Two years ago my colleague Rachel reported on her visit to Luanda, the capital of Angola, in Southern Africa. She mentioned many of the issues which affect life in the city, including the disparities between rich and poor and the city’s continued transition to peacetime after the 27 year long civil war. For me, however, the two aspects which stood out head and shoulders above the others were the traffic and the cost of goods! I’ve visited a fair few cities in my time and I have to say that Luanda tops them all in terms of jaw dropping prices and horrendous congestion.
In ECA’s September 2014 Cost of Living Survey, Luanda remained the second most expensive city in the world for expatriates, behind Caracas in Venezuela. Of course some aspects of business life are always going to be on the expensive side, wherever you are, but in Luanda if you want to entertain business colleagues in a decent top end restaurant you won’t get much change back from USD 200 for one person. If you want a reliable broadband connection at home it will cost you ten times as much as it would in the UK and should you want to buy an iPad Air tablet there, you can, but it will set you back something in the region USD 1500. Even a typical three star hotel will cost over USD 300 a night and you can expect to pay upwards of USD 425 for a four star hotel. Once you’ve paid for the room the extreme costs don’t stop there. One evening I went to dine in my relatively simple hotel’s restaurant and saw before me a rather sorry looking buffet of cheese, stale bread and bruised fruit. I gawped when the waiter informed me it costs USD 75 – without drinks! So, like Rachel a couple of years earlier, I plumped for the USD 35 spaghetti Bolognese instead!
Unfortunately, I was pretty much confined to eating at my hotel because getting a taxi anywhere seemed like a bad option. The taxi drivers in Luanda must live a rather strange life. They spend most of their day getting bored whilst stuck in traffic but on the plus side they’ll be getting rich for inching along at a snail’s pace. Luanda is a big city of some five million people and the southern area called Luanda Sul is where many expats live and shop but often they will work in the city centre. The distance between the two is about 15 kilometres and with no train or subway system the only option is to drive. Because the airport is sandwiched between them there is really only one road to take and with hundreds of thousands of people – not just expats – doing this commute the gridlock is unbearable. Add to that the lack of air conditioning in my taxi and the fact that it cost almost USD 100 for the privilege, this was not a journey I enjoyed! This has been a problem for many years but although the city centre looks like one big construction site I couldn’t see any sign of better roads being built!
Angola’s economy is one of the fastest growing in Africa and 50% of the country’s GDP is derived from the oil industry. The diamond mining industry is also an important part of the economy with Angola being the third largest producer of diamonds on the continent. Many assignees working for companies in these two industries will be spared the daily traffic congestion of the capital, though, as they are often based on an offshore installation or a mining facility. Mind you, although they get to miss out on the awful daily commute, the more isolated locations they’re in come with their own set of challenges (and if you are in International HR and reading this you might well be interested to read about the new remote location calculator ECA have launched.)
I haven’t ended a blog with a teaser for a while so here’s to the first one of 2015. Angola is one of seven official Portuguese speaking countries in the world. Can you name the other six?