A friend of mine recently spent a few weeks in Angola. He then reached out to me to do a TWOTS type guest post for the blog (previous editions here). The imitation flattered me and the education is most welcome. I have to say that my record of travel in Africa is really terrible – I have visited more of Asia even. Hopefully that changes soon.
Enjoy the piece (he wants to remain anonymous)
So my job takes me very exotic destinations. In the past 18 months, I have been to the vacation destinations that are N’djamena (Chad), Douala (Cameroon), Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), Malabo (Equatorial Guinea) and most recently Luanda in Angola. I must admit with shame that prior to these trips, I had never gone to any African country, not even Benin Republic.
Anyways, this article is just a summary of what I noted on my recently concluded trip to Luanda in Angola.
1. If you think getting a UK, US or even Nigerian visa is difficult, then you haven’t applied for an Angolan visa. I started the process in Feb 2014, with a Letter of Introduction from my company in Angola (duly signed by the Ministries of Petroleum and Export). It took 6 weeks.
2. Application for visa is another kettle of fish. I processed visa for 3 weeks and at the point of stamping, I learnt I needed a new LOI because of some administrative reason. Cue another 2-month wait. In all, the process took 4 months. My passport was stuck in the embassy for 2 months
3. Ethiopia is doing what any sensible government should do. They have made Addis Ababa a hub for travel in Africa. Very simple concept. Make people sleep overnight. Every night, hotels, restaurants, clubs and the likes in Addis make money from transit visitors. It is a win-win situation for them. The people come in; spend money overnight, thereby boosting an economy that has no major natural resource. I guess necessity is really the mother of invention. Of course, entry into Ethiopia is probably the easiest in Africa.
4. Entry into Angola is the third part of the hydra headed monster. First time entrants are kept in a waiting room for hours, while a Letter of Guarantee by your host is processed. Grapevine states that if you know your way, you wont have to wait (more on that later). I was lucky in that my company had just had an agreement with the government for free passage for us, so no waiting room. My colleagues had spent 3 – 6 hours there on prior trips. One fellow Nigeria expat lady spent 9 hours!!!
5. Nigerians are everywhere. Word on the street is that our Igbo brothers control the spare parts market in Angola (as they do in Malabo). How do they get visas you ask? Well, the grapevine says that for a specific amount of money, you can get an original Angolan visa. All you need to learn is how to speak Portuguese. Also, if you are caught as an illegal immigrant, your freedom is available for $2,000. See evidence of our Igbo brothers in the picture below:
6. Oh yeah. Angola is the most expensive city in the world, which is why the $2000 bribe is not ridiculous here. A minor misdemeanor like not going out with your passport on a night is usually settled for $300! I experienced Angola’s expensiveness first hand. Bought a N50 padlock (see picture below) for 500 Kwanza ($5). Also, needed to shave, it cost $7. A full haircut is $30! An average meal in a restaurant costs $100/head. A take out meal is about $40. Cars are sold at double the value you can obtain in the US. Hotels start from $700/night.
7. Rental prices are another kettle of fish. The high rent here suffers from two causative factors in my opinion: one: traffic and general Angolan expensiveness.
8. Luanda has a BIG traffic problem. The roads to the city are narrow; they are usually 2 lanes. Additionally, Angolan houses do not have car parks so they park on the road, meaning that the major highway is effectively one lane. A 6-mile journey from the Guest House I stayed in to the office is 1hr to and 1.5hrs fro. And that’s because we leave at 6am for work and leave work at 4pm. The ironic thing is that Luanda is surrounded by water and you would imagine that ferries will be used more than cars. However, I found out that there are less than 5 large commercial ferries to town. Typical Luanda road below:
9. Funny enough, for a city with that much traffic, the roads are sane. No horns blaring, drivers very considerate, even zebra crossings are obeyed. I think this stems from the easygoing nature of most Angolans. They know things are not perfect but as all of them still have vivid recollections of the war, they know how to take life easy. No hurrying for Angolans, every one does stuff at their own pace. They love living life to the fullest; flashy cars, designer wares, very fitness conscious and yeah, they are very blasé about sex, single parenthood and the likes. It is not a big deal here.
10. For a country that just came out of a civil war, Angolans are very nice. I have never seen a collection of people who will go out of their way to make a foreigner comfortable. Everywhere you go, people have a smile for you! I experienced random acts of kindness and courtesy I normally would not expect from people speaking a different language. I went for dinner one evening and Isabel dos Santos was on the table next to me, absolutely no airs. However, I was told that plain-clothes security men surrounded the place.
11. Angola can be called the most expensive slum in the world. Their favelas are extra dirty as shown in the picture below. Even the $5k flats are very dirty. The houses are very old, drainages are not cleared, people living and laughing in absolute squalor. Not unlike Nigeria. However, even in these slums, I noted that there was power every time I passed and that Angolans love air conditioning and DSTV.
12. Angolans still have a close affinity to Portugal and as a result, among the working class people, you have a lot of mixed race people. Their ladies are extremely beautiful and ‘endowed’. The men; very fit and tattooed. They all have the mentality of an average European and sure know how to have fun. However, vex them and they let you know they are African. One of my mixed race friends told me that I should be careful or “she will get her voodoo doll out for me”. I backed off immediately.
13. Back to rent, if you live in Nigeria and have a spare 1.5M USD, buy a flat in Angola. My colleague bought one around the office and receives US$15k rent per month. The building in the next picture is $5k per month. Due to the traffic, there is very high demand for flats in and around the city center (which the government has mandated all companies to operate from). This high demand, coupled with the general high cost of living in Luanda, makes rent very very high.
14. Final word on Angola – my impression is that this is a country struggling to understand the enormity of oil resources they have, so soon after a long war. ‘Anyhowness’ is here too, not on our scale though. The people are much nicer but you need a lot of money to survive here.
P.S: What happened to the renovation works at MMIA. Came in on a rainy day. Noticed the roof was leaking, the ACs and lights they just bought do not work and the arrival hall stinks. Can we actually get anything right?