A group of young Vietnamese emigrants who arrived as construction workers have risen to become influential millionaires in Angola.
Today, the developing African nation is home to over 40 Vietnamese millionaires who are actively engaged in drawing migrant work from Vietnam.
Nguyen Ngoc Ky (known as Paolo in Angola) serves as the general director of a construction company in the namesake provincial capital of Lubango, a city some 1,000 kilometers from the capitol city of Luanda which boasts a large Vietnamese community.
Cuong (L), became the sole Vietnamese distributor of soft drinks in Angola thanks to his many contacts with large beverage corporations. Photo credit: Tien Phong
Fluency in Portuguese, Angola’s main language, gives Ky the advantage of being able to communicate with government officials.
“If you can’t speak Portuguese in Angola, you can only be a hired worker and not a boss,” Ky told Tien Phong newspaper.
The 30-year-old from the central province of Ha Tinh graduated from Hanoi Business Administration University.
When he arrived in Angola ten years ago, he mostly survived doing odd jobs.
He opened a construction company using savings from a successful photo studio.
“The demand for construction in Lubango is huge. But local people aren't trained for the job and they don’t have a good command of the latest technology.
“I won big contracts, one after another, to get where I am now.”
Angola established diplomatic relationship with Vietnam in 1975, only began giving permits to Vietnamese labor exporters last April.
Ky employed more than 60 Vietnamese workers long before that, paying them wages ranging from $1,000-1,500 a month plus meals and accommodation.
He's also hired hundreds of locals to do smaller jobs that pay $250-500 a month.
Tran Phu, a driver for Ky’s company, said it’s the dream of many Vietnamese migrants to have a stable job far from home, and they’ve tried to help each other realize that dream.
Phu said he and his colleagues come from different places in Vietnam, but “we love each other as brothers.”
He said Ky provides for all their needs, so they can focus on working and sending money home every month.
Ky recently brought his wife and son over to join him and plans to expand his activities to include the importation of Vietnamese goods.
Dang Van Hoa left his home in Nam Dinh Province for nearby Hanoi as a teenage boy. He shined shoes on the street to make his living and has now become a construction boss who also runs five retail and service shops in Luanda.
The 27-year-old picked up construction work in Hanoi after dropping out of school.
He went to Angola in September 2008 to work on construction sites and was paid $500 a month in addition to meals and accommodation.
His employer began losing money and cut his wages after six months, which turned out to be a good thing because it pushed him to start his own business.
He convinced his fellow migrants to work on small building projects and opened a small photo studio.
It was a rough start.
He spoke just a little Portuguese -- not nearly enough to build contacts and obtain official licenses -- and didn't have much money.
“I lacked money in the beginning, so I had to borrow. But I got help from many Vietnamese brothers and the shop’s downtown location also helped recover the investment quickly,” Hoa told an Infonet news reporter.
He didn't have anything to send home during his first year, but saved enough to open three Internet and electronic shops.
He worked hard, developed his business and obtained residency papers.
Today, his construction service builds both houses and schools. He plans to open a brick factory and a shop selling construction materials
He currently employs 30 Vietnamese and ten locals, paying them a total of $40,000 a month. He also provides sick leave and worker's compensation for on-the-job accidents.
Hoa said he hires mainly Vietnamese as he believes that he can trust them and wants to help families back home rise out of poverty.
Another Vietnamese, Cuong Viana, nicknamed after Viana town in Luanda Province, is the sole soft drink provider in Angola.
He has partnered with many large beverage companies and his distribution center has hundreds of trucks coming and going every day.
“Once I arrived in Angola, I decided to stay for the long-run," Cuong said.
Many relatives and friends from his hometown, Hanoi, joined his Vietnamese staff, which is more than 100-strong and receives roughly $1,000 per person per month.
“His current properties are worth millions of dollars,” said Thanh, who counts Cuong as a close friend.
Unofficial figures from the Association of Vietnamese People in Angola said the group of 40 millionaires invest in construction, the car and motorbike trade, saloon services and real estate.
Vietnam's ambassador to Angola, Do Ba Khoa, said the expatriate community there is united and helpful, and that’s how they won the hearts of the locals.
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