Founded in 1576, Luanda is the most populated province in the country. At the time of independence, it had about 500,000 inhabitants (Colaço 1992, p. 5). In 2014, the INE/AO [1] estimated a population of around 6.5 million living in Luanda (INE/AO 2014, pp. 23, 27; INE/AO, 2016, p. 32), corresponding to 27% of the total population of the country and a density of 347 inhabitants per km².

The same source reports that 53% of the population of the territory is concentrated in only four provinces of the country: Luanda, Huíla, Benguela and Huambo (INE/AO 2015, p. 35). Furthermore, approximately 80% of the companies in Angola are located in four provinces (Luanda, Benguela, Huíla and Cuanza Sul). They employ about 53.5% of the workers. Benguela is the second province, after Luanda, with the highest concentration of companies (data referring to the period between 2003 and 2014) (INE/ AO, 2015, pp. 114-139).

The historical, political, economic and social impact of colonialism and the long periods of armed violence experienced in Angola – during the war for independence, under the process of decolonization and the civil war that broke out after independence – created organizational and developmental particularities in Angolan society, influencing group relations and individual attitudes.

Luanda is not only the capital of Angola but also a city constituted by a series of contrasts and realities, within which the structure of relations, networks and exchanges are shaped by the coexistence of distinct social conditions and multiple asymmetries and lifestyles.

With population growth and the effects of a prolonged war, several neighborhoods were expanded towards the periphery of Luanda. Characterized by precarious construction and lack of sanitation [2], these spaces of horizontal occupation and unplanned urban diffusion became sites of discrimination, standing in contrast to neighborhoods equipped with urban services and necessary infrastructure. These poor neighborhoods differ distinctly from the musseques of colonial times based on the forms of occupation of the spaces and the materials used for construction (especially cement). They cover more than 50% of the areas of the city (Colaço 1992) [3]. 

The stories in these neighborhoods do not describe only lifestyles of poverty, misery and improvisation (Carvalho 1992), unemployment and school failure of an undifferentiated, proletarian and low-income population (Monteiro 1973). Contrary to the characterization of Monteiro (1973), we find different groups in the so-called musseques. They are differentiated by countries of origin and distinct migratory trajectories, including by their origin in the different regions of the country, the time of arrival in Luanda, coming from both urban centers and rural areas, the ethnic composition and internal diversity of the groups themselves, different religious communities of belonging, and other different networks. The distribution and spatial concentrations within the neighborhoods show distinct forms of occupation: one area may be dominated by a particular ethnic group, another may have a more diverse population, others still would have new arrivals, and some parts may be more impoverished, and so on.

In a civil society which lacks local management able to provide basic means of social organization (housing, employment, etc.), the informal market enables many individuals and families to acquire financial support or livelihood. Practised by thousands of Angolans on a permanent or occasional basis [4], informal commerce makes the Angolan capital the city of “street vendors”: the zungueira [5] or quitandeira, the roboteiro [6], the walking vendor [7]. Areas with high pedestrian movement, markets and sales outlets are significant social microcosms, not independent realities, of the organizational processes of any peripheral neighborhood or specific zone. Many Angolans practice their main economic activity there, thus guaranteeing family subsistence.

For many Angolan families, economic management is through buying (usually small quantities due to lack of capital) and selling whilst functioning under an unstable economic structure that is unable to support capital investment for medium or long-term bases. However, its economy is not only “buy-and-sell”, but also a gender economy. In many families, it is mainly women who play a central role in raising economic means of family subsistence. They sell in the larger markets or use these to buy the products they sell door-to-door, in the surrounding neighborhoods, in the smaller markets or as zungueiras (at outlets or around the city). The small profit from the daily sale of the retail products guarantees their daily sustenance.

The informal market is not the only structural problem in the city of Luanda. Decades of armed conflict, the sharp population increase, lack of an urban program of conservation, construction, alteration, recovery and expansion of the city (streets, sanitation, buildings, etc.), caused great wear of urban equipment and services provided to citizens. The lack of schools, hospitals, housing, the degradation of buildings and public roads, a poor sanitation and garbage collection network, a poor energy and water supply network, a significant increase in anarchic construction, urban crime, juvenile delinquency, without forgetting the chaotic traffic and “gasosa” [8], incorporate and interconnect the complex housing and social problems of Luanda.

The agglomeration of urban garbage in the streets and neighborhoods of the city, along with the climatic conditions (especially in the “hot and rainy season”), make Luanda an area of a high incidence of endemic diseases like cholera, malaria, yellow fever, etc.

In response to urban criminality and juvenile delinquency, two salient realities in the recent post-war context guards armed with Kalashnikovs are often stationed at various commercial spaces, companies, banks, properties, etc.

The chaotic traffic [9], as well as the candongueiros [10] and their famous blue and white Toyota Hiace, are part of the daily agitations of city life. Candongueiros represent the most popular passenger transport in Luanda (equivalent to collective taxis) [11] and appeared via private initiative as public transport was deteriorating without being replaced. Many private car and motorcycles owners [12] also carry passengers, in addition to the recent, oversized and overly expensive (for ordinary citizens) formal taxis network.

Likewise, ever present in various acts of citizens’ daily life is the payment of “gasosa”. A bribery mechanism used as a means of expediting a process, purchased favour, avoiding a traffic ticket (with or without fault), lowering the cost of a service provided/bought (with profit for both parties), etc.

Marked by urbanization patterns of colonial times and Marxist housing policies of the 1980s and 1990s, Luanda is now a city under construction and in transformation. Urban planning is in open confrontation with real estate development, with accelerated growth. 

It is the real estate explosion (modern buildings, luxury hotels, head office, restaurants, leisure spaces, etc.) alongside poorer neighborhoods where many thousands of Angolans live under the stigma of suburban marginality, violence, unemployment, school failure, to name a few (Viegas 2011, 2012, Croese 2012, Robson 2001).

A trip through the new expressway to South Luanda/Talatona shows a city of contrasts. On the one hand, the musseques and enormous precariousness, on the other, luxury condominiums, expensive houses and the Belas shopping Center [13].

Around Luanda, there are several cities and municipalities (Quilamba, Zango, Viana, Belas, Cacuaco) destined for an emerging middle class, built by Chinese, Portuguese, Brazilian and Angolan companies. New centralities as they call it. Providing various types of services (schools, nurseries, supermarkets, pharmacies, etc.), emerged from the need to reduce population concentration from the densely populated city centre to the periphery.

Similarly, noble areas of the city are being recovered. The promenade was recovered by the Portuguese construction companies Soares da Costa and Mota-Engil and the Luanda island by the Brazilian Odebrecht.

Along with real estate development and accelerated construction, schools and hospitals have also been built. However, there are still teachers and doctors missing. In some municipalities, it is difficult to find suitable schools and stable teaching staff. Public health presents many failures despite the strengthening of these professionals through agreements with Cuba, South Korea and Vietnam, as well as the private sector, in this case, at very high prices.

The differential coexistence of distinct social conditions and multiple asymmetries and lifestyles still stands out through forms of conviviality and consumption (such as imported luxury cars, branded luxury stores, leisure in fashionable restaurants and bars of Luanda Island, escapes to Mussulo Island, Cabo Ledo or Sangano, etc.). That includes not only the elite and middle-class Angolan, wealthy or emerging but also members of diplomatic corps and several expatriates, including Portuguese. Among Angolans and Portuguese, the term “tugolândia” is used to describe how some of the Portuguese migrants organize taxonomies of difference and distinction, selecting and attending leisure spaces in the Angolan capital, especially among peers.

[1] Nation Institute of Statistics – Angola.
[2] Neighborhoods born in colonial times and commonly known as “musseques”. The word musseque means “sand place” (mu = place, seke = sand) in Kimbundo, in reference to the sandy soil with reddish colour characteristic of Luanda.
[3] The author distributes the occupation of the spaces of the city of Luanda through four zones: the modern area (the downtown of Luanda), a transition area (former musseques in the process of urbanization), the periphery (musseques side by side with new neighborhoods), and an expanding area (new centralities as they currently call it), which is part of the project Luanda Sul.

[4] As a way to get money in times of “tightening”: illness of a family member, unemployment, etc.

[5] Women who walk the streets carrying merchandise on their heads or fixing themselves in specific points of the city of Luanda (markets, public squares, neighborhoods, entrances of supermarkets, arcades, street corner, crossings, etc.). They sell different products: fruit, fresh fish, dried fish, jinguba (peanut), homemade yogurt, cooked meals or meals cooked at the point of sale, industrialized products, cards with balance for mobile phone, etc. Some women, known as the “kinguilas“, are dedicated exclusively to the business of buying and selling foreign exchange on the street.
[6] Transporters of goods in hand pushed wheel carts, manufactured with wooden planks.
[7] Young people who circulate in the traffic and sell an almost unimaginable variety of products: fresh drinks (water, juices, beer), newspapers, magazines, tobacco, batteries, mobile phone chargers, but also hairbrushes, toilet brushes, hangers, toothbrushes, clothing, tools, appliances, etc.
[8] The act or effect of bribing (in cash or kind) someone who provides or facilitates a lucrative agreement. Although many of those who are confronted with “gasosa” requests in traffic, public services, etc., try to resist, most give in to the fact that it is more economical and practical to pay for “gasosa” than to follow the legal route.
[9] Many companies and entrepreneurs based in Luanda choose to hire experienced drivers in local traffic. To drive in Luanda, it is necessary to consider three fundamental rules: “circulate as far left as possible; the priority belongs to those who arrive first or with more speed; the larger vehicle is always right”.
[10] The term derives from the word candonga, used since the colonial period to refer to activities of smuggling and illegal trade.
[11] There is an extensive network of candongueiros throughout the city. The cost of a trip is around 150 Kwanzas (between € 0.40 to € 0.80 depending on the exchange rate), but the amount can go up taking into account the time of day or the weight of the passenger.
[12] Without specific designation of passenger transport service, nor taximeter, they call their customers by waving their arms.
[13] The first Shopping Center built in Angola, inaugurated on March 27, 2007.