Tag: Luanda

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.

A night out in the world’s second most expensive city

Luanda: a city where everyone seems to have money, kids drive better cars than some senior execs in New York do and attending a mundane New Year’s Eve party costs at least $100. For the past few years now, the Angolan capital I call home has had the dubious distinction of being ranked as one of the most expensive, if not the most expensive, city in the world for expats. The latest reports by Mercer and ECA International rank Luanda second on the list.

Many an article about exorbitant prices has been written by a foreign correspondent while sipping on a $10 latte in one of the city’s $482-a-night hotel rooms. At the notoriously pricey Casa dos Frescos, a supermarket that caters to expats, a melon can cost almost $100 (Luandans jokingly call it melão de ouro or the golden melon), while a rather small burger at the Epic Sana hotel will set you back a cool $25.

Excessive, right? Especially so in a city where an estimated two-thirds of the population live on less than $2 a day. As Lula Ahrens explains in this excellent post, there are two main reasons behind these exorbitant prices: a crippling civil war and general corruption. After three decades of sustained civil war that lasted until 2002, the country’s infrastructure was decimated and important industries such as agriculture and manufacturing never had a chance to develop in an independent Angola. As a result, almost everything has to be imported. Corruption and an entrenched bureaucracy further drive up the price of goods, as does the high demand for limited supply of housing, foodstuffs, and luxury items. Luanda is a booming oil town that attracts expats; they, in turn, demand certain products and services that are in short supply in the country.

If you’re visiting Luanda and want a good time, you’ll need cash – lots of it, preferably in US dollars. Conventional wisdom will tell you that when visiting a foreign city it’s always better to go out with a local, and this could not be truer in Angola. Locals will help you navigate the fluid Luandan nightlife scene and keep the notoriously unfriendly bouncers at bay. The savvy ones will also show you how to party without breaking the bank.

Visitors will quickly realise that there are two Luandas: the formal, established Luanda frequented by expats and the local elites, and the vast, informal, sprawling Luanda of musseques (slums) where the majority of residents live. This divide will immediately become apparent when you notice the sheer number of unemployed street sellers snaking their way through traffic. The streets are Luanda’s true marketplace where many citizens buy their wares. They also shop at open air markets which sell everything from fresh meat to shoes to vacuum cleaners to mirrors.

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

As any great night always does, yours should begin with food. On my blog Luanda Nightlife you’ll find many restaurant reviews which are organised by price so you won’t be shocked when your bill arrives. Alternatively, you can always ask locals for restaurant options. The good ones will point you to places where all the foreigners hang out; the best ones will give you the option of eating with Angolans or foreigners. If they decide on the latter, your destination will most likely be the Ilha (Island) area, a peninsula jutting out towards the Atlantic Ocean with one side facing the Luanda Bay and the other facing the Atlantic.

The Ilha is the perfect microcosm of Luanda’s reality: opulence coexisting with abject poverty. For first-time visitors, this juxtaposition of wealth and poverty can be jarring. Porsche Cayennes and BMW X6s compete for space with the city’s ubiquitous candongueiros (taxi vans). You’ll find women in colourful traditional dress on the side streets grilling fish their husbands caught, while down the same street posh restaurants will be serving the same dish to patrons for much, more more.

It is on this strip that you will find some of Luanda’s best restaurants: Cais de Quatro, renowned for its international cuisine and fantastic views of the city from across the bay; Vais e Cais, a bay-side restaurant specialising in fresh seafood; and Luanda’s own Chimarrão, which borrows the rodízio concept from Brazil and turns into an open air club at night. A meal at any of these restaurants costs an average of $60; add about $30 if you plan on having drinks.

Further down the Ilha, past the mansions standing side-by-side with slums, past what was once the zoo, past ‘billionaire’ Isabel dos Santos‘s Miami Beach restaurant, you will find Chill Out, Coconuts and Lookal, which are all rated among the city’s best restaurants. At trendy, cosmopolitan Chill Out don’t expect to pay less than $100 for your full meal. Stay a bit longer and the place will turn into a house-heavy open-air ocean-side club full of expats and ladies of the night. Coconuts is more understated; it’s a favourite among locals and expats alike. Despite its beach-side location there is no party after dinner.

Lookal currently seems to be everyone’s favourite spot. It’s a bar, lounge, restaurant, club and beach all rolled into one; the seafood is fantastic, the beer is cold and the music is loud. Your wallet will be about $70 lighter after a meal here. At night, all the girls and their cash-wielding boyfriends come out and several DJs compete for influence over its vast dance floor. There are regular live shows as well. Last year Taboo from Black Eyed Peas made an appearance; a couple of years before that house DJ Erick Morillo played to a sold-out venue.

If your Angolan guide chooses a restaurant favoured by locals – as a true guide should – you’re in luck and so is your wallet. You see, Angolans are inherently extroverted people who love a good meal and a good party; we’ve been enjoying fantastic food in reasonably priced restaurants well before Luanda made it onto Mercer’s ratings. Among the more down-to-earth restaurants in Luanda is La Vigia, a type of Angolan open-air ‘bistro’ that’s frequented by locals and visitors alike. It’s famous for its massive grilled grouper or any other fish really. A meal here costs about $35.

If you end up on the Ilha anyway, Casa do Peixa da Bela has what many have called the best mufete in town.  This traditional Angolan dish consists of grilled fish accompanied by beans stewed in a palm oil sauce, boiled plantains and a delicious onion and parsley vinaigrette to baste your fish with. In nearby Quintal do Tio Jorge, you can enjoy traditional Angolan cuisine while listening to live Cape Verdean music. It’s in a backyard, it’s not the cleanest, you will probably encounter the local drunkard, but a cold Cuca (the local beer) costs $1.50, the delicious fried squid starter is $10 and a heaped plate of fish with potatoes, palm oil beans and banana won’t cost you more than $15-$20.

 Quintal do Tio Jorge serves the best squid in the city. The restaurant, run by a proud Cape Verdean, has become an institution in Luanda.(Pic: Claudio Silva)
Quintal do Tio Jorge serves the best squid in the city. The restaurant, run by a proud Cape Verdean, has become an institution in Luanda.(Pic: Claudio Silva)

To get your dance on, head to Maiombe instead of Lookal. It’s a genuine Luandan club with booming kizomba, zouk, kuduro and Congolese music. $20 will get you entry and several drinks. W Klub and Brasília are two other local favourites where you can have a decidedly local experience for very reasonable prices. But the best, of course, is to get invited to a proper Angolan party in a resident’s backyard. Those are free and invariably more fun.

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.