Benguela, in the west of Angola, forms a dynamic littoral with Lobito and Catumbela. The revival of its 100-year-old railway line and the modernisation of the port of Lobito should generate rapid new growth to this historic province. It is also the seat of a vast new set of centralities for its rapidly increasing, young and upwardly mobile population. Anver Versi and his team paid a visit.
Benguela, the capital of the province with the same name, overlooks the Atlantic Ocean on Angola's western seaboard. It was founded in 1617 by a Portuguese governor, Manuel Cerveira Pereira, who called it Sao Filipe de Benguela. He believed, correctly as it turned, out that the hinterland behind Benguela would be a source of great wealth.
Although the Portuguese failed to find the gold and silver they had hoped for, the port of Benguela soon became busy shipping out streams of slaves to their dominions in Latin America. Other produce, over the centuries, included various grains, rubber, sisal, vegetable oils, ivory, rhino horns and hides, and cattle. The volume of trade along the corridors to the interior gave rise to several towns in the near vicinity and provided Benguela with its reputation as 'The Mother of all Cities'.
However, the lack of a natural deep harbour meant that ships had to anchor well outside, and cargo and people had to be carried in boats. When a naturally sheltered and deep harbour was discovered further north, shipping traffic began to abandon Benguela in favour of Lobito.
Lobito is the archetypical sea-city, although the ancient, romantic buildings from previous generations are difficult to find.
Today, it has a workaday look that does not exactly inspire tales of high adventure on dangerous seas as it once did, but the maritime atmosphere does envelope the city and the attitudes.
Lobito port has been undergoing a great deal of expansion and modernisation. It now has dedicated wharfs for containers and a specially built facility that is designed to transport minerals not only from Angola but also from neighbouring countries.
The Benguela railway has had a colourful history of more than 100 years. It now enters a new phase with the line completely relaid by Chinese railway contactors. The 1,344km line will ply the rich and vast Lobito corridor to Luau, on the eastern border with DR Congo. It is expected that this opening up of the interior will greatly stimulate agriculture along the corridor and encourage diversification.