The province is well-known for its pineapple spirits but harnessing the power of Kwanza Norte's mighty rivers will ultimately prove far more beneficial
The beautiful capital of Kwanza Norte, Ndalatando, was once called Salazar in honor of the Portuguese dictator, Antonio Oiveira Salazar. The small city lies at the foot of Mount Pinda, tucked into a lush green valley.
Along with Kwanza Sul and Uige, Kwanza Norte was the heartland of robusta coffee production during the colonial period. At that time Angola was the world's leading exporter of robusta, which is used as a base for most coffee blends.
In spite of its agricultural potential, the economy of Kwanza Norte has remained stagnant for many years. Although the colonial plantations still exist, they have been all but abandoned. This is mainly due to ongoing insecurity. In January this year, just before the death of Jonas Savimbi, Ndalatando came under attack by UNITA forces.
But if real peace returns to the country, Kwanza Norte could once again become a major producer not only of coffee, but also of cotton and cereals. The northern part of the province is dense, tropical forest and the south is savannah, ideal for cattle rearing.
Kwanza Norte's real strength is its massive water resources, with three big rivers passing through the province the Zenza, Lukala and Kwanza rivers. These provide water for irrigation and the potential for hydroelectric power.
Lying in Middle River Kwanza, on the border between Kwanza Norte and the province of Malange is the Capanda dam. Work at Capanda, which is the largest ever civil construction project in Angola, was started in 1986 with a state investment of $750 million paid in oil supplies to foreign companies. To date, an estimated $4 billion has been invested in the project, which is run by GAMEK, a state-owned company, with construction work carried out by Brazilian and Russian companies. However, the dam has yet to produce any hydroelectric power and it is seen in some quarters as something of a white elephant.
According to GAMEK's original schedule, Capanda was supposed to start generating power in December 1993. However, as GAMEK Managing Director Jose Sonnemberg says, "Capanda was attacked by UNITA in November, 1992 and they occupied the area until December, 1994. The dam was badly damaged, and we didn't start rehabilitating it until 1998. Unfortunately, Capanda was attacked again in 1999, and was paralyzed once more. We were only able to restart construction in January 2000 and we now hope to start producing power in December this year. The total cost of war damage to Capanda is well over $400 million."
Technically, there are two phases to the Capanda project, the first involving the construction of two 130-megawatt turbines. The second phase would bring the total power generating capacity of the dam to 520 megawatts. This would surpass the whole of Angola's current hydroelectric capacity.
Jose Sonnemberg says, "The power generated at Capanda will be transported along electric pylons to the Cambambe dam, and from there it will be distributed to northern Angola. Once the second phase of the project is completed, we hope to supply more power to the hydroelectric systems already in place in central and southern Angola."
The Capanda project currently has 2,500 employees, most of them Angolans. However, the majority of the experts are Brazilian and Russian, and GAMEK considers this crucial. As Jose Sonnemberg says, "The real work at Capanda is done by the Brazilians and the Russians. I have a hotline to Brazil and Russia. I never need to go through the central telecommunications system in Luanda. But I do see the importance of encouraging local expertise, so we are now training the Angolans."
There is, however, one dam in Kwanza Norte, the Cambambe dam, that has been functioning since colonial times. It supplies electricity to all of Angola's northern provinces including Luanda.
The government aims to build seven more hydroelectric dams along the Kwanza River which would generate a total of 5,000 megawatts. Most of this power would be exported to other countries in southern Africa.
Thanks to its proximity to the capital city, Kwanza Norte has also attracted a number of industries. These include the Eka brewery in Dondo and a factory that produces spirits from pineapple juice. There is currently a textile plant as well, though this is out of operation at present.
If and when the Capanda plant starts generating power, it is likely that Kwanza Norte will attract more industry and foreign investment. However, until the white elephant rises from its slumber, the Kwanza Norte will remain something of a provincial backwater.