August 23, 2010 – Rich, poor, crowded and spacious – by taking a tour of the capital city, Luanda, all these descriptions ring true of Angola.
The runway at Aeroporto Internacional de Fevereiro Luanda is the first stop. It has no potholes, but is flanked on either side by long and wide lines of shabby shanty houses.
And just as your mind begins to grasp a somewhat tragic feeling, you walk into a state-of-the-art Airport facility, with that quiet kind of cleanliness.
The airport is barely six months old, and is faced by a canvas of criss-crossing roads and highways, busy with traffic.
I was among a group of journalists invited to take part in the launch of Kenya Airways flights to Luanda, the capital of the Portuguese speaking nation. We were bundled into two vans and shipped to the newer side of town, better known as Talatona.
The clean roads were well marked and littered with vehicles; from the typical Toyota Rav 4 to Jeeps, Hummers, blue and white Nissan matatus, and the widest array of Hyundais and BMWs I have ever laid eyes on.
As a passenger, it was easy for me to shut eye with no pothole to wake me up, and after at least half an hour, because of the traffic, we ended up at Belas Shopping – one of the newest and largest shopping malls in Talatona.
“Belas means beautiful,” says our guide and part-time translator from KQ, Tony.
After having lunch at the Belas Shopping food court, which cost about $15 per head, we went on a tour of Talatona. Basically it’s like the new Luanda. The government has plans to get rid of the shanties that are strewn all over the main city centre so that the town reflects the new peace being experienced in that country.
Condos, apartments, maisonettes with humongous swimming pools and neatly decked are on sale to anyone interested. And in case you haven’t made up your mind, pictures of the legendary and much loved footballer Pele can be seen on several billboards, smiling to the Angolan national’s pockets.
Angola is wealthy in diamonds and oil, and after more than 27 years of fighting in the countryside, peace was finally achieved in 2002. Since then, there have been efforts to build the infrastructure in the country and focus on growth.
Though wealthy, Angola does not even have an oil refinery and therefore must import the commodity. It retails at about Sh35 per litre and is heavily subsidised by the government. Everything is imported, even skilled manpower resulting in a ridiculous population of expatriates there. Indians, Chinese and European businessmen and consultants can be found there in their millions.
However, Angolans are also wealthy. Each family has an average of about three cars, and since parking is free in the town, getting a parking is thrice as hard as it is in Nairobi.
Most Angolans are dark skinned, although there is a sizable bi-racial population. Portuguese is the main language and very few Angolans speak English. An average night out could run into about $300 dollars plus dinner, and with beers at an average $10.
A decent not too expensive hotel will set you back by about $400-$600 per night. The food is not near as good as it is here in Kenya. The taste is not as rich, especially with the meats, but I guess that should change when the imports are reduced in future.
Whether poor or rich, Angolans are a trendy lot. Skinny jeans, Mohawks and high tops were an extremely common sight. Hopefully, one day soon the massive gap between the rich and the poor will be bridged. So that in one day you don’t see a muscular well-groomed man sporting a t-shirt with ‘poshboy’ written on it and only an hour later look at a man wearing a dirty white t-shirt and staring idly through the fence of a government building.
As for you, if you are in Kenya, Kenya Airways will help you get a visa if you book a ticket to Luanda. Make sure you carry a couple of thousand dollars if you want to have fun.
When in Luanda, ask to be taken to Ilha, an island in the stretching out of the main town where almost all the bars and discotheques are lined up. And remember if you aren’t dressed to kill, you will not be allowed into the club.