Our November Friend of the Month is José Agostinho from Luanda, who has recently joined the EPI team, helping to secure Angola’s ivory stockpile.
Please tell us a little bit about your childhood. I suppose the civil war impacted you from a young age?
I was born in Malanje (375 km east of Luanda) in 1974. The war did not end until I was 28. It affected all Angolans: our access to food, education, health, our ability to move and earn a living. In 1992/3 Malanje was besieged for months, with constant shelling. As a humanitarian worker I managed to leave, but did not go back for 13 years.
You worked for more than 23 years for the Halo Trust on demining in Angola. Do you feel you were able to contribute to Angola’s recovery from war?
I visited and worked on hundreds of minefields. I destroyed hundreds of mines and other explosive items. HALO’s work allowed children to go back to school, families to plough the land and grow their own food, roads to be built and the government to expand its administration across the country. More importantly, the removal of mines from the soil has saved so many lives.
I’m guessing with Halo you had the opportunity to travel all over Angola. Did you ever have the good fortune to see elephants living in the wild?
Yes, I saw elephants in the wild in Cuando Cubango province, in south-eastern Angola. On two occasions, I also saw remains of elephants in minefields. I know of 8 different reports of elephants being killed or maimed by landmines. I have seen first-hand the devastation that mines had on our wildlife. Mines in Angola were laid in an unconventional manner (without records or maps). So demining operators would sometimes confirm the whereabouts of mines by the presence of animal carcasses. Bounding fragmentation mines kill and maim several animals in a single detonation. Blast mines cause animals to bleed to death.
Now you are helping the EPI to secure Angola’s ivory stockpile. But your compatriots face many struggles in their daily lives- food, education, housing etc. Can they really afford to also worry about the environment and wild animals?
I am convinced that ‘environmental awareness’ is key. It is important to educate people about the law as well as about the need to protect wildlife, the environment and the planet we live in. But we must also help people with income generating activities that do not harm the environment. We must support communities with socio-economic services, access to food and housing so they do not resort to activities that adversely affect wildlife and the environment.
Please tell a foreigner who has never been to Angola why they should consider a visit.
Angola was in the news for so long for war and corruption. In the last 3 years, this has changed. The new president is tackling corruption and has demonstrated he wants to bring about political change. Very few people talk about Angola’s great wildlife and tourism potential. Just one hour from Luanda – and a world apart- is the Kissama National Park. It has wildlife and the incredible Moon Viewpoint. In Malanje you will find the mighty Kalandula Falls, the second largest in Africa, after Victoria Falls. Angola boasts an expansive and beautiful coastline and a wonderful blend of grasslands, savannas, tropical forests, natural reserves (with unique species) and interesting cities. In southern Angola you can go back in time and find people living traditional village life.