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Angola benefits from a building boom

posted 1 Nov 2010, 06:08 by Sam Mbale

Oil-rich Angola's building boom is visibly changing its capital, Luanda, but the benefits of foreign investment and development are slow to trickle down to the country's poorer citizens.

LUANDA, ANGOLA. REUTERS - A building boom in Angola fuelled by foreign investment and development in the oil-rich nation is visibly changing the capital, Luanda.

Construction cranes and building sites dominate the city's skyline and signs of wealth are increasigly visable across the capital from its docks to its multiplying high rise arpartments and luxury hotel chains.

But despite the increasing amount of money pouring into development projects in the capital, poorer neighbourhoods have been slower to feel the benefits. More than eight years since the end of the civil war, millions of Angolans still live in shanty towns while unemployment is running at around 50 percent.

Those who still lack basic amenities like running water, electricity and proper drainage, say the government is to blame.

''They don't do anything, look at the conditions that we have. There is no work being done, it is more in their pockets and in other things. Nothing else," said Nelito, a Luanda resident from one of the capital's poorer districts.

Most residents are aware of their country's booming economy but many like Garcia Moniz Manuel whose family struggles with poor living conditions, would like to see more of that wealth spread around.

''The country is rich as people say but we don't see it. We only see the city looking beautiful, but in this compound, nothing, drainage, roads, everything is blocked. We cannot see anything at the moment," said resident Garcia Moniz Manuel.

Leon Kukkuk, a political researcher based in Cape Town who specialises in the economics of post-conflict development in African countries, agrees that there is still a great deal of room for improvement in Angola but says its easy to forget how far the country has come since a peace agreement was signed in 2002.

''Many aspects of the economic growth, the expansion of the economy, the improvements in livelihoods, the improvements in life expectancy, reduction in mortality rates, childhood mortality rates and those sorts of things seem to be ignored,'' Kukkuk said.

According the UN, Angola has halved poverty rates between 2002 and 2009, largely thanks to improvements in infrastructrure and transport networks built by foreign investors interested in the country's oil.

While its clear Angola's oil wealth has been the main driver of the country's progress, the government's dependence on foreign money has also proved devisive.

Critics of the governement, still run by the longest serving president in Sub-Saharan Africa, and effectively a one-party system, say corruption is stopping the full benefits of the country's economic boom being felt.

''We don't see things with our eyes, but we listen, we hear that they are doing something and the country is being organized a little bit. This is what I know," said Mario Jose Pinto, a Luandan resident.

For resident Joao Fernandes Kissanga, the government's control over the country's oil wealth is limiting its benefits.

''About oil, I think it's putting the people down and not enriching them," he said.

According to Kukkuk, ensuring the benefits are spread around will also take improvements in civil society.

''It's not very good economic thought to think that oil money will trickle down, money doesn't necessarily trickle down, they can be demanded by an active civil society which Angola does not yet have, an active and articulate civil society who can demand basic services, basic services like education and that is not happening. That is one, perhaps the biggest impediment,'' he said.

If Angola's economic development is a sign that the country is moving away from poverty and a troubled past, future generations will have to work hard to ensure the benefits of the country's natural resources can be sustained.