualify for the World Cup. So We do not yet know who will play, but I assume we will have at least one good team playing in Lubango, and hopefully Lubango will also host a quarter- or semi final.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A small victory

In February we went back to the community in the Chimbolelo Valley. During the Participatory Rural Diagnostic the community hat stated that their main problem was that some commercial cattle farmers grab their land. These farmers have leased large amounts of land, but they take more than they have applied for and fence it off. When we went back in February to discuss this issue more thoroughly, the community told us that one farmer was busy fencing of 8 km2 of land that is not his. The next day we went to have a look and took the coordinates of the disputed area.

When we were back in Lubango we spoke to someone in the department of land registration to find out what the community could do about this. The solution was reasonably simple: write a letter to the government. A week later we went back to the community and told them what they could do. The representative of the community wrote two letters, one to the provincial government and one to the municipal government. We took those letters, photocopied them and made sure the relevant department signed the copies, indicating they had received the letters.

Last week we went back, because apart from this complaint, the community now wants to register their land that in the name of the community. We told them that this is possible under Angolan Law. Registering their land, secures their acces to it, which is what our project should be trying to do, so we support this wholeheartedly. Part of the registration process is a joint defintion of the borders by all concerned: the community of Chimbolelo, the commercial cattle farmers and other neighbouring communities.

To prepare ourselves for this, we wanted to get coordinates of all the commercial cattle farms in the area. We had two aims last week: one was to try and drive around the commercial farms to get coordinates and the other was to help the community to write the official application for communal land registration and to take that document to Lubango.

The very first thing the representatives of the community told us, with huge grins ontheir faces, was that the manager of the farmer mentioned above in question had stopped fencing the land. Apparently the manager was told to stop fencing the land until further notice. So it looks like we scored our first little victory.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Participatory planning

During the Rural Participatory Diagnostic, people told us what their main problems were. Now it is time to see what can be done. Most problems have been stated in a general way such as `lack of water‘ or `hunger‘. The first step is to try and find the causes for the problem. The first steps are usually not that difficult. There is a lack of water because there are not enough boreholes.

This is a first step, but then you have to inquire carefully what people mean exactly by `not enough boreholes‘. The answer seems obvious enough, but there are a few pitfalls. One is translation and the other is that just about everybody often does not realise that what is obvious for them, is not neccesarily obvious to others. Sometimes, a lack of boreholes means that there simply are no boreholes, but at other times there are plenty of boreholes, but they have broken down or are inaccessible.

After we get to the root of the problem, it is time to think about solutions.
tome causes are left untouched, there is not much you can do about low rainfall or water tables that are 150 m deep. But yu can try to make the best of the situation with other solutions which sometimes require thinking outside the box. This is often the more difficult bit, especially if you want everyone to contribute. The people we work with have little access to information and travel very little and therefore thinking up new solutions does not come easy for them. We provide them with more information, but even then it is not always easy to grasp the possibilities of new techniques straight away.

But ours is a pilot-project, so we are supposed to come up with new and innovative solutions. The whole participatory approach is actually new for Angola, but we are also supposed to introduce new technical solutions. So occasionaly we have to steer the discussins a little bit.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Field Work

The areas we are working in are rather large (Gambos is over 8000 km2 and Cahama and Bibala are about the same size) and rural roads are not that good (see picture at bottom). So when we have work in Taka or Chimbolelo for a day or more, we usually set up camp there.

Camping in these areas is rather different from camping in Europe or a well visited african game reserve. The top picture shows our last camp site in Chimbolelo. The corrugated iron sheet is the toilet: There is a little hole behind it and the sheet is there in order to prevent you standing/sitting in full view of passers by. The picture below that shows our bathroom in the same area. People have few qualms about taking a bath in view of others, but then again, you are supposed to keep on your underware while bathing and passers by are supposed not to look. The latter does not quite work out when a white guy takes a bath.

Food tends to be very basic. For dinner rice with a stew from a local chicken and for breakfast the left-overs of the previous dinner with tea or instant coffee. In areas like Taca we pay for the chicken with a plastic jerrycan. No-one needs money and everyone needs jerrycans to transport water. We take mineral water with us and the plastic bottles are also very popular with the community. They use them mostly for sour milk or home made beer (bafo/macau).

If we stay longer than one night, we usually take bread along, which means that breakfast is stale bread with a tin of tuna. Bread, vegetables and fruit are usually not available in these areas. As you see, a cast-iron stomach is highly recommended for this job.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

A visit to the King of Gambos

One of the more important parts of the first field visits is to get to know the people we want to work with and to let them get to know us. We are going to have to work together for the next two years. There have been fact-finding missions and what have you to prepare this project, but since it was not sure at all at that time whether the project would be financed, no promises were made and no indication of when anything might happen was given. So for most people we are a bit of a surprise. Suddenly, out of the blue, all these pale-nosed people come along and want to talk about life in Gambos.

Protocol has to be respected of course. So we started introducing ourselves to the members of the local government and to the traditional leaders, who still play an important role. The most important leader is the King of Gambos. He is the traditional leader of an area about the size of The Netherlands. Naturally you cannot just knock on the door and come in, this reception had to be prepared. Luckily one of the members of local government is a nephew of the king, so we had a good contact. Therefore we could be received relatively quickly. The nephew noted in one of the preparatory meetings that the King prefers red wine form the Portuguese Dão region, so we took that in account when we went shopping.

The reception was brief but pleasant. After all the hype, the King appeared to be a very modest man. He was interested in the project activities and discussed it with his council and us at some lenght. At the end he wished us succes and we were allowed to leave his presence

Please do not be deceived by the picture or any notions about African kings in the 21st century you might have. This King is not some sort of puppet, he wields some very real power. If he and his council decide they don’t like a project, it is very probably not going to happen and if you stubbornly go ahead, it is almost certainly going to be a failure.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

A visit to Bicoar National Park

The Bicoar National Park lies more or less in the south east of Huila Province and is fairly easy to reach from Matala or Quipungo. If you know your way around that is, because signs are still rather scarce. The Angolan government has recently started a rehabilitation programme, and buildings for park rangers are being repaired or newly built. If they also find some funds to put up road signs, people can actually visit the park (provided you have a visa).

Through my contact with Michael Mills, I was invited to come along with a group of Southern African biologists who were doing a biological survey in Southwestern Angola. We left somewhat late on Saturday morning and Michael and I made a first short walk just after two. The camp site is near a small dam with ducks, dabchicks and weavers. In the grasslands around the dam we found lots of cisticolas.

The evening drive made clear that human encroachment is the main problem is for the park. People have planted fields right up to the boundary of the park and they cut wood and graze their cattle inside the park. This became even more obvious the next day, when Michael and I made another walk in the company of two rangers. We heard someone chopping wood, so one ranger went to investigate. I asked the other one what would happen and the reply was: wood chopping is bad, we will arrest the culprit and take him to the camp. However, when the investigating ranger came back, he did not bring an arrested person, but had his hands full of honey combs. Apparently he and the culprit had decided that it was much easier for everybody if a fine was paid in honey.

The northern part of the park has not much wildlife due to all the human interference. However, some people saw a leapord with two cubs and Michael and I found over 50 species of birds. Not the ones we were hoping for, because the woodland is not mature enough in this part of the park. But Michael did find some cuckoo finches.