Like the lyrics of Bob Dylan’s 1970s eponymous classic, Johan Boerekamp has found “magic in a magical land”. Despite all the challenges, the Managing Director of NIRAS’s office in Mozambique realised many years ago he felt quite at home in the beautiful nation off the Indian Ocean’s south coast.
“I know this place better than anywhere. I’ve made a family here and travelled all over, getting to know people from all walks of life. I’ve worked with those in rural and poor areas as well as highly ranked government officials and all kinds of public and private organisations on the national, provincial, district, and municipal level. As a civil engineer, I’ve also collaborated with contractors, supervisors, carpenters, brick layers and the like.
“This experience helps me a lot in managing different kinds of projects. I feel I’m in the right place because I’m good at connecting people working on policy-making in Maputo with the those living in the ‘field’. I can help bridge the gap between what those in the capital experience with its relatively luxurious life and the reality that faces the rural and underdeveloped parts of Mozambique.”
No escaping destiny
Johan first visited Nampula in the north of the country more than three decades ago. As a civil engineer specialised in public housing, he volunteered with the Dutch “Eduardo Mondlane Foundation” to work for the Mozambican Ministry of Education. As an engineer, he supported the “Gabinete de Construções Escolares” (school building department) of the Provincial Directorate of Education in Nampula, north of Mozambique.
After four years, he left Dylan’s idyllic “sunny skies of aqua blue” behind and headed to Bangladesh on a contract this time with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. But the pull of Mozambique was too strong and once again the Dutchman from the forest-rich plains of Noord Brabant returned to Nampula where he stayed for six years as the last technical advisor for the Dutch Directorate General of International Cooperation.
His partnership with NIRAS began in 2002 as team leader of the Danida-financed Urban Environmental Management project in five municipalities in the north of Mozambique. When the project came to a close, Johan moved to Maputo where he acted as the NIRAS representative until the limited company was established at the end of 2011. Eight years later, he is still the Managing Director.
Letting the individual thrive
“I’ve been with NIRAS for almost 17 years now and feel part of the family. It’s an open-minded organisation that allows me freedom in my work as long as I get the job done. There’s a lot of room to develop further and to be creative in finding solutions,” Johan explains.
“There’s also a great deal of variety in the day-to-day activities, field work alternating with office tasks. I am constantly meeting different people and seeing a lot of places, which only cements my special connection with this beautiful place."
In addition to representing NIRAS and managing a staff of five, Johan is also team leader for the Local Economic Development programme (ProDEL) financed by the EU, which aims to boost local markets by strengthening the productive base and competitiveness of MSMEs in the provinces of Gaza, Inhambane, and Sofala. He’s also finalizing several projects with Danida—such as the technical assistance to and monitoring of the construction of two “Justice Palaces” in Nampula and Guro and a health centre and other small infrastructures in Tete and Tete province—as well as being the NIRAS Project Manager for the Limpopo housing project, a resettlement project in the Limpopo National Park, being done in a consortium with Royal HaskoningDHV Mozambique. Most recently, Johan signed up to be part of a Dutch task force team to carrying out a disaster assessment of the damage in the city of Beira caused as a result of cyclone Idai. Although he has seen several cyclones coming by in Mozambique in recent decades, this was the first time he was involved in the preparation of a Post Disaster-Needs Assessment.
It is very interesting to contribute to the preparation of a Beira Recovery and Resilience Plan. Being presented at the international donor conference in Beira at the end of this month, the plan was prepared on very short notice by a diverse group of experts with a wide range of experience coming from various organisations. At the same time, I also could have a glance at the jumble of first immediate post cyclone emergency operations and the activities within the maze of the aid relief organizations.
In his spare time, Johan likes to fish although his catches are not quite as impressive as when he lived up north and fishing was a real passion. He takes advantage of Mozambique’s magnificent beaches and swims from time to time and runs along the shore. And of course, there’s football. “I have a mate I know from primary school in The Netherlands and together we attended the 2010 World Cup final in South Africa and the semi-final in Brazil in 2014. We are both Ajax Amsterdam fans and were planning to go to Madrid to see the Champions League final (1st June) until Tottenham beat Ajax,” he adds with dismay.
Most important though, is time with family. “I started late with kids. I have one lovely daughter, India, together with my Mozambican partner Elisa who I met 20 years ago. Our girl is the pride of the family and, outside work, we spend as much time possible with her.”
If you are lucky enough to be visiting Mozambique, in preparation, Johan encourages you to listen to Dylan’s classic which he swears is as valid today as it was in 1976. Maybe you’ll fall under her spell just as Johan did when you find yourself “among the lovely people living free, upon the beaches of sunny Mozambique”.
You can find Johan at our Maputo office at 159 Rua de Argélia.