Angola’s vast and sprawling capital is difficult for visitors to get to grips with.

National Bank Luanda Angola by Anton_Ivanov ShutterstockSituated about a quarter of the way down Angola’s Atlantic coast, Luanda is a vast and sprawling city that is difficult for visitors to get to grips with. It’s a busy place and the gap between rich and poor is gaping. The population has grown exponentially since independence as millions of internally displaced people were attracted to the relative security of the capital and settled in musseques (shanty towns) near the centre and on the outskirts of town. No-one really knows what the population is now: conservative estimates put it at five million, while others suggest it could be as high as eight million, making it one of the most populous cities in Africa. Since the end of the civil war in 2002, vast amounts of money have been spent to repair the city (along with the rest of the country), but much still needs to be done. The shiny new tower blocks owned by the oil companies stand in stark contrast to the modest houses and slums where the vast majority of Luandans live. Even in the best parts of town, water, electricity and telephones can fail, but in the musseques these services are still very basic.

(Photo: The striking pink National Bank is one of the finest remaining exaples of Portuguese colonial architecture in Angola © Anton_Ivanov, Shutterstock)

Yet, ironically, Luanda ranks among the most expensive capitals in the world in which to live. Traffic is a major feature of life here – personalised hummers and 4x4s, owned by rich Angolans, compete for limited road space with the ubiquitous blue-and-white candongueiro collective taxis – and risks bringing the city to an almost complete halt; travelling several kilometres from one district to another can take over an hour. Many of the traffic jams are caused by the ongoing reconstruction work so when the ditches have been filled in and the roads resurfaced, traffic should flow a little easier. At least sitting in traffic you can appreciate the real lives of Angolans as they go about their daily business: the brightly dressed, often plump, languid zungueiras (female street vendors) with fruit and veg piled on their heads, and babies, legs splayed, strapped on their backs; the lean and hungry, but always smiling street lads trying to sell anything and everything.

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