Bengo provides much of the food for the capital but it has also become a spiritual mecca for many Angolans
According to a popular Angolan proverb, any visitor to the country who drinks from the River Bengo will never want to leave. Apart from enchanting foreigners, the waters of the river also irrigate Bengo province, which is Angola's most fertile agricultural zone.
Bengo is one of Angola's youngest provinces. Created in 1980, it split the capital from its hinterland in order to enable both provinces to focus on their separate development agendas. But it still feeds Luanda with an incredible range of agricultural produce everything from tomatoes and other vegetables to tropical fruits and root crops.
Bengo is also as sparsely populated as Luanda is overcrowded. Bengo Governor Isalino Mendes believes that if the province had more infrastructure it could help to relieve the population pressure on the capital: "If we had more facilities, we could easily attract people out of Luanda. Bengo has only ten inhabitants per square kilometer so it could obviously accommodate many people from the capital city and would indeed benefit from a population increase."
One of Bengo's claims to fame is that it has attracted investment from Coca-Cola, which has opened a bottling plant in the province. According to Isalino Mendes, "Not only has Coca-Cola brought employment to Bengo, but it has also enhanced life for everybody in the province by funding a number of community development projects."
The governor is keen for other foreign companies to follow Coca-Cola's example. He is seeking investment for a vegetable oil processing plant, which would enhance the profitability of Bengo's abundant crops, especially maize and sunflowers.
Apart from its agricultural wealth, Bengo has the potential to become a great tourist attraction. It is home to Kissama National Park, Angola's largest game reserve. The park is currently being repopulated with elephants donated from Zimbabwe and South Africa as part of the Noah's Ark Project.
In addition, the province has a stunning coastline and many of its beaches are populated with rare turtles. "We have 30 miles of beautiful unexploited beaches, such as Pambala and Cabo Ledo," says the governor.
But the province is not only a destination for foreigners for many Angolans, Bengo represents something of a spiritual mecca. An ancient Portuguese church, Senhora da Muxima, has become the site for an annual pilgrimage. Every year, thousands of Angolan Catholics flock to this tiny church built in the colonial style. Senhora da Muxima is so famous that it has become an inspiration for many Angolan musicians. "Tomorrow I will light a candle in Muxima to ask for peace and prosperity" are the words of one of Angola's most popular songs.