Luanda is said to be the most expensive city in Africa-and the world. Here's how ordinary Angolans beat the odds

'To survive here you have to have more than one job and work really hard.'

JOANA Candeia is on a regular salary as a teacher in Luanda, the capital of Angola, but every month she makes the gruelling 1,580-kilometre journey south to Windhoek, Namibia, where she stocks up for her supplementary job as a clothes trader. 

Despite the distance, it makes financial sense—the mother of two says she earns more money from her side hustle than from her civil service job.

“I get three times more by travelling abroad than from my official job,” she says, adding that life in the Angolan capital is extremely expensive and she has had to find other ways to survive.

“I am a teacher, the government pays me 40,000 kwanzas ($405) monthly which is not enough for my needs. This is why I have to run my own business as well,” Candeia, 23, says. 

Another civil servant, who would only be identified as Manuel, also says he holds another job, as it is the only way he can support his family. 

“I have worked for the country’s immigration service for ten years now,” he told Mail & Guardian Africa. “But my pay is not enough. I have two vehicles operating as a taxi, and through this I manage to sustain my growing family very well. I started with a bank loan,” he says. 

The strategy of having more than one job or running a business seems to be common in the city.

No going back
Insurance agent Paulo Zua, who lives in Viana municipality to the east, and works in Maianga, some 30 kiolmetres away, says he spends roughly 800 kwanzaa ($8) every day in bus fare.  

“If you have your won car, you will definitely save money because life is hard in Luanda,” he says. 

 “My salary is 200,000 kwanzaa ($2,030). I would not be able to survive and meet my expenses if my friend and I had not partnered to start a barber salon. We employ three people and I earn twice as much as I do from my government job.” 

Nearly a quarter of Angola’s estimated 21 million people live in the city, many also attracted to its relative security during the country’s ruinous 27-year civil war.

Joao Tchitumba, a father of four, came from Huambo province, some 450 kilometres south east of Luanda, in 1992.   He has no intention of ever going back.

Not immune
“Here in Luanda you get more money compared to other provinces of the country,” he says. 

“I operate my motorcycle as a taxi, I get around 5,000 to 8,000 kwanzaa ($ 50-80) daily and work very hard from 5am to 8 pm. My wife sells fruits at an informal market. Together we can meet our family needs” he told this writer.

Tchitumba says he now has a farm and some cattle back home in Huambo to show for his labours in the capital. But he is also not immune to high prices in the capital. 

“I take my children to school myself to avoid transport expenses, and we buy food in bulk for the whole month,” he says.

The recurring theme of high prices is not perchance—Luanda has been in many surveys named as the world’s most expensive city, including by a widely-watched survey compiled annually by consultants Mercer.

The firm’s latest cost of living survey saw the African city beat out European and Asian hubs such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Zurich and Geneva for the second year in a row, while this report noted a decent two-bedroom apartment can set you back $6,600 monthly, and a pair of jeans close to $250. 

But such studies have tended to focus on the conditions for foreign workers and tourists, rarely capturing the lived reality of ordinary Angolans. 

Among the reasons offered have been the reliance on imported goods and derelict infrastructure due to the legacy of the civil war.

But Angola is also the second-largest producer of crude in Africa and is regularly cited as one of the continent’s fastest growing economies. Critics however say the billions of oil dollars flowing in have not benefited the ordinary people, and have only led to the emergence of an elite few who cream off the fat. 

The United Nations notes that while the economy has been growing at more than 7% annually, 38% of Angolans live in poverty, while the country’s Gini coefficient, a measure of inequality, stands at a high 58.6 (100 reflects perfect inequality) from 42.7 in 2009.

Authorities rarely comment on the reality of the high cost of living in the southern African country, reflecting a culture of official secrecy in one of the continent’s more authoritarian states and which has only known one leader in the last 25 years.

Wider impact
Two weeks ago the price of fuel at the pump went up without notice, or explanation. Analysts say this will have a wide impact on already stretched pay packets. 

“It is difficult to understand why fuel prices rose when Angola is the second largest African oil producer. In the future, consequences will be visible in other prices such as those of transport and food,” Jose Inancio, a lecturer at the Agostinho Neto University  told Mail & Guardian Africa

He added: “To survive in Luanda you have to have more than one job and work really hard.” 

Health, education and accommodation were among the most expensive for most poor Angolans. But even leisure are IT and communication are not spared either, he added.

Private universities charge about $250 monthly, while an appointment with a doctor will set you back between $100 and $150. Many companies—especially those in the energy industry—offer their own private health facilities for employees.

These are high prices for the 70% of Angolans who live on less than two dollars a day, informing the proliferation of hawkers in every city corner, and who bear the brunt of regular evictions.

“I have been a hawker for ten years now, not because I like it but because for you to work as a public servant you must have connections,” a street trader who sought anonymity said. “Living is very expensive here, and I have to work from 6am to 6pm every day.”

The lowest national wage is pegged at between 11,200 and 16,800 kwanzaa ($112 to $168), according to a presidential decree contained in the official gazette dated June 1, 2014.

But figures for high earners, where many government officials are to be found, are much more difficult to come across. In July, Portuguese news agency Lusa revealed figures that showed the deputy president earned 818,806 kwanzaa ($8,300) while state ministers picked up $7,450 every month.  

Every other minister and provincial governors earned $6,760 including allowances, while deputy ministers, state secretaries and deputy governors picked up $6,090.  

International media reports regularly estimate President Jose Eduardo dos Santos net worth as close to $2 billion, while Forbes Africa has listed his daughter Isabel as worth $3.8 billion, making her Africa’s richest woman. 

Such riches are however beyond many Angolans, who may have to tighten their belts even further after the International Monetary Fund, together with Angolan authorities, last month projected that national economic growth would slow to 3.9% this year from 6.8% in 2013 due to a drop in oil production.

Inflation, already up 6.98% year-on-year in July, would reach 7.5% by the end of the year, it was noted, leaving many with an uphill climb, unable to afford even the numerous upcoming Chinese-built apartments.

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