Saturday, June 25, 2011
Luanda: The Most Expensive City in the World
Before arriving in Luanda, we were warned that it is the most expensive city in the World. That´s right, the capital of the country with the worst infant mortality rate is the most expensive place in the world to live.
We researched it and found numerous articles on the topic, mostly stories of foreign journalists who found themselves in overpriced hotels rooms, unable to speak the language or go anywhere without paying a lot of money because there are no cruising taxis in Luanda. I knew instinctively that these stories were incomplete.
I have posted two photo-essays for you to compare. One is the supermarket where we shop, Martal, and the other is a supermarket built for French oil workers, the Palanca. The two stores are one block apart, and worlds away from each other in terms of prices. I´m sure if we ventured to the food markets on the edge of the city, we could pay even less for our food.
I don´t deny Luanda is ridiculously expensive. Tyree and I can´t go out to eat at a restaurant without spending at least $50. Even when we share a plate, we can´t avoid paying $3.50 for a coca cola or $25 for a simple pizza. But when we cook for ourselves, we routinely eat for less than $4 a plate. You can buy a coke from a gas station for just $1.
Real estate is what is truly expensive. A one-bedroom apartment like ours could cost anywhere from $2,500 to $5,000 per month. Our power goes out at least three times a week and we have no hot water. I´m not complaining, I´m just letting you know what you get for your money. Not a lot. A house might cost anywhere from $20,000 and onward - per month. Not a mansion, just a two-story row house with space to park you car.
Oil and gas, however, are cheaper than elsewhere. One litre of gas costs 60 cents. That means a gallon of gas currently costs around $2.75, while prices in the U.S. are between $3 and $4. While hiring a taxi will cost $20 or more, taking a candongueiro is roughly $1 to $2 per trip.
I can´t say I completely understand the economics, but Africa is not cheap. When I lived in Mozambique, I had to watch my money carefully. Eating out, staying in hotels, buying new clothes were all expensive luxuries. But, when I lived in my own home, bought my food at the market, camped or stayed in hostels when traveling and bought used clothes, I was able to make it on what Peace Corps gave me.
That would be impossible here in Luanda. The prices here are high because the oil and diamond industries distort the value of everything. But also, the Government seems to have a vision of Luanda as a place for the very wealthy and as no place for the poor. I´ve never even seen a used clothing market here. The Government has destroyed the Rocha Pinto and Kinaxixi Markets in the city center. An enclosed shopping center is being constructed in Kinaxixi´s place and the women that used to sell produce there now walk up and down the streets with baskets on their heads, trying to sell their goods without getting caught by the police. Candongueiros are routinely harassed by the police even though they pay for permits. The economy that poor Angolans participate in is essentially considered illegal by the Government. This, to me, is more outrageous than anything else.
Yes, it is expensive. It is expensive even for Angolans. But if you want to live like you are still in Europe, then you are going to pay for it. You can eat as if you lived in France, but you´re going to pay for it as if you lived in Switzerland. But the inflation is especially a problem for Angolans, who can´t just go home to somewhere else.
The Economist: Eye-wateringly Expensive
Vanity Fair: Luanda on a New York Budget
The Palanca Supermarket