LUANDA, Angola—In 2006, thousands of residents of Gika and Chicala were told that their neighborhoods would be bulldozed and the land redeveloped, and that they’d be resettled in Zango, a yet-to-be constructed subdivision 20 kilometers south of Luanda’s central business district. Not everyone was devastated. The government offered to replace homes, square meter for square meter.
The displaced must have seen this coming. For years, Luanda’s central coastline, once a collection of colonial-era fishing villages, has been invaded by western office buildings, luxury hotels, and beachfront nightclubs. These nouveau riche luxuries spread a false gospel of the country’s economic situation—and enterprising elites are keen to add to it.
Today, Gika and Chicala are reduced to colorful piles of rubble, mostly picked over but still receiving visitors. Young girls look for their dolls, while their parents search for salvageable furniture. Chevron’s Angolan headquarters, a modern office complex, dwarfs the mound from across the street. For years, the pair of fishing villages have kept enterprising developers from realizing their master plans. Now, with a gusto matching Sherman’s in Georgia, construction crews are eager to expand their projects to the sea and finally complete the corniche.
The 50,000 displaced residents tell a different story. While developers gained prized coastal property, the poor lost their homes, nearby jobs, and proximity to healthcare and education. Though they may have once slept under roofs of zinc plates and corrugated aluminum in slum dwellings in Gika and Chicala, they lived in eyeshot of the city center. That proximity proves more valuable than a sturdy home.
The resettlement zone feels like a different world.
A few isolated baobab trees in Zango, the new town, remind residents that their new home is truly a frontier. The city center, with its abundance of Portuguese colonial buildings, is decidedly colonial. Zango is the bush. Just one urban luxury has appeared in Zango—a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise, the company’s sixth in Angola.
Zango’s biggest problem may be that its fundamental flaws are easily disguised by an official narrative of good intentions. Government billboards outside the town read, “Government of Angola: Solving the problems of the people” and show aerial images of housing blocks built by Brazilian contractor Odebrecht.
Superficially, Zango appears to be a fair solution to urban poverty. Most of the community’s 50,000 residents formerly lived in flimsy huts. Few in Gika or Chicala had running water or electricity. Now, nearly all live in concrete structures with nearly adequate power and light. Clean water is plentiful, thanks to a new plant.
But as these residents are finding, a sturdier home on its own isn’t enough to lift them out of poverty. Zango’s remoteness, relative to its residents’ old neighborhoods, means that they have no access to their old jobs.
Traffic holds Luanda hostage. At peak commuting time, a 10-kilometer jaunt can take hours. Not only do the people of Zango lack the time to commute to their old jobs, there’s not even a bus that will carry them. Ubiquitous blue and white vans run fixed routes throughout the city, but their frequency drops sharply just a few kilometers outside the center. The deficit of opportunities directs adolescents towards crime.
“The kids weren’t delinquents when we lived in Gika,” recalls one concerned mother. “Now, there are no jobs and our children are turning to crime.”
Angolan public schools are free, but require a bilhete for enrollment. A bilhete is an official identification card and can cost over $100 to replace if lost. “Schools should be free, but of my five children,” she explained, “only one can attend school.” For the remaining four, she fears the worst.
The planned city is a work in progress. Four of five proposed sectors have been delivered. The fifth, aptly named Zango V, is currently under construction at a site heavily guarded by the president’s security forces. It’s clear that Zango is a high priority project for the government. For its citizens, necessary social services are not.