18 years ago, on a flight to Angola, Mr. Nguyen Van Hoa (originally from Chan Ly commune, Ly Nhan, Ha Nam) looked down from the sky and saw small houses like matchboxes and fluttering like umbrellas.
In that poor and dull African land, the young Vietnamese man only wanted to work to pay off his debts at home and earn a little capital for his old age. Yet 18 years later, he became the first entrepreneur recognized for making the biggest contribution to the region in the past 40 years.
Rising from a photocopy worker
Most Vietnamese people who came to Angola in the early 2000s started their businesses with photocopying and photography for the locals. Many became wealthy and had a living because of these jobs. At first, Mr. Hoa worked for a photo studio. Thanks to his hard work and ability to see opportunities everywhere, he eventually built his own photocopy business.
Starting from owning a small shop, Mr. Hoa gradually explored and developed various industries that he could engage in. From the list of his “investments,” one could see the strong determination of the young man from Ha Nam: photocopying, photography, taxi driving, selling motorcycle parts, “importing” goods from China to Angola, selling car parts, opening car repair shops, opening mini supermarkets… Eventually, he became a construction contractor, specializing in building public projects in Huambo province where he lives and expanding his reach across the country.
Talking about the decision to expand into the motorcycle spare parts industry, Mr. Hoa said that Angola was a poor country and, at that time, he had just ended a war a few years ago, so the economy was still very difficult. Owning a motorcycle was a big effort for Angolan families, so supporting services for motorcycles were very limited. He seized that opportunity and opened a motorcycle repair shop, gradually importing spare parts from Vietnam or China to sell.
Similarly, when he decided to buy a car to drive a taxi, the demand for transportation was very high here. He shared the ownership with a Vietnamese friend and hired a local to drive (as Angolan law only allows domestic residents to drive taxi cars). In a week, the driver’s earnings covered one day’s income from the taxi, and for the remaining six days, he and his friend split the income.
“Vietnamese people who go abroad just need to have the consciousness to make money, and that’s how they will succeed. I see opportunities for development everywhere, it’s just a matter of whether I have enough capital for that or not,” said the Vietnamese businessman in Angola.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going
The year 2009 marked a major turning point for Nguyen Van Hoa when he decided to bring many people from his hometown to Angola to expand his business models. He maintained all the types of services he had previously owned with the thought of “not putting all his eggs in one basket.” When he opened a chain of 3 mini supermarkets in the province, not only were the locals fond of them, but foreigners living here also became regular customers. His stores sold typical Vietnamese dry goods such as instant noodles, black pepper, dry food…
When he accumulated enough, he expanded into the construction industry, bidding for public projects such as committees and schools… His employees now number about 40-50 Vietnamese and 200-300 locals.
In 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Angola, business became difficult. Most foreigners, including Vietnamese in Angola, found ways to return to their home countries, but Mr. Hoa was determined to stay.
At a time when everyone was prioritizing profit generation, he decided to address the situation with the local authorities by building and donating a school for orphans, consisting of 12 classrooms. In his calculations, once trust was built with the government and the people, increased reputation would help him win more public projects in the area.
At the beginning of 2022, the project was completed and became the first project built by Vietnamese people and donated to Angola.
At the inauguration of the school, not only did provincial officials attend, but also leaders of the Angolan government, who expressed their gratitude to the Vietnamese entrepreneur. After that, his company received “a flood of school projects,” helping him take care of his employees in difficult economic times.
According to the Vietnamese businessman, Angola has great development potential, and its people are honest and straightforward. Vietnamese people here don’t hide their professions and provide a lot of support in various fields such as construction, agriculture, carpentry, repair… After being taught by Vietnamese people, locals have learned these skills well and more and more skills are being developed. A successful group of Vietnamese people in Angola has emerged. In the long period from the 1990s to the 2000s, a significant amount of remittances came from Angola to Vietnam.
Dreams to come true
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Hoa supported many southern provinces of Angola in building field hospitals to treat patients, receiving medical equipment from Western countries to install here. He dreams of building a hospital in Angola that is entirely Vietnamese-run on Angolan soil.
With the consent of the local authorities, he collects all his resources to buy land and starts building a hospital with over 400 beds at the beginning of 2023. He also imports modern equipment and machinery by himself without seeking additional support. Large-scale hospitals in southern Angola are very rare. Therefore, Mr. Hoa’s construction project has made a deep impression on the people here.
“The young generation is better than me. I only know how to build, maintaining and developing a hospital in a sustainable way depends on the younger generation,” Mr. Hoa said.
Mr. Hoa has also made a significant contribution to maintaining and developing the unity spirit in the Vietnamese community in Angola. His home is always open to generations and individuals of Vietnamese people in this country, from those who work as manual laborers to energetic young people like vloggers Tien Tuti, Hue Chau Gai, and Quang Linh, who are famous for their Youtube channel Quang Linh Vlog – Life in Africa.
In the meetings of the Vietnamese community in Angola, he and everyone else had the idea of forming small communities that can help each other in doing business, from which Vietnamese villages can be established here.
The vitality of the Vietnamese community in Africa
Mr. Duong Chinh Chuc – Vietnam Ambassador to Angola said that in the 1980s, the Vietnamese community in Angola reached over 50,000 people. However, due to the pandemic and other objective factors, there are currently about 8,000 Vietnamese people in Angola, making it the largest community of overseas Vietnamese in Africa. This community consists of 3 groups: medical and education professionals, private businesses, and hired laborers.
Independent business groups have diverse activities, mainly in construction, car shops, carpentry, agriculture, bread production, garment production, small Vietnamese stalls selling everyday groceries.
Mr. Chuc also said that the Vietnamese community in Angola has been active for a long time in organizing community activities among Vietnamese people themselves or between Vietnamese and Angolan people, to enhance solidarity, bond and carry out charity activities for the local people, deepening friendship, and promoting the image of Vietnamese people.
Recently, the emergence of famous websites and social media accounts of Vietnamese people living in Angola, such as Quang Linh Vlog, Dong Paulo, Tien Tuti, Hue Chau Gai…, has helped spread a better image of the Vietnamese community. They master and make good use of image and sound tools for communication, conveying authentic images of the lives of the Vietnamese community and the people of Angola to the world.
Additionally, the factors of humanity and charity in activities that help oneself and others are encouraged and supported by many.
“I believe that Vietnamese communities in other countries are also vibrant and meaningful. The key is to know how to use science and technology and combine it with the media,” he said.
Furthermore, the Vietnam Embassy in Angola has been steadily developing the community. Currently, the Embassy and the Vietnamese community in Angola are building the Vietnamese Business Association in Angola or the Vietnam Business Association in Angola. The establishment of the association will help consolidate the unity of businesses, provide support in a more organized and systematic manner, especially in proposing and recommending policies for the central and local authorities of Angola and bringing businesses into unified frameworks and rules.