A dark grey limousine pulls up at the Miami Beach bar. From the back door, a woman’s slender leg emerges. But its owner has her entrance ruined when she plunges her white sandal-clad foot into a puddle. A male friend rushes to lend a hand. "What is to be done about all the potholes in Angola?" she asks. "Buy a 4×4," comes the answer. "Everyone else has."
With a heavy helping of rich man’s logic, Angola is this week heading into its first elections for 16 years. The last elections, in 1992, led to a return to war.
The parliamentary poll is a crucial test for this south-west African country — hitherto associated with conflict and land mines — which is the world’s fastest-growing economy. Luanda, remarkably, has overtaken Tokyo as the most expensive capital on the planet. In three years, the former Portuguese colony’s oil output will match Kuwait’s. Angola is China’s single biggest oil supplier. And the supplies are not about to run out.
But for ordinary Angolans — who between 1961 and 2002 endured successive wars — the boom remains elusive, although economic growth last year was estimated at 24%. The population of 12-million languishes in the lower development indicators of life expectancy, education and wealth. The gap between rich and poor is a chasm: while the middle classes pay $20 000 a month rent for an unimpressive one-bedroom flat in central Luanda, millions live in shanty towns around the capital. Aid statistics show two thirds of the population are surviving on less than $2 per day. Studio mezzanines that we pre-sold in March for $350 000 are now reselling at $550 000.
Unemployment is high — between 40% and 60% — and infant mortality rates are among the worst in the world, with about a quarter of children dying before the age of five. […]
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