For decades, the residents of Luanda’s waterfront slum have gazed up at the hilltop presidential compound and the colonial fort overlooking the harbour. Now the vista is changing. Little by little, other people’s prosperity is eating into Chicala.
The first phase of a new development of glittering edifices that dwarf the settlement’s one-floor houses includes a hotel where a sandwich costs $30 and the offices of an oil company.
To make room, Chicala’s 50,000-odd inhabitants are being relocated to new homes outside the city, part of a housing policy that looks admirable on paper but in practice appears to be cementing the gulf between wealthy Angolans and the rest.
The transformation of Luanda – the hub for Africa’s second biggest oil industry – also offers a glimpse of who is benefiting from China’s quest for the continent’s natural resources.
Chicala has more going for it than some of Luanda’s other slums. Many of the three-quarters of the capital’s inhabitants who dwell in slums are confined to precarious dwellings atop rubbish dumps. Yet even in Chicala, electricity and running water are scarce. There is scant defence against the Atlantic.
But it is home and António Tomás Ana is not going anywhere without a fight. Better known as Etona, the celebrated sculptor has lived in Chicala since 1977, two years into a civil war that sparked an exodus from the countryside and turned Luanda into the cramped mass of humanity it is today.
Etona concedes that relocating some of the most overcrowded households might be a good idea. But he has no intention of leaving. He has begun work on a library for Chicala’s close-knit community.
“This is also part of our culture, part of our country,” he says, gesturing at the slum’s early evening bustle. “If we don’t speak out, we will be carried off to Zango.”
Located 20km from central Luanda, as the city gives way to the bush, Zango is supposed to be the future. It is one of two main new settlements for those the government is uprooting from Chicala and other slums.
Some apartment blocks are in evidence but so are roadside shanties far more rickety than anything in Chicala. It is unclear whether it is to the flats or the shacks that the relocated residents are bound.
One place where they will certainly not going is Kilamba. The pristine new town lies only a short drive from Zango but might as well be on another planet. Hundreds of near-identical apartment blocks stretch to the horizon. Smooth roads are lined by grass verges and electricity pylons.
Kilamba was built by China’s state-owned Citic for a reported $3.5bn, a project that appears to have been overseen by China International Fund (CIF), owned by publicity-shy Hong Kong private investors known as the 88 Queensway group, which is also in charge of Zango.
Pictures of Kilamba adorn the walls of CIF’s offices inside its golden skyscraper in downtown Luanda. It is just one of the myriad investments CIF, which declined repeated requests from the FT to comment, has undertaken under contracts whose terms are unpublished, sometimes in partnership with the state-owned oil company and members of the elite.
Its activities mirror the Chinese state’s $10bn oil-for-infrastructure deal with Angola and the country has been the launch pad for CIF’s acquisition of resources across Africa.
Flats in Kilamba go for between $120,000 and $200,000. Or they would, if there were sufficient demand. Only a fraction of the units is reported to have been sold, evidence that Angola’s middle class might not be as large as Kilamba’s architects had hoped.
The reality is also that Angola’s middle- and upper-class housing market is oversupplied, says Allan Cain, a founder of Development Workshop, a non-government organisation.
“The government can demonstrate it has delivered but most of the housing has not reached down to the poor end of the market.”
Rosa Palavera, anti-poverty chief in the presidency, insists the housing programme will better the lot of those relocated. “There are no basic services [in Chicala], there is crime. We are moving them to more dignified accommodation.”
Some in Chicala beg to differ.
“Here there is work nearby, schools,” says one 63-year-old resident. “In Zango you have to get up at five to go to work and you stay until 10 at night.”
He has spent 25 years developing the shack he bought into the angular but solid family home, despite contending with living costs in a city that oil money and corruption have rendered the world’s second most expensive.
He would build an extra bathroom – perhaps even a second storey – were it not for the imminent threat of demolition. On one score he is clear. “I will only go to Zango if I am forced.”
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