LUANDA: I am writing this on the way to the airport on our airport shuttle – a big white 4X4 Dodge Durango – to catch a flight to a town called Menongue in the Cuito Cuanavale.
It is just before 4am local time and our chauffeur, Wilson, is rushing to reach the airport before 4:30am, which is our boarding time. Today he can freely speed because there are few vehicles on the road unlike the crazy traffic jams from the previous day.
Traffic is a serious problem in Luanda because of the bad roads in the city and the vehicle population. Everyone in Luanda owns a big SUV. Well, not really everyone, but that is how it looks like on the roads.
Last night when we were stuck between two black Toyota Landcruiser VX, silver BMW X5, Lexus LX370 and a big Hyundai SUV that I have never seen before, I asked our English speaking guide, Eric, why there are so many big cars around. He said in Luanda cars are easy to get and big SUV is a fashionable vehicle throughout the city. Almost every government employee has a car and since mostly people can afford vehicles size does matter. A big car is a status symbol in Luanda. Apparently in Luanda life starts after you get a big car. Drive big or go home.
Eric says, “Cars are nothing in Angola. Every government employee travel with a big car.”
He says it is just normal to see a huge Landcruiser VX being used as a taxi. Most are second hand cars apparently from Dubai. The young man points at one of the Landcruiser VX and says it is common that the owner could be staying in a dilapidated house. With such big fuel guzzlers on the road I expected fuel to be very cheap since the country has oil. However, the price of fuel is a hopping 160 Kwanza per litre (about P11) in Luanda. But this is Angola and that is “No Prroblem!”
To non-Portuguese speakers, Angolans seem like they start every conversation with “No Prroblem!” Even if there is a problem, the conversation will still start with, “No, prroblem!” I experienced this right from the visa application back in Gaborone. When the visas were taking rather too long to be processed, I made constant phone enquiries at the Angolan embassy in Phase 2 and they kept saying, “No prroblem, you will get your visa. They are not ready yet. No prroblem.”
Angola is not really
Our driver Wilson took us to the big Craft market with really excellent crafts. We found what appeared to be original voodoo masks apparently from local communities in the villages. We also discovered that ivory is sold in an open market in central Luanda. The sellers however refused to be photographed. Botswana, which has the largest concentration of elephants, has long banned the sale of ivory. We found a number of Asians busy in the middle of sale negotiations with the ivory sellers at the market.
It is this ivory trade in an open market that reminded me why I am in Angola. I am part of National Geographic expedition that is out here to assist Angola to get where other countries in the region have achieved in terms of conservation.
Due to war, Angola has lagged behind her peers like Botswana, Namibia and Zambia who are benefitting immensely from the rivers that come from Angola. The Okavango Wilderness Project (OWP), led by Dr Steve Boyes together with National Geographic, has sent biodiversity experts at the source of Cuito and Cuanavale Rivers that pours into the Okavango Delta.
Dr Boyes has said the research findings and exploration are expected to open these landscapes in Angola to conservation.
He said, “With the Angolan government, we aim to establish three Ramsar sites, several large forest reserves, and the largest wildlife reserve in the world that extends between the Cuito and Cuando Rivers.
We are also consulting with local government on agricultural development and irrigation schemes to guarantee the flow of the Okavango River in perpetuity.