This is my second trip to Angola. I went there last year for the first IT Forum, the local annual IT event. Last year, I initiated the discussions that led to us signing our first contract with the Angolan government. We now have a team of Brazilian engineers on site doing training and consulting. I went back this year for the second IT Forum, to check on the status of our current contract and to discuss future projects.
As in most of my trips, I haven’t seen much: from the airport, to the hotel, to the conference center and back. But I could not help be impressed by gigantic traffic jams, a visible haze of pollution, roads in terrible conditions, people quietly siting on sidewalks as if in their living room, continuous lines at gas stations, lack of public transportation besides the white and blue minivans, young people everywhere, women carrying huge baskets on their head, young peddlers selling the usual stuff and the most usual (stethoscopes?) from car to car in highway traffic jams, a no left turn policy forcing you do to long and convoluted detours, huge SUVs everywhere, garbage dumps and favelas, dust covering everything and turning into mud at the first shower, Chinese workers building highways, huge strange trees (at least strange to me), large and modern new development areas, major work on sewage (“the water is flowing better” says my friend Eric), steel and glass building emerging in the middle of the city, Wifi but little Internet bandwidth behind it, a beautiful conference center, etc.
The country has a major challenge developing its infrastructure quickly enough to keep up with the growth: Angola is the fastest growing economy in Africa, with an 18% annual growth, and it’s been going at this pace for more than 5 years now thanks to oil, diamonds, and agriculture (and peace).
Part of the infrastructure development is mastering and using IT. The man behind the development and use of IT in Angola is Pedro Teta, the Vice-Minister of technology and the head of CNTI, the national center for information technology. He holds a PhD in computer and control, speaks 8 languages, is smart, hard working, fast moving, visionary with an attention to detail. He understands one of the key issue is people and training.
Most companies and people at the conference were from Angola, Brazil or Portugal. We make sense here because of our Brazilian team.
Microsoft Africa’s Chairman was there and give a speech just before mine. The main topic was open source, so I assume I was one of the reasons for his presence. He made a few strange statements which I am not sure match the official Microsoft position: according to him, because of Nicholas Negroponte’s OLPC project, Africa lost four years waiting for a machine that never came. He also said that Angola is the richest nation in Africa, so it should buy expensive computers (by which I suppose he means high powered machines running Windows). And he finally explained that open source and Free Software are not the same thing (at least he got this one right).
I gave a talk on low cost computers in emerging markets. I presented the Intel Classmate and the Angolinux distribution we installed on it: as part of the program we have here, together with the local community we built Angolinux, a localized version of Mandriva. It is now getting a lot of attention and excitement and with the Classmate was one of the hot topics of the trade show. Lots of people came to the booth to get copies of the system and to play with the machines, and many wanted to see if they could buy it.
I had a formal meeting with the Prime Minister. Pedro Teta took me and a Romanian professor to meet him and present two projects: a project of academic exchanges with Romania and the Classmate PC/Angolinux project for school deployment. The meeting was very formal, with translators, pictures and interviews with the press at the end.
So, I found Angola a fascinating country, taking the right path to accelerated development, and we’re happy to participate in this process.
On another front, it seems that our position Nigeria is improving and we remain involved in the project. It is too early to give precise facts, but things are better. So it seems that the attention drawn on the situation is helping towards a positive resolution.