ANGOLA’S showcase Kilamba Kiaxi housing development rises up from an ochre-red African plain, clustered pods of neat apartment blocks in eye-catching pastel shades of light blue, yellow and grey stretching from horizon to horizon.
Report by Reuters
The impressive Chinese-built project, inaugurated last year by President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, is one of the biggest in Africa, touted by Angola’s leadership as an example of how it is using oil wealth to better the lives of its people.
But draw closer, and you will find few cars or residents traversing the wide, lamp-lined boulevards. Only a fraction of the thousands of completed apartments are occupied, and a fine red dust pools in their yards, hallways and staircases.
Kilamba’s homes are on sale, but their prices are out of reach for most of Angola’s 18 million people. The majority live in poverty or struggle to make ends meet in sub-standard housing without electricity and running water in Africa’s second biggest oil producer, where a 27-year civil war ended a decade ago.
An election landslide won on August 31 by Dos Santos’s ruling MPLA party is, from the outside, as monumentally impressive.
But more than ever before, Angolans, including MPLA supporters, are openly calling for a fairer share-out of the national wealth. This swelling social clamour for more equality and jobs points to cracks and strains in a political edifice that has ruled Angola since independence from Portugal in 1975.
The formerly Marxist MPLA switched to a multi-party system in 1992, but opponents say a thin democratic facade hides a self-serving elite propped up by a pervasive security structure.
“We want the country to change,” said Vitor Mayor, an unemployed father walking with his two young children at a bustling market in Viana, south of the capital Luanda. “The MPLA has ‘eaten’ a lot,” he added, using a common African expression to describe how politicians grow fat on the spoils of power.
Dos Santos’s party won nearly 72% of the vote, according to official results of last month’s election. A victory foretold, it signalled no immediate shift in the MPLA hegemony or in the 33-year rule of 70-year-old Dos Santos, extended for another five years.
The MPLA’s tally was 10% lower than in the last election four years ago, but still dwarfed nearest challenger and former civil war foe Unita, whose nearly 19% almost doubled its 2008 tally. Newcomer coalition Casa-CE, with 6%, offered a glimmer of an alternative.
The past year saw sporadic protests by youthful dissidents and disgruntled war veterans.
As pressure for change wells up from within Angolan society, there are questions about how long the MPLA, the self-styled “party of the people” will maintain its grip without making reforms.
“The social inequity is only matched by the political inequity,” said Patrick Smith, editor of Africa Confidential, the respected newsletter analysing the continent. “I don’t see where the model is going.
The system looks after the elite, but that’s all … there is a huge question mark about the political future.”
Angolans of all classes will tell you the maka (a Kimbundu word for “problems” or “trouble”) of their country is its huge natural wealth, and the question of how it is shared.
Angola’s contrasts between rich and poor are as starkly distinct as the red and black colours of the national flag, whose depictions of a machete and an industrial cog are intended to symbolise the proletariat the MPLA claims to represent.
“These houses are for people who are rich,” says Silva Fernando (23) a solitary figure in red shorts, a brown T-shirt and flip-flops as he strolls amid Kilamba Kiaxi’s empty buildings and deserted avenues.
He earns 21 000 kwanzas (US$210) a month as one of the Angolan workers who labour for the Chinese construction company Citic on the Kilamba project. Some sleep during the week in old metal shipping containers on empty earth lots between the apartments.
In one of the few Kilamba apartments that are occupied, Severino Gomes and his family are just starting breakfast.
Gomes (35) is an accountant at a state firm who has just moved in to Kilamba, paying US$680 a month under an instalment payment scheme that will eventually give him ownership of the apartment — with running water and electricity, still a luxury for most Angolans — he says has been priced at US$140 000.
He recognises he is one of a relatively privileged few, but believes progress has been made since the end of the civil war.
“A country is built slowly … I think we’re coming up,” he said, moving his hand up. “We’re advancing and we’ll have our Angolan democracy in accordance with our reality.”
Defending its performance in the election, the MPLA held up Dos Santos as the best guarantor of peace and prosperity. It said strong growth since the end of the war allowed the government to cut poverty levels from 68% of the population in 2002 to around 39% in 2009.