WSJ: Angola Slumdwellers Long for “Baghdad”

Daniel Vitorino is a refugee from “Baghdad.”    He lost his home when Luanda’s Baghdad slum was demolished. That’s not the Iraqi city but a sprawling slum in Angola. The place earned its nickname “Baghdad” because it was seen as a place of virulent opposition to Angola’s government.

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What were Angola’s “Baghdad” residents resisting? Like slum dwellers in other countries, they didn’t want to move to a place that would be far from schools, hospitals and sources of employment. But Angola’s surging oil-rich economy has financed luxury housing, highways and railways. Last week, a survey by consulting firm Mercer even ranked Luanda, Angola’s capital, as the most expensive city in the world for expatriates.

For people like 38-year old Mr. Vitorino, who fled a village in this southern African country in 1995 because of fighting, that means he is now becoming a refugee a second time. Unlike many African cities, Angola is bulldozing its slums, showing how fast-paced development can be as brutal as war for those at the bottom of the income pyramid.

“Baghdad,” which was located in southern Luanda, was once a buzzing maze of more than 3,000 houses. Kuduro, a raucous music that sounds like a cross between samba and an electric hand drill, could be heard at full blast. Half-naked children played in the dusty alleyways and street-side vendors sold cheap toys, housewares and clothes made in China.

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Rubble from a slum in Luanda’s Rocha Pinto neighborhood remains after its demolition last December.
Then in July last year, the houses were destroyed to clear the way for California-style homes. Paratroopers stormed the area at four in the morning, Mr. Vitorino said. Ana Filipa, 35, a seller of mobile-phone cards, and Benjamin Pinto, 43, a handyman, were among the thousands who also lost their homes that day.

In an interview late last year, Antonio Teixeira Flor, then-deputy minister for urbanism and habitation, said squatters moved into this area in 2007 because they hoped to take advantage of planned housing schemes. Mr. Vitorino maintains he had a title for his property.

Still, he was forced to relocate to a satellite town 18 kilometers from Luanda, commuting in to sell scrapped iron for construction and mattresses on the capital’s markets. His family is now crammed into a single room and sharing a house with other families. He pays about $30 a month in rent. He says he invested 40 times that amount in building his “Baghdad” house. That amount could now only buy one square meter in the new block of flats, near where “Baghdad” once stood.

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