Cities as growth poles: the case of Angola

The problem of territorial imbalances and the imperative of developing lagging regions to consolidate a modern industrial economy has been at the kernel of the Angolan government’s development policy since the culmination of war. The National Policy for the Promotion of the Balanced Development of the Territory (Política Nacional de Promoção do Desenvolvimento Equilibrado do Território)[i] is centred on the idea of creating a network of growth poles to promote the diversification of the economy and drive an overarching development agenda, that is based on achieving stability, growth and employment.

It is envisioned that direct interventions in the spatial concentration of infrastructure and economic activity in a network of cities will raise national productivity and income, create employment and offset the core-periphery dichotomy that currently exists. The idea here is that the spatial clustering of firms will stimulate growth through the diffusion of development to the region, because of increasing demand for goods and services produced in the growth pole, as a result of rising per capita income in this region. [ii] Concurrently, this approach feeds into the government’s aim to achieve national integration. This is not only in economic terms but in terms of security and the need to maintain its hegemony by ensuring that the spread effects of the development process are widely diffused. Thus one may argue that the adoption of a growth pole strategy in the Angolan case serves as a little more than a regional policy approach with its political underpinnings.

Through the use of fiscal and tax incentives, and via private-public partnerships, the creation of a network of growth poles is ongoing, and these have been formulated according to priority clusters delineated by the government. These clusters are food, agribusiness, energy, water, housing, and transport and logistics, which will serve as the key economic focus in the poles. The poles include: the metropolitan areas of Luanda, the Benguela-Lobito axis, and an urban agglomeration (the creation of functionally linked cities) in the country’s center. The urban agglomeration consists of the cities of Huambo and Kuito, the industrial and commercial hub of Cabinda, a petrochemical and steel pole in Soyo, an urban, commercial and cultural pole in Luena, and a logistics pole in Menongue. It is expected that the creation of development axes, or a transportation corridor, will enhance the level of connectivity between these poles, and unleash the positive externalities resulting from economies of agglomeration generated at the poles throughout the territory. This strategy is occurring alongside provincial development plans. Explicitly, in Luanda and Bengo, the aim is to establish a dynamic metropolitan region to serve as a node that connects Angola with the global market.

The five lagging provinces in the North (Cabinda, Zaire, Uíge, Kwanza Norte and Malange), are being established as important industrial and petroleum commercial centers (Cabinda and Zaire primarily) and it is anticipated that Uige and Malanje, in particular, will drive the transition of the agricultural sector from peasant subsistence to market agriculture. In the following provinces of the south: Kwanza-Sul, Benguela, Huambo, Huila, Bie, agri-business and industrial development will be the main focus. In Namibe, Cunene and Kuando Kubango, also southern provinces, the main focus is tourism. In the Eastern provinces, the government is exploring the potential for market agrriculture to formalise the rural economy and promote a service industry.

The adoption of growth pole strategies in government policy is premised on a belief in development as synonymous with economic growth, driven by processes of industrialisation. This is problematic in the sense that economic growth is not necessarily coterminous with development, as several developing country experiences have depicted over the years. The implementation of growth poles is inherently driven by investments in infrastructure, as it is premised on the availability of platforms such as roads, railways and electricity to facilitate proximity to markets or create economic linkages with the wider economy.[iii] However, it is important to highlight that the creation of infrastructure is not by itself sufficient to create a competitive economy and, similarly, the spatial concentration of propulsive industries and people in a delineated region is not a guarantee of achieving agglomeration economies in that region. The idea of cities functioning as drivers of economic growth does not emanate primarily from the spatial concentration of firms but moreover from an environment within the city that facilitates economic agents to engage in productive activities to create goods and services, thus attracting labour and capital from other regions.[iv]

Because of the inherent nature of growth pole strategies, a central part of the Angolan government’s approach has pertained to a focus on “hard” infrastructure (e.g., roads and ports) as opposed to ‘soft’ infrastructure such as human capital and institutions like health, emergency services and education. As a case in point, only 5.29% and 8.09 %, of Angola’s 2013 budget was allocated to health and education respectively.[v] In a country where rates of poverty, inequality, and unemployment are high, this skewed focus towards capital-intensive infrastructural development is inadequate. Hence, while Angola has achieved considerable macro-economic gains following the end of war, this is severely undermined by a lack of inclusive growth and human development levels remain in the low category at 0.526.[vi] Notably, the World Bank asserts that “growth poles are not… a panacea. They do not help everyone, everywhere, all at once. Growth poles do not address rural education gaps, for instance. To some extent, they can bias government investment into urban or other areas where the expected efficiency of investment is greater.”[vii] Indeed this urban bias is very much evident in the Angolan context, whereby the majority of investments have been directed towards the capital, Luanda, effectively undermining the objective to ameliorate territorial imbalances. Hence, the core-periphery dichotomy continues to be perpetuated.


Sherilyn Reindorf-Partey is a PhD Candidate at the Centre of Development Studies,  University of Cambridge. Her PhD, in progress, is titled ‘Development for whom? Discourses of Modernity in Angola’s Post-War Reconstruction.’










Photo: “New housing development area” by Paulo César Santos.

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