To make room, Chicala’s 50,000-plus 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 live in slums are confined to precarious dwellings atop rubbish dumps. Yet even in Chicala, electricity and running water are scarce. There is scant defense against the Atlantic.
But it is home, and Antonio Tomas 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 said, gesturing at the slum’s early evening bustle. “If we don’t speak out, we will be carried off to Zango.”
Located 12 miles from central Luanda, as the city gives way to the bush, Zango is supposed to be the future. It is one of two new main 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 be 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 $3.5 billion, 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 that CIF, which declined repeated requests for 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 $10 billion oil-for-infrastructure deal with Angola, and the country has been the launching pad for CIF’s acquisition of resources across Africa.
Apartments in Kilamba sell 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 nongovernment organization.
“The government can demonstrate it has delivered, but most of the housing has not reached down to the poor end of the market,” he said.
Rosa Palavera, the president’s anti-poverty chief, insists that the housing program will better the lot of those who are relocated. “There are no basic services” in Chicala, she said. “There is crime. We are moving them to more dignified accommodation.”
Some in Chicala beg to differ.
“Here there is work nearby, schools,” said 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.”
The man has spent 25 years developing the shack he bought into an 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 story, 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.”
— Financial Times