Friday, December 14, 2018

CARI Update: "Angolan Ghost Town Wakes Up"

Kilamba: credit Voice of America
Time for an update? Over the holidays CARI will be re-posting some of the most-visited stories from our blog: China in Africa: The Real Story. Below is our April 2, 2014 "real story" about Angola's Chinese-built Kilamba Kiaxi, or Kilamba New City.

Kilamba is an enormous Chinese-financed satellite city that is, surprisingly still today being derided as an example of a Chinese-built "ghost city".  

Several excellent field research-based studies by the intrepid team of David Benazeraf and Ana Alves, as well as Chloé Buire, Anne Pitcher, and others have debunked this myth, providing ample evidence that Kilamba was slow to take off but can hardly be called empty.  By the time of her fieldwork in 2015, as Dr. Buire notes, there were 80,000 people living in the apartments of Kilamba, a mid-sized city had materialized on less than a thousand hectares. Today, it has become a popular spot for AirBnB rentals. And Phase II of the project appears to have been funded.

So when you hear the one about the Chinese "ghost town" in Angola on the VOA, the BBC, or CNN: think again. What's the real story?

The original 2014 post follows:

Anyone who has been to Luanda knows that the city lacks housing. The hotels are extremely expensive, and researchers have been known to rent a room in someone's house for $100 a day. Angolan president Jose dos Santos pledged to build a million new homes, between 2008 and 2012. Kilamba City was part of that promise. The idea of constructing a new town, Kilamba City, 20 km outside Luanda, where flats would be available for purchase, seemed like a good one.

A Frenchman, Pierre Falcon, the famous architect of the "Angola-gate" arms trade and corruption scandal, owns the company that oversaw the project: Pierson Capital GroupThe complex was financed by ICBC, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, allegedly backed by oil-revenues. CITIC built the flats. The state-owned oil Angola was in charge of marketing the apartments (they would use those revenues to repay the loan). Chinese firms built Kilamba. And then the apartments seemed to stand empty. Visiting Western journalists photographed the long, lonely expanses of buildings. Kilamba City was filled, it seemed, by ghosts.

Until recently. Or so it seems. According to the official Angolan news agency, some 40,000 people moved into Kilamba after their families took advantage of long-term, low-cost mortgages to buy flats with prices ranging from US$70,000 to US$140,000. One account said people are standing in line for days to buy one (photo left).

The news stories on Kilamba, the "ghost town" mainly date from 2012. If it is actually now becoming a thriving town, why hasn't anyone gone back to report on it?

Readers: have you seen Kilamba? Your comments and stories are very welcome. 

Update May 6, 2014: New SAIIA analysis exactly on this topic, by David Benazeraf and Ana Alves, "Oil for Housing: Chinese-Built New Towns in Angola." Highly recommended. 

To visit the original post and the 21 comments, click here.

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