Oil boom in Angola: In a poor land, an exploration of the trickle-down effect
The streets of Angola
The streets of Angola: from Portuguese mercantilism to colonialism and, then after independence, from Afro-Stalinism to petro-diamond capitalism


Trickle-down economics Angola-style, petro-diamond capitalism, an oil boom in a land of flickering electricity, and an encounter with a child

"Não há agua hoje." Dona Josinha tells me what I learned standing undressed in the shower moments ago, attempting to make the most of a trickle. There is no water today.

When the lights go out, you hope the generator kicks in, but there are always candles. When the water goes out, you first look to your reserves – ours is a 24-gallon garbage can in the kitchen – but when that is exhausted, a trip to the water vendors will be necessary. A majority of the poor in Angola rely on the water vendors to meet their daily needs. The costs are exorbitant. A recent Christian Aid report described the plight of a family who spent $2.75 out of their daily income of $3.50 on water. The water isn't exactly spring water either – it often carries disease.

The door to the "entrepisos" level

I carefully navigate the slick steps down to the ground floor. The boys living "entrepisos" (literally: between floors) in the small space below our floor are hauling dripping plastic bags filled with water to the apartments above for spare change. On the street, women are ferrying heavy jerry cans of water on their heads. Some women collect water for their families by placing buckets under the eaves of the well-to-do's apartment buildings to catch the condensation dripping from the air conditioning units. This is the way trickle-down economics works around here.

The walk to the Angolan Research Institute (A-IP, which will serve as the home base for my research) is probably about a mile. It is 8 a.m. and the sun is mild, but the heat mixed with the dust and exhaust from the endless stream of SUVs, trucks and cars is almost suffocating. There are few streetlights and fewer that are obeyed. Crossing the street can be a life-threatening ordeal, especially with four lanes of traffic. At the Kinaxixi (pronounced "Kee-nah-sheesh") roundabout, I turn down Avenida Lenin. Despite the transition "from Afro-Stalinism to Petro-Diamond Capitalism" (as the keen author Tony Hodges describes it), many of Luanda's street names bear witness to its Marxist-Leninist past.

The walk along Lenin is pleasantly shaded. The brightly painted colonial-style cement homes with their plantation shutters range from well kept to dilapidated – one has a rooster poking about on the front porch. When the Portuguese left in 1975, some sabotaged their homes and cars before escaping the country. The remnants of this destruction remained frozen in time, compounded by 27 years of further deterioration over the war period. But with peace, construction is on the rise, especially with the aid of foreign business investments.

However, the streets of Luanda tell the story of both rich and poor. The gleaming towers along the waterfront and BMW SUVs contrast with the cardboard and sheet metal shelters. Street vendors sell fish, donuts, fruits, clothing, shoes, combs – whatever they can. A young man in a faded blue shirt shows me his wares: a scooter and a bathroom scale. Not far from here in the high-rises of the "baixa" zone, multi-million dollar contracts for oil exploration are signed. And still, with nearly one million barrels of oil produced per day, the electricity flickers off, leaving most Angolans in the dark.

After a day at A-IP, I emerge from the office to a molten sunset. Taking the long way home, I wander through the small streets lit with smoldering fires. Turning up my street and just past the petrol station I see a barefoot child picking through a heap of trash. A mangy dog noses through the opposite end of the heap, its battered tail between its legs. As I step toward the child, headlights blind me. Backpedaling, nearly into a pool of stagnant liquid (I won't pretend it's water), I look up. The child is gone.

— Kristin