Angolan Second City Huambo Starts to Rise From Ashes of War

Huambo is emerging from the ruins left by a 27-year civil war in Angola, Africa’s second-biggest oil producer, by using a new power plant, a location on the transnational Benguela railway and a temperate climate to lure investors.

Angola’s second-largest city, located on the central plateau about 600 kilometers (373 miles) southeast of the capital, Luanda, is linked to the Atlantic ocean port of Lobito and neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia by the 1,344-kilometer Benguela railway that China has rebuilt. It’s receiving fresh supplies of power from the 60-megawatt Gove hydroelectric dam that was completed in August.

Because Huambo is mainly inhabited by ethnic Ovimbundu, who formed the base of support for Jonas Savimbi’s National Union for the Total Independence of Angola rebels during the civil war, the battles took a heavy toll. Artillery shells, rocket propelled grenades and automatic weapons fire left scars on buildings, some of which are still evident 11 years after end of the conflict, won by the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola.

“Huambo faired poorly immediately after the war because it was an opposition stronghold,” Araujo Nunes Varandas, Huambo office director for the Projecto e Gestao de Empreendimentos Lda consultancy, said in a Dec. 9 interview. “We have the necessary elements now for the transformation of industry with 24-7 power, the area’s natural richness in resources and the biggest concentration of people outside of Luanda.”

Abundant Resources

Deposits of copper, iron ore, manganese and gold in Huambo province are attracting companies such as Odebrecht SA of Brazil and local Genius Mineira Lda. The city is planning to build a 26-kilometer light railway transit system and improve capacity at its airport to second biggest in the country, according to the provincial government’s Strategic Environmental Plan for Huambo province released in April.

While a few buildings stand derelict and still show war damage, the city of 1.25 million people is receiving a new coat of paint, and a four-star hotel, the Ekuikui, opened this year.

“Huambo is one of the fastest growing provinces in Angola, economically and socially,” Joao Belengue, a 25-year-old university student, said in an interview. “There is still a lot to be done in various fronts. We’ve been at peace for just 11 years.”

Oil Production

Angola, second to Nigeria in African oil production, pumped 1.7 million barrels of crude last month, mostly from offshore oil fields operated by Total SA, Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp. and BP Plc, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Huambo’s altitude of 1,300 meters above sea level produces an average temperature of about 19 degrees Celsius (68 Fahrenheit), about 10 degrees less than Luanda, according to government statistics. The cooler climate offers opportunities in fish farming, said Varandas, an engineer.

The Sacaala fish farming area on the outskirts of Huambo operates 28 breeding tanks while other farms operate in the city and at the nearby towns of Chicala Choloanga and Chipipa.

The Gove dam, which has its own airport and a vast lake, could be developed as a tourism destination on the Cunene River 76 kilometers from Huambo, Varandas said.

Logistical Hub

“The city is well located near four provincial capitals, which makes it a logistical hub with a railway to the Lobito port and to Angola’s far east region, a very hard to reach area in the past,” said David Quinto, owner of Huambo-based mobile phone company Quitronics Lda.

Before the civil war, Huambo province was known for producing food, tobacco, clothing, leather, furniture, building materials and metal, according to the Strategic Plan report. The conflict halted imports and exports and destroyed about 90 percent of industry, the report shows.

That isolation is ending.

Habitec Lda, a wood furniture manufacturer that began as an aid project, has transformed a $700,000 bank loan in 2010 into production capacity of 100 units day. It’s targeting schools and Angolan outlets of Shoprite Holdings Ltd, South Africa’s largest retailer, company Executive Director Felisberto Nicolau Capamba said in an interview.

Almost half of Huambo province’s 33,000 square kilometers (12,741 square miles) is forested, with horizon-spanning stands of pine and eucalyptus trees within 50 kilometers of the city.

Habitec’s 60 employees rip boards on buzz saws and build tables, chairs, doors and other items in a 7,200 square meter (77,500 square foot) concrete factory that was built by Portuguese and looted during the civil war.

Residents' Optimism

The company taps small local timber producers for supply and trains them in cutting and replanting, said Capamba, who has a degree in accounting and management from the Universidade Privada de Angola in Luanda and has taken courses at Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania.

“I bring the experience of social awareness to business, taking care of people,” he said. “All across the country, the government comes to us for school furniture and products that don’t need to be imported. I have the people and the products.”

Capamba’s optimism is typical among Huambo’s residents as the city rebuilds.

“Huambo of today can’t be compared to that of 12 years ago,” Alfredo Bernado, a 35-year-old security guard, said in an interview. “Businesses are being developed, schools are built and people look healthier.”

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