AFRICANGLOBE – Huambo, Angola used to be a centre for large-scale agriculture and manufacturing projects, but it has not recovered from the impact of the long civil war.
The Jardim da Cultura (Garden of Culture) looks a little faded.
When President José Eduardo dos Santos opened it on the eve of the 2008 elections, the newly renovated park in Huambo’s uptown district of Cidade Alta seemed like a magical cartoon world.
Music emanated from brightly coloured plastic toadstools and squirrels. Security staff ensured that children used the swings only at the permitted times.
Today, the fountains are still illuminated at night and couples pose for photos in front of the flowering trees, but the swings no longer work and the toadstools and squirrels are silent.
The rehabilitation of the park was meant to mark the renaissance of a city that had been at the centre of Angola’s history and its civil war.
Huambo is the main city of the Planalto (Central Highlands), once Angola’s granary and the base for industrial development.
In the middle of the 20th century, Portuguese colonialists referred to Huambo as Nova Lisboa (New Lisbon): it was at the heart of their efforts to exploit the economic potential of Angola’s interior.
The roads leading to Huambo are still lined with the cast-concrete factories of that era, now mostly roofless shells.
For almost three decades after the end of colonial rule in 1975, Huambo was a focus of the struggle between the Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (MPLA) and the Western backed União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola (UNITA).
The death of UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi effectively ended the war in 2002.
The 2008 election campaign confirmed the MPLA’s political as well as its military victory.
This time it was raining largesse, not bombs, on Huambo.
Television news praised the newly asphalted roads linking Huambo to Luanda and the illuminated fountains in the Jardim da Cultura.
It gave primetime coverage to the mass rally that greeted Dos Santos, whom the MPLA styled “the architect of peace”.
The money spent on beautifying the city might have been better directed to reviving those factories on the outskirts of Huambo.
Although peace has made it easier for farmers to sell their pro duce, there is a lack of investment in the Planalto’s agriculture.
It is not creating many jobs or vastly higher incomes, let alone driving the country’s economic development by providing raw materials for processing and manufacturing.
Food processing, a key industry under colonial rule but destroyed by the war, shows little sign of revival.
Angola’s showcase agricultural project is in neighbouring Kwanza Sul, a province with a similar climate and easier access to the big consumer market, Luanda.
Walter Basilio, the national supervisor of agricultural statistics, announced in September that the government will conduct a census of farmland and livestock in Huambo Province as part of the national economic planning system.
Reliance On The State
Until Huambo’s agricultural and manufacturing sectors can be revived, the province will remain dependent on support from the national government, itself reliant on oil revenue.
“To do anything here you need to be in the state sector,” a university student says. “What can you do in the private sector? You’d just be working for foreigners.”
Opposition activists are calling for the promised local elections, even if Huambo sees few of the street protests that are becoming more common in Luanda.
Angola’s administrative ap- paratus is managed and financed from Luanda, reinforcing the dominance of the ruling party.
Political devolution could change this dynamic, although the MPLA is likely to retain its grip over the administrative system.
The maturing of a generation born into the post-war era will change Huambo, as will the revival of an independent economic base driven by farming and industry.
But for now it is difficult for people to see how the days ahead could break the pattern of the war-blighted past.