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Sunday, 12 December 2010

I want more Hungarian Economic Actors in Angola, says Vahekeni

Exclusive Interview

Joao Miguel Vahekeni
Angolan Ambassador to Hungary, H.E Joao Miguel Vahekeni in an exclusive interview with African News Hungary talks about many things including his immediate desire. Mr. Vahekeni, a multi-linguist, speaks to our managing Editor, Hakeem Babalola, about diplomatic relations between his country and Hungary; how Hungarian SME’s and others can maximize their investments in Angola; his achievements and challenges; European market saturation; and most importantly the need to continue to move Angola forward irrespective of party affiliation. A dual citizen – Angolan and Swizz – Vahekeni says he wants more Hungarian economic actors in Angola and vice-versa. Excerpts:   
Briefly introduce yourself to our readers
My name is Joao Miguel Vahekeni. I have been in Budapest since 2003. I was in Switzerland before coming here. But then I was not representing the government because I was in the opposition party – UNITA. Of course, I am still in UNITA. I was at the Lausanne University as Assistant Geo- physician. I have dual citizenship – Angola and Swizz.      

So that was how you got the ambassadorial position to represent your country in Hungary
No, that was not how I got the position. I was representing UNITA there and at the same time working at the university. I was one of the negotiators of the peace agreement; so all these together gave me the possibility to be appointed as ambassador. My colleagues asked if I wanted to be ambassador. My answer was yes, if it’s to work but no, if it’s just to send me somewhere. I accepted and the challenge for me was to boost Angola’s image in this country. I was appointed in 2002 and in place in 2003.

Obviously you’re the first Angolan ambassador here
Yes I am the first Angolan ambassador in Hungary – resident ambassador. And I cover only Hungary.

Please explain the current diplomatic relationship between Angola and Hungary
Diplomatic relationship between the two countries is as far back as 1975 just after the independence. It has been very good. Even the president of UNITA once came here for support. Hungary at that time had resident ambassador in Luanda. And Hungary was covered by the Angolan ambassador in Belgrade. So the relationship which was interrupted in 1990 as a result of changes in the Eastern Europe is old and cordial. It is becoming stronger and stronger. And I am very satisfied about the increased interest manifested by Hungary for Africa, especially for Angola. As long as I am here I will do my utmost best because I believe a good relationship can be built and deepened between the two countries. Angola has a big chance to learn many good things from Hungary

What about the economic and social aspect of the relationship?
Yes a lot of Angolan students were here studying in different universities. For instance, in Budapest, Debrecen, Szeged, Miskolc, Pécs and I am trying to “re-warm” this relationship. Also Hungary changed and Angola is no more in lines of socialism. Both countries now have market economy. Hungary is part of EU and Angola’s civil war has since ended; and we are now reconstructing our country. It is always interesting to make and renew relations. We have to take into account the fact that we are very far from Hungary. And the immediate interest of Hungary is more Europe than Africa. Most Hungarian partners are in Europe; but I think it’s always good to consider old friends in terms of economy. This is what is happening. You know Hungary is in the EU. I mean the European market is saturated but the African market is not. So this is a great opportunity for Hungary and Angola to embrace and revive the relationship.

You said that the relationship between Angola and Hungary is very good. One would have expected many Angolan students in Hungary. But according to the Hungarian Central Statistical Office, only three Angolan Students studied in Hungary in 2008
Yes, and those are the children of my staff – diplomats. Even my children were here and left after finishing their studies. As they are dual citizens they are now in Switzerland. But those three are in the university; there are others in the secondary school. And we are trying to show that there is the need for Hungary to open its Higher Institutions so that Angolans can study here. At the same time Angolans willing to study here must realise the need to study Hungarian and other method in science, medicine, IT, mathematics, and physics. It’s a question of knowing that if they don’t learn the language, they can’t study in English.
Is this going to be a kind of scholarship?    
I don’t know which form it will take but we are working to update the agreement we have with the Ministry of Education which is now Ministry of National Resources. We will see the form it will take but definitely something must take place. You know that we visited the Ministry of National Resources before the recent Business Conference to discuss about education. Our aim is to increase the number of Angolan students here, especially at the university level. Also, we intend to promote student exchange programme at the university level.

Talking about the Business Conference, how many companies or investors or organisations or individuals have shown interest to grab the opportunities you described in your closing speech during the Angolan Hungarian Business opportunities?   
The next day some companies came to us for presentation through PowerPoint stating their intentions and then came to the embassy and then we forwarded their projects to ANIP. Areas of interest are civil engineering, railway, energy, agriculture, and air-condition specialisation. And we believe that many more organisations or individuals will come because of word of mouth advertisement. In fact, not only companies but also the authorities who are dealing with the economy sector. They have been sending us positive signals. At the beginning of next year a substantial Hungarian business delegation comprising of government officials and business executives will visit Angola on fact finding investment possibilities. Because it is highly necessary to do research in order to see what you will be investing on. You need to go there and see things for yourself. By the way the last conference was not the first as we had one in 2006.

Is there going to be another conference soon?
Yes but only when we see the need for it. Because it not something you can just decide to do on the pause of the moment. You have to make proposals and your brain must be working all the time. And especially you have to invest money. You have to hire the place, make brochure, and plan for good presentation and so on. It’s not easy

Does Angola have opportunities for SME’s (Small Medium Enterprises?)
Yes we have. You know that we gave everyone brochure at the conference in which we provide information for SME’s willing to invest. We divide it into zones. And for each zone we give incentives like not paying tax for three or four or six years. And we told them in which sector they were likely to make profit. The conditions are there but it seems that foreign investors concentrate more in the already competitive capital city Luanda; when in fact there are other zones to maximise investment. Just like EU companies whenever they come to Hungary, some stay around Budapest but many go to other towns where the conditions give room to maximise investments. It’s the same procedure; it’s not different. Because the name is doing business; it’s about bringing money. It’s investing.

So your advice for the SME’s is to go to Angola to see things for themselves and that it would be more profitable for them to go to other towns instead of the capital city – Luanda
Yes. And we advise them to contact the embassy whenever they are ready so that we can channel them to ANIP which would guide them step by step in Angola.

Angola has embassy here but Hungary has no embassy in Angola. What are the likely problems that may arise as a result of this non-reciprocal approach?
No, Hungary has no embassy in Angola but the Pretoria one is covering Angola. Well, it is reciprocal because in the past Hungary had embassy in Angola while Angola did not have embassy here. I mean being here and there at the same time doesn’t mean problems won’t arise. The problem that may likely arise is, when Angolans want to come to Hungary, it might be difficult in terms of expenses and logistics because they need to travel to Pretoria for their visa. The procedure can become complicated for them since they have to travel to another country before securing their visa. However we are not in conflict with anyone. We have very good relations with members of EU as well as members of Shengen States. So it is always easier for members to help other members in terms of visa and so on.

You stated earlier on that you accepted to be ambassador in order to work and not just to be sent somewhere. Can you state briefly your achievements? What would you consider as your achievements? 
I think the most important is to give a place for Angola in this country and in Europe in general. This means giving Angola an image. I mean representing and defending my country here and not UNITA – my political affiliation. It is all about Angola. Bringing this to the environment I am living is part of my achievement for my country. We are no more living in the past we are looking forward to the future. It is not easy. The other achievement is creating the interest in Hungarian society for Angola and vice-versa. We do receive official visit from Angola. I think this is an achievement although I would like more. For instance, one Hungarian company is permanently there in Angola now.

What’s the name of this company?
DESPAN. It's from Debrecen

What kind of company is it?
It deals in wood processing and furniture. And they are very happy to be there.

You said that you want more achievements. Can you expatiate?   
I want to see more Hungarian economic actors travelling to my country and those from my country coming to Hungary. For instance there is already Angolan-Hungarian Economic Association here in Hungary. I think this is also an achievement. We are not behind this in terms of instigation, but it is our work – part of our achievements.

Is this association comprises of Angolan former students in Hungary?
No, the members are Hungarians. This is possible because the reputation of Angola is high. And I think the biggest achievement is letting them know what is at stake. I mean talking to corporate establishments of this country; for instance, MOL through INA in Croatia. We actually don’t interfere but show them the possibilities that are abound in Angola. 

You have stated your achievements...any regret?
No, there’s no regret; absolutely not. I am satisfied with what we have achieved so far but as a human being I want more. This is normal. I am a man who likes challenges. Without challenges is like dying.
What is the situation in Angola now? I mean security wise. Is Angola relatively peaceful?
The country is peaceful not only relatively peaceful. It is 100% peaceful…

But you remember what happened early this year when Angola hosted the Orange Nation’s Cup. The rebels in Cabinda attacked Togo’s team and there were some casualties
Yes but so far what happened? Of course nothing for those people in Cabinda. It was media coup – just for publicity. Nothing happened thereafter. Did they achieve anything with that act? Absolutely nothing for they were condemned as terrorists. I think dialogue is the best weapon nowadays to table your grievances and not violence. The world is changing and secondly Cabinda is part of Angola. But if you take gun in 2010, it is not going to work.

So there’s no security threat to investors or foreigners
No, look there are foreigners in Cabinda. The Portuguese, Chinese, Americans, French and so on. There is no security threat to anybody.  

What are the changes that have taken place since the end of the civil war that almost ravaged Angola? I mean to ask how the government has tried to overcome the problem of rebuilding the country, especially in terms of law and administration
First of all, it was necessary to assess the situation after the civil war which had destroyed virtually all the infrastructures. About four million people were displaced and many Angolans left the country to seek refuge elsewhere. One of the means to access the situation was to extend “natural administration” to every corner of the country for the purpose of having infrastructure for the people to manage the region. It was also necessary to create a legal environment in order to attract potential and willing partners. Most importantly there was the need to curb the immorality of war in order to restore the economy.
As I said, to rebuild the infrastructure we must assess what remained; the state and condition; cost and effort as well as human resources to carry out the reconstruction. Fortunately, our country is extremely rich in natural resources thus we are making the best of it by using hem to finance the reconstruction. However, we cannot do the reconstruction alone, and that is why we are looking for partners in different areas including but not limited to engineering, medicine, processing industry, tourism, railway construction, agriculture, and so on.

 How is everyday life after the intense 27- year civil war?
Life was extremely difficult immediately after the civil war. But conditions started to improve eight years after. Now you could travel by road – to almost all the remote provinces. Bear in mind that Angola is 13 times bigger than Hungary and 2.5 times bigger than France. Although we have not been able to solve the problem of education, Angolans can again send their children to school. However rebuilding the infrastructure and making them function again is rather complicated. Health care has back to normal but we still have problems providing fresh and drinkable water to all the provinces. Agriculture is improving; doing very well in fact. Despite the shortcoming, no one has to flee the country anymore unlike during the war.

Now, what is the significance of Independent Day for Angolan people?
It is the day we got our freedom. This is the day that the international community recognised Angola. This is the day we pay tribute to the generations in the 50’s and 60’s who decided to fight and pay for their lives.

You have been here for quite a long time…
Seven years

But it’s normally four years
It’s normally four years but I spent one year and some months preparing this embassy. I mean the environment necessary for performing as an ambassador. All what you see here was an empty place before. We had to organise it to suit working conditions. It was 2003 and it wasn’t easy. I had to make myself known to my colleagues and so on. But I think my successor will find things easier as I have prepared the ground. And I don’t know how many years I will stay more because it doesn’t depend on me; it depends on the president. If he thinks he still needs me here I might stay. I have to say that Hungary is a nice place.

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Interesting interview...
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