As oil flows, Angola’s poor left out of “New Life”
By Christopher Thompson
LUANDA, Angola (Reuters) – A queue of homeless people
stands outside Angola’s parliament waiting to hand in
individual petitions — a rare scene of political protest in
this tightly controlled oil-rich country.
Former residents of slums on the outskirts of the capital
Luanda, their makeshift homes were razed to make way for an
extension of an upscale state-sponsored housing project called
“Nova Vida” or “New Life.”
“Our houses have been destroyed by the government,”
explained one man in the queue, a 20-year-old who gave his name
as Felizao. “We are demanding compensation.”
An oil boom in Africa’s second largest crude producer has
sparked a scramble for high-end housing in mostly run-down
Luanda as foreigners flock in for a piece of the action.
Left out of the oil bonanza, the residents of Luanda’s
squalid shantytowns are being squeezed out of their homes.
The petitioners came from Cambamba I and Cambamba II, poor
areas close to President Jose Eduardo dos Santos’ official
residence of Futungo dos Belas.
In March, police and members of a private security company
moved into the area and proceeded to destroy the houses of 600
families to make way for the New Life expansion.
In Cambamba, the tracks were still fresh days after
government bulldozers destroyed the fields that residents used
to grow food to eat and sell at a nearby market.
What’s left of the houses, splintered wood and stray pieces
of sheet metal, sits below the nearby Nova Vida condominiums
arranged neatly in pretty pink and white rows.
“The Europeans get to live in condos while we live like
this. There is no law for us,” said Manuel Antonio as he stood
outside his makeshift shack in a nearby field. He had salvaged
what he could of his former home.
“And now we have to live like this, sleeping rough in the
outside — no food, no doctors. Just mosquitoes,” he said.
Witnesses said the demolition was done swiftly.
The police came at about lunchtime, just before Maria de
Gonga was due to return with her sick infant from the hospital.
“I came back and my house was destroyed,” she said as she
cradled her feverish baby by a baobab tree under which she had
slept for the past week along with other residents.
Other witnesses described how they were beaten with whips
including one woman who, eight months pregnant, was kicked in
her abdomen, causing hemorrhagic bleeding.
According to the United Nations human rights office in
Luanda, this was the fourth forcible eviction carried out in
the area in recent months, leaving thousands homeless.
The U.N. and Amnesty International have launched a campaign
against the security forces involved, alleging that they acted
with excessive force against an unarmed population.
CITY OF SLUMS
Despite Angola’s burgeoning oil wealth, Luanda remains a
city of slums. Over the past 3 decades the city has swollen
from 500,000 to more than 4 million.
Housing is suddenly big business.
According to government figures, the state-run private
investment agency Anip approved 290 investment projects
amounting to $2.577 billion in 2005 — with the construction
sector representing 85.4 percent of this total.
Construction has also been slated for roads and bridges as
the country attempts to rebuild infrastructure left in ruins by
war and neglect.
The government says that may include slum clearance.
“Look around in this area. You need order and you need the
space to build social services. We must take a long-term
approach,” district administrator Jose Frank told Reuters as he
pointed to the slums outside his window.
He said some people had moved into the area that had been
demolished recently in an attempt to cheat the government.
“We will compensate those who are genuine,” he said.
Back at parliament, no rough tactics were used on the
petitioners — a fact that impressed onlookers.
The ruling MPLA has brooked little dissent in more than
three decades of its rule and critics say it will be reluctant
to give up power and the oil revenues that go with it.
“This is not typical. To challenge the government here is
very difficult — I am impressed,” said one.