Tag: Angola

Shopping malls: Signs of Angola’s rising middle-class

A view of Luanda's Central Business District taken on August 30 2012. (Pic: AFP)
A view of Luanda’s Central Business District taken on August 30 2012. (Pic: AFP)

During almost 30 years of civil war, “we’ve never had a supermarket like this – it’s a undeniable gain, and another sign of Angola‘s development,” he said, combing the aisles of Kero, a local hypermarket chain.

Supermarkets and shopping malls are signs of Angola‘s rising middle class as the southwest African nation’s economy has grown rapidly in the last decade thanks to its large oil resources.

Retailer Kero has jumped on the burgeoning prosperity, opening a dozen branches in the past four years with two more set to open soon, bolstering a local workforce of 5 000.

Domestic products make up 30 percent of total sales, creating more local jobs, according to a recent study by consultancy firm Deloitte.

Not far from the polished floors and well-lit aisles of the supermarket, at the far end of the parking lot, a group of women sit back in plastic chairs under a tree.

They are selling cellphone airtime, vegetables and exchanging dollars for Angolan kwanza.

“We set up here after the supermarket opened,”  says Maria. “It’s a great location. There are a lot of pedestrians so there are lots of opportunities to make a sale.”

This coexistence of formal and informal economies is reflected across Angola, a nation where extreme poverty and newfound wealth live cheek by jowl.

A woman and child sit in front of their stall in Sambizanga informal settlement outside the capital Luanda August on 28 2012. (Pic: Reuters)
A woman and child sit in front of her stall in Sambizanga informal settlement outside the capital Luanda August on 28 2012. (Pic: Reuters)

Changing lifestyles
After the devastation of a violent civil war between 1975 and 2002, oil has fuelled the country’s economy, which has grown by 3.9 percent this year and is expected to expand by 5.9 percent in 2015, according to the IMF.

While many complain that the oil wealth has mainly lined the pockets of the elite, the sprouting of big shopping centres is a sign of more people in the middle class, currently about a fifth of the population.

“In the last 10 years, we have witnessed the growth of a middle class both in Luanda and the rest of the country,” said Feizal Esmail, who is helping build a mall with 240 stores in Luanda.

He’s already planning a shuttle service for shoppers from more remote provinces.

Economics professor Justino Pinto de Andrade says increasing wealth is also changing lifestyles and social mores.

“A section of the population has seen its purchasing power increase and, because they work during the week, they concentrate their shopping on the weekend,” he said.

“At the big malls they can buy everything they need at once,” he added.

“And there’s more evidence for this social dynamic: more small cars, high-rise real estate projects, and the spreading use of credit cards.”

In this regard Angola reflects a growing trend across the continent.

A third of Africans – about 370 million people – now belong to the middle class, according to an African Development Bank study published in late October.

By African standards, these individuals spend between $2 and $20 a day, and have access to water, electricity, cars and a number of household goods like televisions and refrigerators.

Street trading
But the middle class is still far from a dominant group in Angola, said sociologist Joao Nzatuzola.

An August study by economists from South Africa’s Standard Bank put Angola‘s middle class at 21 percent of the population. By 2030, they estimate the country will have an extra one million middle class households.

But 54 percent of the population still live on less than $2 a day.

For many, street trading or traditional markets remain their sole source of revenue.

“The multiplication of supermarkets has not overtaken street trading, which is still flourishing,” said Nzatuzola.

Nelson Pestana, professor at the Catholic University of Angola, sees the emergence of supermarkets as a test for small traders, but not an insuperable one.

“The arrival of supermarkets poses a challenge to small businesses, but the informal sector is more resilient because it has advantages not offered by the malls, like selling used goods or negotiating prices,” said Pestana.

A bigger threat could ultimately be the Angolan government’s plans to regulate informal trade, organising a network of traditional markets in licensed premises.

Estelle Maussion for AFP

Angola’s hidden crisis

What exactly constitutes development for a post-conflict African country? Is it the built environment or investment in human capital?

That’s a question I think about daily here in Luanda, Angola’s rapidly changing capital. On paper, Angola is a success story and a frequently cited example in the ‘Africa Rising’ narrative. It has enjoyed double-digit economic growth during the last decade, fueled by its plentiful crude oil deposits, and is experiencing a construction boom. It’s even attracting big-name luxury brands, such as Porsche, Gucci, Prada and Armani.

Luanda’s skyline is dotted with construction cranes and our nascent middle class is expanding. But it isn’t just (some) Angolans benefiting from the boom. Perhaps most striking of all, Angola has become a sort of El Dorado for the Portuguese, Angola’s old colonial power. In Angola, the Portuguese are finding much better livelihoods here than in Europe, where they’re one of the most prominent victims of the continent’s financial slowdown.

Luanda cityscape at dusk. (Reuters)
Luanda’s cityscape at dusk. (Reuters)

But for all the investment in the built environment, investment in human capital is severely lacking. I’d even venture to say it’s Angola’s hidden crisis. Speak to anyone in any industry and they’ll tell you about the great difficulty they have in hiring competent Angolans, let alone highly skilled ones. And the skills we’re talking about are as basic as properly reading and writing in Portuguese. A friend of mine who works for a television studio put it bluntly: “We’ll need expats here for the next 40 years. I have staff that can’t write a simple email without glaring spelling mistakes.”

Angola’s lack of investment in education isn’t exactly news. Portugal’s colonial system rigorously discouraged education among its African subjects, with its missionary schools the only exception to this rule. The long, brutal civil war that wrecked the country immediately after independence further hampered education efforts. But now, 12 years after peace has been achieved, investment in education remains depressingly low. And it shows.

In the many multinationals and large national firms that operate in Angola, Portuguese workers have a strong presence in middle management and senior roles. It’s true that Angola’s lack of skilled workers was exacerbated by the war years and foreign help is not only warranted but acutely needed. Yet, I see no evidence of any effort being done on a governmental level to change this reality. In fact, we are one of Africa’s worst investors in education, regularly spending less than 10% of our national budget on this expenditure. When compared to post-conflict countries such as Burundi and Côte d’Ivoire, who each last year spent over 20% of their budget on education, this is especially startling. Angola, in comparison, dedicated just 6.2% of its budget on education.

So how do these statistics translate to our day-to-day reality? Three of my family members are professors in both public and private universities in Luanda, and all three often complain about just how intellectually poor their students are, to the point where they cannot properly read, write or solve basic mathematical problems. We’re talking about university-level students. But the professors stress that it’s not their fault – rather, they’re the product of a seriously deficient educational system at the primarily level. Professors are required by law to pass 80% of their students onto the next grade, regardless of their skill and intelligence. By the time they get to university, many of these students are lacking even the most basic skills to succeed and learn.

And if you think that the government is addressing this important issue, think again. Just this year, they further slashed public investment in primarily level education by an outrageous 33%. Instead, and despite our 12 years of peace, the government preferred to invest its earnings in military equipment. So much so that Angola is sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest military spender. The wisdom of spending $6.1-billion on military equipment, a lot of it nearly obsolete, during peacetime, to the detriment of proper spending in education, is extremely worrying.

Although it likes to think of itself as a regional leader and enjoys flexing its financial muscle, Angola does not have a single university in Africa’s top 100. Its existing universities, with very few exceptions, are utter shambles.

Continuous and sustainable investment in education is a must if we are to have a properly functioning society and economy run by Angolans. Human development is our most pressing need because human capital is our most valuable commodity. Oil will run out one day, and the financial crisis in Portugal that brings so many Portuguese to our workforce will one day end. Who then, will run Angola, and with what education?

Claudio Silva is Angolan. He has spent time in New York, Washington DC, Lisbon, Reading (UK) and attended university in Boston. In 2009, he started Caipirinha Lounge, a music blog dedicated to Lusophone music. Claudio contributes to several other blogs including Africa is a Country and Central Angola 7311. Connect with him on Twitter.

Around Angola on a bicycle

In 1987, South African Paul Morris went to Angola as a reluctant conscript soldier, where he experienced the fear and filth of war. Twenty-five years later, in 2012, Paul returned to Angola, and embarked on a 1500-kilometre cycle trip, solo and unsupported, across the country. His purpose was to see Angola in peacetime, to replace the war map in his mind with a more contemporary peace map, to exorcise the ghosts of war once and for all.

Shifting skilfully between present and past, ‘Back to Angola’ chronicles Paul’s epic journey, from Cuito Cuanavale to the remnants of his unit’s base in northern Namibia, and vividly recreates his experiences as a young soldier caught up in a war in a foreign land.


Here’s an excerpt from the book:

I wonder how fucked I’d be if something bad happened. My self rescue plan has always been to hitch a lift to a place where I can find help. There’s no traffic on this road, this bush track; no prospect of rescue. It will be better once I reach Cuchi and the tar road starts again. I hope the advice I’ve received about the tar starting again is accurate, not because I’m not enjoying this quiet track, but because the isolation of it could put me in a difficult situation if I am unable to keep cycling through illness. I contemplate phoning Martin, my doctor friend, for advice. It seems alarmist so I don’t. I battle on alone.

As I move further into the floodplain, I come to the first of several river crossings. A series of channels cut the road. If I were on an unloaded bike I would simply ride across, but I don’t want to risk a soaking, especially because of my camera equipment. A more critical consideration is that a fall could result in injury. I get off the bike and take off my shoes and socks. The water is cold and clear and I can see what I’m placing my bare feet on as I wheel the bike across. On the other side I lay the bike down and put my shoes and socks back on. I repeat the process again at the next crossing.

The road to Cuchi. (Pic: Paul Morris)
The road to Cuchi. (Pic: Paul Morris)

There’s a man walking next to the road as I put on my shoes after a third crossing. As we talk I realise how weak I am. I struggle to form words and can’t seem to think straight. I’m in worse shape than I thought I was. I sit for a while on the side of the road, feeling frustrated at my slow progress. Hauling myself to my feet, I walk over to a little ford and kneel next to the river to splash my face. I feel like lying in that cold water and letting it wash away whatever poison is debilitating me.

The sun is lowering in the west. I’ve long resigned myself to the fact that I won’t make Cuchi. I’ve been pushing myself, but I can’t go on like this for much longer. It looks like I’m going to be spending the night in the bush. I start riding again and as I crawl along the broken gravel I scan the bush for a potential campsite. I haven’t seen many landmine signs on this road, but the lack of red-and-white warning signs doesn’t mean that there aren’t mines.

This should be a relatively simple exercise, but my brain seems to have slowed to match the cadence of my fatigued legs. It’s so much effort to think about camping that I keep moving. Then a village emerges in a clearing. The quiet of the bush is replaced by the sounds of settlement. The murmur of many conversations is punctuated occasionally by laughter or dogs barking or a call across from one homestead to another. Woodsmoke trickles up from cooking huts made from mud bricks and thatch, the sharp oily scent of it familiar to me.

I call a boa tarde [good afternoon] to some people talking in front of a homestead. It’s a relief to stop here where the track has begun to turn to sand in places. I’m too tired to power through it and too weak to armour my pride against a fall. Two men take leave of the women and walk slowly from the little group of huts that squat behind the log palisade to where I’ve stopped. When they reach me one man hangs back. The first man is obviously interested in finding out about me. We go through the usual dance of words, some comprehended, some not, and he grasps that I am a turista. Sun-hat man is scowling and muttering in the background. The first man says something back to him. I point to my tent and do my best to convey that I’d like to camp somewhere for the night.  Sun-hat is very obviously unhappy about my being here and when he grasps that I want to spend the night his muttering becomes louder and more animated. The first man turns to him and snaps at him. I pick up the word ‘turista’. Sun-hat slopes back towards the homestead complaining as he goes, ‘Problema?’ I ask, starting to become anxious. ‘Não, não,’ says the first man. ‘Não problema.’ It’s the first time I’ve encountered anything like this open hostility. Should I continue and find a wild camp tonight?

I gather that I have to ask permission from the soba, whose homestead I’m given directions to. A young man is tasked with guiding me through the maze of huts. As I haul my loaded bike through the sand, a sow and some piglets scuttle out of my way. There’s the buzz of dinner time about the place. I smell pap and unidentifiable cooking aromas mingled with people sweat and goat shit. Chickens and goats escape between the huts as a handful of wide-eyed, snotty-nosed children follow me at a cautious distance. The old soba has his khaki bush jacket draped over his shoulders. His hair is nearly white and his eyes are milky with age. It’s instantly clear that my staying in the village is beyond question – he is so nonchalant about it, it’s as if I were a regular visitor who passed through every week. A pair of kitchen chairs is brought for us and we sit together next to a little rectangular hut. Conversation runs out within minutes, but we remain sitting together anyway.

The soba and his family. (Pic: Paul Morris)
The soba (4th from right) and his family. (Pic: Paul Morris)

I say something about his lovely orange tree. It seems ancient and no less fecund for the years. He says something to a boy of about nine, who is quickly into the highest branches of the tree with the skill and fearlessness of a boy of his age. In a few minutes I’m presented with five oranges. I thank the boy and the old man and begin to eat, not without some concern for my stomach. The sourness of the unripe orange on my tongue is eclipsed by the severe stinging of my sunburnt lips. I battle on gamely until it is finished. To reciprocate the old man’s hospitality, I give him the remains of a loaf of bread I bought in Menongue.

After a while the soba leaves me to attend to some other business. A small gallery of curious young residents has formed at a respectful distance from where I’m sitting. ‘Hello,’ I say to the gathered children. I’m answered by a quiet spread of big eyes. One whispers something to an older girl and she replies. Silence. ‘Como estás?’ I ask. Shy giggles. I smile. Little coughs ripple back and forth through the dust-whitened band. Many of the children’s scalps present scabs caused by some or other ailment. Gradually the members of the little band drift off, called for dinner at their respective homes. The sun sets into the forest and in the remaining twilight a girl of about twelve, wearing a flared skirt, arrives with a grass handbrush and a bowl of water and disappears into the hut outside of which I’m sitting. She sweeps the beaten-earth floor and then sprinkles water on it to keep the dust down. The old man indicates that this is my room for the night.

Close to where I sit there’s a small solar panel about the size of an open laptop charging a mobile phone. The sun is down so the phone’s owner, a man in his twenties, collects it and tramps off again down the sandy lane. Someone else puts the panel away for the night. It happens without fuss or discussion, one of the many daily routines that have claimed my hosts for now.

A little while later I roll out my mattress and sleeping bag and wonder where I’ll find the strength to continue on my journey tomorrow. Somewhere a generator chunters power to a thumping music system and children shriek their delight. I lie down, insert my earplugs and, with the sickly sweet smell of the dust floor in my nostrils, drift into a dead sleep.

Follow Paul on Twitter: @Afriwheels

Hurdles and hope: Doing business in Luanda

Angola usually appears near the bottom of rankings that quantify the ease of doing business in a particular country. The most recent Doing Business report ranks Angola in 179th place out of 189 countries. Corruption is rampant and institutionalised – Angola is ranked 157 out of 176 countries on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. The costs of opening a business are very high, the entrepreneurial climate is fraught with obstacles, and the bureaucracy is gloriously inefficient.

Despite all this, I left my corporate job in New York City earlier this year and moved back to Luanda to start a business.

Angola is constantly in the news because of its economic boom – ever since the war ended in 2002 and the price of oil, the country main export, has soared, the government has become awash in cash. It even has the apparent luxury of ‘bailing out’ Portugal from its current economic crisis – one just has to look at the amount of Angolan money in Lisbon’s stock exchange. However, the entrepreneurial climate in Angola has struggled to keep up and doing business here is a challenging proposition, to put it mildly.

This summer I started an online micro-enterprise in Luanda with two friends. The start-up operates in the hospitality sector, does not have any paid employees, and so far does not yet pay rent in an office. Still, it cost more than $4 000 and took six weeks to open. Even so, this is a great improvement from just two years ago.

Officially, it’s possible to open a business in Angola in just one day at the Guiché Único da Empresa (GUE), a government institution that greatly simplifies the process. The reality, however, is that it takes much longer. But two years ago GUE was not what it is today, and I’ve been able to witness just how much more professional and efficient the institution has become.

Once we had our start-up legalised and our business model prepared, we were ready to start operations and set about finding and contacting potential clients. As any visitor to Luanda will quickly realise, traffic in the capital is an absolute nightmare. If there is ever a study done on just how much Luanda’s traffic negatively impacts the country’s economic output, I’d be first in line to read it. With this in mind, we had to be very creative with how to get the most out of the day, how to meet with different clients in different areas of the city, and how to squeeze in time for a quick lunch. With a bit of finesse, a willingness to experiment, and a very open mind, we learned to adapt our schedules and temper our expectations.

A view of Luanda's Central Business District taken on August 30 2012. (Pic: AFP)
A view of Luanda’s Central Business District taken on August 30 2012. (Pic: AFP)

Each country has its own business culture and its fair share of rather quirky norms. When it comes to communication in Luanda, introductory emails are overly formal and people love to give themselves important titles. Their e-mail signatures are coveted, elaborate markers of glory.

Most people have two phones – one SIM from the country’s two mobile phone networks in each. Nothing gets done on Friday and if Monday is a holiday you can expect people to take Friday and perhaps even Tuesday off.

Pray that your workplace is adequately equipped with a proper generator and water supply, because the city’s infrastructure is very weak. If it rains, chaos will ensue. The city’s roads and sewage system are badly built and not equipped for rain, as the water has nowhere to go. The already dreadful traffic worsens and some areas of the city resemble Venice with its canals.

Luandans have learned not to be overly specific with time and know to give generous leeway when it comes to people arriving late to meetings. Sometimes, the situation is simply outside of their control – in our city, anything can happen on the way from point A to point B.

People love to feel important. Often, in order to speak with the head of a company or a member of government you’ll need to write a letter and coax the secretary into letting your unimportant self speak to her almighty boss. On the other hand, a phone call is always better than an email and a lot of importance is given to interpersonal interactions.

Despite the setbacks and the long list of things that need improvement, the atmosphere in the city is incredibly electric. Money flows and liquidity is high. It seems everyone is hustling, everyone has a side business, everyone has cash money. I get very excited when I see people my age opening their own businesses, acting on their ideas, helping each other out, and generally making a difference, however small.

The most important thing about hustling in Luanda is surrounding yourself with doers and believers – friends and associates who believe in themselves, their ideas and their capacity to help develop this country of ours.

Claudio Silva is Angolan. He has spent time in New York, Washington DC, Lisbon, Reading (UK) and attended university in Boston. In 2009, he started Caipirinha Lounge, a music blog dedicated to Lusophone music. Claudio contributes to several other blogs including Africa is a Country and Central Angola 7311. Connect with him on Twitter.

Angola’s music and politics: An uneasy relationship

Urban music has always been a tool for political expression in Angola. Even before the country’s independence, musicians like Carlitos Vieira Dias, David Zé, and the iconic group N’gola Ritmos offered musical resistance to the colonial regime. Some were even arrested and sent to prison camps by the Portuguese.

Today, the most well known form of Angolan urban music is the ever more popular kuduro. Pulsating and powerful, kuduro is primarily associated with Luanda’s ubiquitous musseques, the teeming slums that house the city’s poorest residents. It’s blasted from candongueiros, the bright blue and white Toyota Hiace minivans that are the form of transport for the vast majority of Luandans, played in seemingly every party and pumped in Luanda’s clubs. Despite its rather middle-class roots, kuduro singers tend to belong to the lower classes and their lyrics cover a wide range of topics, from artists’ feuds to daily hardships.

Kuduro used to be the type of music that your parents would label as trash and tell you not to listen to –  many of them still do. But remarkably, and perhaps due to its appeal across broad sectors of Angolan society, the genre has exploded to become a national phenomenon and a source of national pride. Bands like Buraka Som Sistema have helped internationalise kuduro through sold-out concerts around the world.

The proliferation of kuduro didn’t go unnoticed by the political establishment. Keen and adept at controlling all aspects of civil society, the regime saw in kuduro the perfect vehicle with which to reach the masses. Kuduro concerts are now standard fare in political rallies – politicians will actually use wildly popular kuduro artists as a way to get more people to attend their usually stale public events.

Kuduro fever even reached the presidential palace – by 2011, Coreón Dú, one of President José Eduardo Dos Santos’s sons, became one the biggest promoters of kuduro on the national and international stage. He even released a track of his own (I wouldn’t recommend it):

A singer, TV producer (his media and TV production company receives funds directly from the national budget) and the brains behind the annual “I Love Kuduro” festival in Luanda and abroad, Dú funds and promotes a kuduro troupe appropriately named Os Kuduristas. Last year they embarked on a grand, deep-pocketed world tour, performing extensively in Europe and the US. They were expertly represented by some of the best PR firms in the music industry and even offered workshops in the cities they visited.

Although the government was able to effectively appropriate kuduro for its own purposes, it has been much less successful with the other popular form of Angolan urban music: hip-hop. The youth movement protesting against the Angolan regime and President Dos Santos’s 33 years in power has numerous underground rap musicians among its ranks, including Ikonoklasta (Luaty Beirão) and Carbono Casimiro. Interestingly, Luaty also belongs to the kuduro group Batida, which dabbles in political themes. It doesn’t receive state funding and is not invited to kuduro festivals in the country.

Unlike kuduro, hip-hop is a form of urban music that the establishment has not been able to breach.  The most popular Angolan rappers are the most critical of the regime, and yet they continue to sell out shows and sell out CDs. MCK, the sharp-tongue rapper from the Chabá slums of Luanda, is the most prominent example of this reality. He’s been offered half a million dollars to stop bad-mouthing government and faced death threats, but this doesn’t phase him.

What the government can’t do by peaceful means, it’ll do through coercion, intimidation, and outright sabotage. Last month, Família Eterna, an organisation of rappers from Lobito, a small city in Benguela province, wanted to celebrate their 10-year anniversary. They invited numerous artists, including MCK. Família Eterna followed every possible legal obligation and submitted a total of five different stamped documents (two of which explicitly stated MCK’s name) that gave them government permission to stage the concert.

It was to no avail. Having caught wind that MCK was due to make an appearance in Lobito, the central government began a chilling campaign of intimidation and coercion to force the organisers to cancel the show. According to Família Eterna, the organisers began receiving threatening phone calls in the days leading up to the show; undercover agents dressed in civilian clothes would come to the venue and inquire about the preparations, all the while threatening and intimidating workers.

On the day of the show, the ministry of culture frantically called the organisers in a last ditch attempt to have them cancel; the state-owned electricity company even shut down power to the venue. In the end, MCK still performed, to a much smaller but still energetic crowd.

When compared to kuduro, the disparate treatment of underground rap is evident. What is also evident is that politics will continue to play a role in urban Angolan music, and the regime will continue to interfere as they see fit. But it is comforting to see that even with these abuses against freedom of expression, urban Angolan music continues to impact the establishment. Through music, the disenfranchised continue to have a voice and a vehicle in which to air their grievances, much like their brethren David Zé and N’gola Ritmos did 38 years ago.

Claudio Silva is an Angolan living in New York City. He has also spent time in Washington DC, Lisbon, Reading (UK) and attended university in Boston. In 2009, he started Caipirinha Lounge, a music blog dedicated to Lusophone music. Claudio contributes to several other blogs including Africa is a Country and Central Angola 7311. Connect with him on Twitter.