Sunday, September 2, 2012

Stop That Train, I Wanna Get Off

On Friday, Angola held elections. The results were announced this weekend: the ruling MPLA party received 74% of the vote, easily pummeling the opposition. Therefore the era of the 70-year old Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, in power since 1979, will continue for at least another 5-year term.

The campaign season got its start with the resumption of the Benguela Railway (CFB) to Luena, a station in eastern Moxico province, deep in the interior of Angola (which is twice the size of Texas). That Friday the first time in at least a twenty years that the train has reached this far. President Dos Santos was on-board the train to celebrate the "inaugural" journey, which made for great press.

That same day I was in Amsterdam's book market in the Spui, cracking spines of tattered art and history books, and rummaging through boxes of ephemera. Astonishingly, I found an old guide to the Benguela Railway, printed in English in about 1960, some 15 years before Angola's independence and the commencement of fighting that would halt the railway's operations. Feigning only mild interest in the item, I bought it €5.

Serendipity aside, this is a gorgeous, wonderful old article. Although I was seriously tempted to scan the entire 34-page pamphlet in all its vintage glory, I think the 14 pages below suffice for a blog post.

Like earlier late-colonial printed emphera that I've posted here, there is a strange mix of the delight of the dated item, brimming with mid-century optimism and the bizarre, uncomfortable anachronisms of its racist hegemonic presentations.

Both are on display here, along with the staggering scale of the infrastructure of the entire operation of port, rail, warehouse, and auxiliaries, which, although featuring ultra-modern sleeper cars running a passenger schedule to the border with the Congo, is clearly about movement in the other direction, exporting mineral cargo from to the port at Lobito and from there to other continents.

While the service has yet to reach the border with Congo again, President Dos Santos's Minister of Transport vowed on Friday to press ahead, resurrecting the entire service and connecting it with other Angolan rail operations and the networks across Southern Africa. This will be made possible, according to the Wikipedia article, with several hundred million dollars of assistance from the Chinese.

So, hopefully next year, the Benguela railway will then be returned to full service as a vital strap binding Angola together: transporting goods and people into the heart of the huge country, and extracting the vast interior's magnificent riches for shipment overseas-- 53 years after this marvelous infrastructure was documented in this gorgeous pamphlet.

1 comment:

Joost Bonsen said...

Wow, fantastic find!

FYI, not too long ago I took a closer look at the Congo delta region further North which could also benefit from revitalized and new-built railways -- -- and also Cabinda -- -- and, for that matter, also at African translogistics corridors more generally --

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