The province of Cuando Cubango is one of Africa's best kept secrets. An almost unexplored area with a unique biodiversity thanks to the rivers that crisscross the region to feed into the Okavango Delta.
Explore Angola visited this extraordinary region, starting more than 800 km southeast of Luanda at the Cuito Cuanavale Victory Memorial. It marks the location of Africa’s biggest battle since the Second World War.
Joaquim Mulonzeno Quim is Principal Guide at Cuito Cuanavale:
“The objective of the Cuito Cuanavale battle was to free Southern Africa, to free Nelson Mandela, give Namibia independence, and also bring an end to apartheid in South Africa. José Eduardo dos Santos said that Cuito Cuanavale shone with all the intensity of internationalism. When we talk about the liberation of southern Africa, we mean that Africa is a group of states and must be respected”
Once heavily occupied by foreign fighters, Cuito Cuanavale today boasts a new airport. It’s Angola’s chosen hub for ecotourism, completing a regional triangle including Maun in Botswana and Zimbabwe's Victoria Falls.
The Angolan government has invested in the provincial infrastructure and today peace reigns across this landscape of quiet villages, fertile fields and expanses of water.
The region lies at the confluence of two rivers: the Cuanavale and the Cuito. The rivers are of great strategic importance for a region keen to unveil its treasures to the rest of the world.
João Baptista Gime Sebastião is Assistant Director of the Okavango Basin Tourist Centre:
“We have wildlife, we have landscapes, rivers. We think it is the moment to show the world that Angola is a very good destination for tourism.”
The region boasts two national parks and the transnational Kaza biodiversity conservation project. Covering almost 9,000 square kilometres, the Kaza project includes areas of five countries of the Southern African Development Community: Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe. It's aimed at protecting the region's diverse ecosystem and creating an international tourist destination.
Stefan van Wyk is a Namibian entrepreneur who has acquired a nature reserve in Cuatir, one of the Cubango tributaries.
The unique reserve is set in a remote location that van Wyk found when flying over the area - and he immediately saw its potential:
"We’ve got two rivers supplying the Okavango Delta with water, the Cuito and the Cubango river and together they form the Okavango river and this river is causing the pulse floods which is important for the ecosystem in the Okavango Delta."
After driving for hours through forests filled with rosewoods and other precious trees, visitors arrive at the camp where they spend the night and, in the morning, experience the savanah waking up.
In addition to abundant flora, many rare and endangered animal species live in the province. Stefan van Wyk has been able to capture pictures of diurnal and nocturnal visitors to the flood plains of the Cuatir River.
"We’ve placed a trail camera at this site to be able to understand which type of animal frequent this area and use this as a watering hole," van Wyk says. "I’ve found healthy populations of roans, antelopes, sitatunga, leopard, cheetah, wild dog, reedbuck.”
Custodian of nature
In the few villages around, away from the hustle and bustle of Luanda or Menongue, the province’s capital, life slowly goes on as it always has.
"I left Namibia and I sold everything in Namibia and I came and established a new life here," van Wyk says. "You do it for nature. You’re basically a custodian of wildlife, of nature. What you see here today it’s wilderness. It is one of the last wilderness areas in the world and it’s very rewarding."
To watch the full episode of Explore Angola, click on the media player above