Behind high-rise buildings and skyscrapers hides poverty and inequality in urban Angola | Land Portal | Securing Land Rights Through Open Data

Will skyscrapers one day represent the prosperity that every Angolan citizen has dreamed about? Perhaps.

From the Middle East to North America, high-rise buildings and skyscrapers are cropping up as a symbol of wealth and prosperity in global cities. Modern Africa has experienced unprecedented urban growth and embraced zoning regulations and reforms that incentivize high-density growth and mixed-use buildings in major metropolitan areas. 

During my recent trip to Luanda, the capital of Angola, the first thing that caught my attention was the city’s skyline.

In a panoramic view from the waterfront of Luanda Bay, the city skyline resembles a combination of modern and colonial architecture. A number of high-rise buildings and skyscrapers can be seen dotting the city’s downtown area, in some cases overshadowing the old colonial-era buildings. 

The city’s fast redevelopment has elevated Luanda to the list of modern cities in Africa but also produced heavy criticism of how the new infrastructure upgrades are failing to represent equality and inclusion for a country endowed with natural resources. It is estimated that from 2002 to 2015, the Angolan government invested nearly $100 billion in the construction and reconstruction of economic and social infrastructure. 

According to the Africa Report, citing the Luanda Center for Studies and Scientific Research, during the same period of time Angolan companies and private individuals invested $189 billion overseas. Meanwhile, $28 billion from the government budget remained unaccounted between 2002-2015.

In December 2019, the crackdown against former President Dos Santos and his associates signalled the highest point in the anti-corruption campaign that started in 2017. The Angolan authorities have frozen some assets of the first daughter Isabel Dos Santos. With a fortune estimated at over $2 billion, she is one of the richest women in Africa. 

The crackdown comes at a time when the country is trying to recover from the worst economic recession since the end of the country’s civil war. The global recession that began in 2008 had a significant impact on the economy.

Angola relies on oil for more than 90% of its exports, which account for half of the GDP and 70% of government revenue. Due to the decline in global oil prices in 2014, Angola saw its GDP shrink about three fourths in 2015 and according to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), Angola's economy shrank 2.2% in 2019. 

While the government has committed to cracking down on the endemic corruption and repatriating funds illegally held abroad, the current system seems unprepared to take down Angola’s elite. What appeared to be a game-changing move from President Joao Lourenco, fell short in less than a month, as the government struggles to make the case against Ms. Dos Santos - known in the country as the 'princess.'

Despite uncertainties in both political and economic spheres, the ordinary citizen has hardly been affected. So, what does the future hold for millions of Angolans who dream of a better country? 

“I am a full-time employee and student. I often sleep for about two hours a day,'' said Roberto, a receptionist from a guesthouse in downtown Luanda. Roberto works overnight and attends school during the day. His monthly salary is a little over minimum wage for his industry: 27,000 Kwanzas, which is a 55 USD base salary. 

Roberto also commented, “With two kids in school, renting, and transport costs, I barely have enough money to provide thirty days’ meals for my household. This shouldn’t be normal for someone with numerous qualifications as me. I have business management certification, and I speak fluently French and English.” 

Roberto’s frustration is felt among other young people across the country, particularly in Luanda. According to the media outlet ESQUERDA, in the last quarter of 2019, the basic-needs grocery package for a standard household increased from 20 to 25%. The increase in prices of basic household-needs groceries puts more pressure on the average citizen, including the low-wage class. 

So, will skyscrapers one day represent the prosperity that every Angolan citizen has dreamed about? Perhaps. However, achieving that goal requires stronger political will and more government commitment to implementing bold governance and economic reforms that are centred on people's best interests. 

For now, the government has taken a number of measures to encourage the revitalization of other industries, such as agriculture. In October 2019, the government launched “Minha Terra”, a programme that aims to secure land tenure for rural communities, farmers associations, and agribusiness cooperatives. The authorities believe that in addition to ensuring tenure security, the programme will boost rural–urban economic activities, thereby reducing dependency and food imports. 

Organizations like my own, the Cadasta Foundation, offer affordable and efficient tools and training to document and map urban communities and informal settlements.

Using Cadasta’s platform and tools, Angolan city officials and municipal governments can overcome the constraints and challenges imposed by traditional land administration systems to more efficiently document, analyse, and manage urban property data.

 Antonio Inguane is an international development specialist with Cadasta Foundation, he has extensive experience in land policy and resource rights.

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