South African billionaire Mark Shuttleworth, best known for founding Canonical (developer of Ubuntu Linux) and for being the first South African space tourist in 2002, has turned his sights to islands in the chain of São Tomé and Príncipe, off the west coast of Africa.
There he will construct eco-friendly resorts in a project that will cost his venture capital company, Here Be Dragons (HBD), over R1-billion during the next 15 years.
For the past two years, Shuttleworth has been purchasing islets, tracts of land, and resorts across Príncipe. He started with the resort of Bom Bom in 2011.
At 20km long and 12km wide, Príncipe is the smaller island to the north of São Tomé. The 6,000 inhabitants of Príncipe live a simple rural life, although satellite TV and electricity has begun to spread through the villages in the past few years.
Speaking to Financial Times, Shuttleworth said “You can’t will people [to stay in] poverty: that is a dangerous thing westerners try to do. If you’re going to get involved somewhere like Príncipe, one goal is to ensure that if you fly into Príncipe in 20 years’ time it is as beautiful as it is today.”
HBD will not simply be building resorts – the company has drafted local experts in design, forestry and agriculture to revitalise the island’s plantation industry. Sustainability is the goal, and experts are cataloguing local flora and planning the best way to grow coffee, vanilla, and cocoa.
HBD is setting up its office next to Príncipe’s parliament, and will there create about 700 job positions – 90% of which are to be occupied by locals.
HBD will be repairing the island’s small aerodrome and building a new runway – but to preserve the island’s beauty it will be limited in size so that only 50 passengers can land at a time.
“You have to try to figure out a way to improve people’s quality of life and their ability to participate in the world while still protecting what they may not realise is very special about their environment,” said Shuttleworth.