Luanda, Angola’s capital, could easily be mistaken for an enormous construction site. Since the end of the civil war (1975 to 2002), the city’s oil-fuelled building boom has attracted investors from all parts of the world. As an everyday experience the result is dust, traffic, and uncertainty. Many reports marvel at the high-rises and mass housing zones that are changing the shape of the city. But these developments are arguably only the latest manifestation of how tightly the city’s form and fortunes are bound to the caprices of capitalism: first slavery, then coffee, then oil. There is little doubt that the city needs urgent intervention: power cuts are frequent, water and sewerage facilities poorly maintained, rubbish collection irregular in poor areas, and a significant number of roads remain unpaved.
However, existing interventions are creating tensions and anger due to housing demolitions and ongoing socio-economic exclusion. As with many other African cities, the roots of Luanda lie in the colonial encounter. The area was originally inhabited by fishing communities known as Axiluanda, until 1576 when the Portuguese arrived. They used Luanda as a base from which to manage the increasingly lucrative Atlantic slave trade and launch ventures into the interior. From its founding until the late 19thcentury the city did not grow significantly in size or importance, going into decline with the formal end of the trade. However, following the 1884 Berlin Conference, in which colonial powers divided Africa between them, the Portuguese were forced to invest in their colony as a means of supporting their ongoing claim on the region. This led to the first water and sanitation works and the installation of gas lighting. It was also in the 19thcentury that the first recorded mass housing demolition took place. The colonial state claimed that African living quarters were a source of disease and moved Africans living in the centre of the city to the periphery, establishing a pattern of exclusion and demolition practice that continues to the present.1
In the post-WW2 era the city rapidly grew, fed by coffee profits and urban industrialisation efforts. However, the new modernist buildings, roads, and leisure areas were accompanied by a growing informalisation of Luanda as African and white settler housing needs remained unsatisfied by the colonial housing stock. Although having existed at least since the 1800s, it is at this time that Luanda’s musseques (informal areas) began to not only come under growing attack from urban planners, but also increase in size and population, taking on their iconic role as centres of anti-colonial resistance. It is in the musseques that the battles for Luanda were fought between competing independence movements, and from there that the still-ruling Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (MPLA) has historically drawn its support. It is perhaps for this reason that the management of the musseques became key to post-independence MPLA urban politics.
During Angola’s civil war, Luanda and other coastal centres, such as Lobito and Benguela, were spaces of relative safety in comparison to rural areas, and MPLA was firmly in control.2 However, while the MPLA made sure it had eyes and ears in the musseques, it did little to stand in the way of their haphazard expansion during the war years. Little was invested in Luanda in terms of infrastructure, housing, or even maintenance during the war as government attention focused on the conflict with União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola (UNITA), and high-level corruption siphoned off public funds. So the population density of the city increased as people fleeing war-stricken rural areas headed to the relative safety of the capital. Not only did the musseques expand, but slowly, even in the formal city, almost every available space became occupied. This included abandoned colonial buildings, which incoming Angolans finished in an ad-hoc manner, inserting ladders where stairways had been planned and bricking up the sides of never completed high-rises. The result was a general informalisation of Luanda. By the time the war ended with the death of UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi in 2002, Luanda’s population of 3,4 million3 inhabited a crumbling city in desperate need of investment and redevelopment. This combination of urban degradation and a booming oil economy has become fertile ground for international companies who flock to Luanda to assist in the lucrative redevelopment of this war-weary city.
Since the end of the war Luanda has been subject to a growing number of urban interventions, both state and privately led. This has caused an expansion to the south and south-east in the form of elite and musseque housing, as well as the creation of state housing zones on the periphery. The country’s oil economy has been the driving force behind this urban restructuring, specifically in the form of oil-backed loans from China and Brazil.4 These investments have focused primarily on major infrastructure development, and, from 2007 to 2008 on the provision of housing.5 But these projects have caused growing tensions within Luanda as the general attitude taken by planners and government officials towards the musseques has imitated colonial patterns, namely slum elimination and forced removal. So the question of where in the state’s plans a person falls begins to intersect with the older notions of cidade (city) versus musseque. As scholar Sandra Roque argues in her 2009 anthropological study of Benguela, the division of musseque-cidade creates a dual urban inequality. To name someone as belonging to the musseque, is not simply a geographical association, but covers a host of deeply entrenched, usually discriminatory notions. In contemporary planning, the musseques are pejoratively viewed by politicians, residents, and the media as places of disorder, in need of elimination for the good of the city.
The first major demolitions began prior to the end of the war in 20016. The most famous of these was in Boa Vista, a musseque squeezed between Miramar (one of the city’s most wealthy areas) and Luanda’s port. Between June and September 2001, approximately 4,000 families were relocated to a new area called Zango, a name that would become synonymous with forced evictions and the government’s rehousing programme.7 Since then there have been at least 18 mass demolitions, with the most recent one in 2009 when thousands of families were evicted to make way for a property development called “Jardim de Eden” (Garden of Eden).8
In Luanda, state housing projects have not only catered to the poor, but also to the public service and the middle-class, resulting in roughly two types of projects. Firstly, low-income social housing projects such as Zango and Panguila,9for people removed from musseques under the auspices of development projects or because it was declared that they lived in high-risk areas. The second is state-sponsored housing that is for sale. There is a growing perception by many of those rehoused because of demolitions that they are considered to be citizens of lesser value in comparison to those who are able to purchase their way into the better-equipped and better quality developments such as Nova Vida and Kilamba.10 As one victim of demolition who had not been rehoused explains: “So there exists a hierarchy. Projecto Nova Vida is for people from echelon A, if you are from echelon B… you have to go to Zango.”11
Those unhappy with their rehousing point to the distance of the social housing areas from work opportunities in the centre and the poor quality of much of the housing as signs of state disregard. Some of those who have suffered demolitions with no compensation have formed civil society organisations such as SOS Habitat, which attempts to use Angolan and international human rights law to defend victims of demolition. Others simply move on and rebuild, but their discontent grows. One young man who is living in a shack settlement after being removed from a central area of the city comments that if his situation does not alter soon, “it would be Libya in Angola”.12
Over the past 15 months, Luanda has been host to a number of Arab Spring-inspired protests.13 Among other grievances, including corruption and the lack of freedom of expression, the question of housing demolition has featured highly. 14Responses to these protests have been aggressive, with leaders being beaten, arrested, and even kidnapped. The musseques do not, in any way, appear to be on the brink of an uprising, but a well-publicised protest emanating from one of them, even a small one,15 is enough to make the MPLA government uneasy. It indicates that the construction of infrastructure and housing might not be enough to placate Angola’s growing population and that the constant demolitions could potentially have long-term political consequences. While many Angolans are proud of the new roads and buildings built over the last 10 years, it remains to be seen whether the government can convince the poor that its actions will indeed improve their lives. And, if it cannot, what the future holds for the city is entirely unclear.
Amnesty International. 2003. Angola. Mass forced evictions in Luanda: A call for a human-rights based housing policy. AFR 12/007/03.
Croese, Sylvia. 2012. 1 million houses? Angolan’s national reconstruction and Chinese and Brazilian engagement. Strengthening the Civil Society Perspective Series II: China and Other Emerging Powers in Africa. FAHAMU: 7 – 29.
Human Rights Watch. 2007. ‘They Pushed Down the Houses’: Forced Evictions and Insecure Land Tenure for Luanda’s Urban Poor. Volume 19, No. 7 (A).
Jenkins, Paul; Robson, Paul and Alan Cain. 2002. City Profile: Luanda. Cities. 19 (2) 139 – 150.
Pepetela. 1990. Luandando. Luanda: Elf Aquitane.
Roque, Sandra. 2009. Ambitions of Cidade: War-displacement and concepts of the urban among bairro residents in Benguela, Angola. Dissertation. Department of Anthropology. University of Cape Town.
Jornal de Angola. “Bairros de Luanda ordenados e urbanizados” 25 January 2012: p4.
Lei 1/76 de 5 de Fevereiro de 1976. Diário de República. I Serie N.º 29..
Despacho noº 26/77 de 1 de Junho de 1977, Diário da República, I Serie, N.º 128
Decreto nº 24/98 de 7 de Agosto de 1998. Diário de República. I Serie Nº 34
Resolução nº 12/01 de 21 de Setembro de 2001. Diário da República. I Serie Nº 43.
Resolução nº 76/09 de 7 de Setembro. Diário da República. I Serie. Nº 169.
Resolução nº 77/09 de 7 de Setembro, Diário da República. I Serie, Nº 169.
Decreto Presidencial 59/11 of 1 de Abril. Diário da República. I Serie. N.º 62.
Lei nº 5/12 de 18 de Janeiro, Diário da República, I Serie No 12.
Author interview with informant. Cazenga. August 2011.
Author interview with informant in Ingombota. 15 October 2011.
Author interview with informant in Zango. 7 May 2012.
Author interview with long-term resident of Luanda. 9 May 2012.
Author interview with informant. Cazenga, Luanda. 13 June 2012.
1. Pepetela. 1990. Luandando. Luanda: Elf Aquitane.
2. Interview with long-term resident of Luanda. 9 May 2012. Also see Lei 1/76 de 5 de Fevereiro de 1976. Diário de República. I Serie N.º 29..
3. Jenkins, Paul; Robson, Paul and Alan Cain. 2002. City Profile: Luanda. Cities. 19 (2) 139 – 150.
4. Croese, Sylvia. 2012. 1 million houses? Angolan’s national reconstruction and Chinese and Brazilian engagement. Strengthening the Civil Society Perspective Series II: China and Other Emerging Powers in Africa. FAHAMU: 7 – 29.
5. Croese 2012.
6. The institutional links between urban redevelopment, demolition, and rehousing appear to have their roots in the creation of the Gabinete das Obras Especias (GOE – Office for Special Works) a special office established by President Jose Eduardo dos Santos in 1998 to oversee the rehabilitation of the Cidade Alta, the administrative centre of the government and seat of Presidential Palace. This rehabilitation involved the relocation of residents living around the Cidade Alta to new housing areas. In 2001, the same year as the first major demolitions in the city took place, the work of the GOE was gazetted, with a relocation office being one it primary divisions, and it being in charge of the development of three new social housing areas: Projecto Morar, Projecto Sapu, e Novos Loteamentos. See Decreto nº 24/98 de 7 de Agosto de 1998. Diário de República. I Serie Nº 34 and Resolução nº 12/01 de 21 de Setembro de 2001. Diário da República. I Serie Nº 43.
7. For more extensive details about Boa Vista and other early demolitions, see Amensty International. 2003. Angola. Mass forced evictions in Luanda: A call for a human-rights based housing policy. AFR 12/007/03.
8. Human Rights Watch. 2007. ‘They Pushed Down the Houses’: Forced Evictions and Insecure Land Tenure for Luanda’s Urban Poor. Volume 19, No. 7 (A).
9. Zango and Panguila have been clearly tied to the PNUH. However there were two social housing areas planned in 2001 already for rehousing people moved from the centre of the city. These are Sapú and Projecto Morar. In addition, state projects for civil servants were already being conceived of near the end of the war, most particularly, Nova Vida, which, although predominantly built after then end of the war, was planned in the 1990s already.
10. The general knowledge of this discrepancy was used as a form of satire in the making of a Youtube “Hitler video” about the Angolan state’s housing projects. It succinctly captured the sense that housing was being used as form of state patronage and that those without money or links to the ruling MPLA were being left out. See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ie_P37SDLW0 [last accessed 14 June 2012]
11. Author interview with informant. Former Kilamba Kiaxi municipality. 23 February 2012.
12. Author interview with informant in Ingombota. 15 October 2011.
13. The first protest took place on the 7 March 2011. Only twenty people, five of them journalists arrived at a central square in Luanda after calls went out via the internet and in a hip-hop concert for a protest against the present regime, more specifically, against the continuing presence of President José Eduardo dos Santos, who has been in power for almost 33 years.
14. Flyer from the 3 December 2011. See centralangola7311.net for more information on protests and acts of violence against protestors.
15. The protests in Luanda have not been anything close to the scale of those in Tunisia and Egypt in terms of numbers. However, in a city where formalised protests against the government were relatively unheard of for decades, the impact of even a small protest openly calling for the removal the president is significant.
Claudia Gastrow is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Anthropology, University of Chicago. She is currently finalising her thesis, “Negotiated Settlements: Housing and Citizenship in Luanda, Angola”
This article is part of UrbanAfrica’s reporting project
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