Built at a reported cost of $3.5-billion, it was supposed to solve Angola’s chronic post-war housing shortage and go some way to fulfil a 2008 election promise to provide one million homes in four years.
But the Nova Cidade de Kilamba (New City of Kilamba), designed for several hundred thousand people, is home to barely a tenth of that number, earning it the moniker of “ghost town”.
For the past 18 months the government has been showing off the Chinese-built development to every visiting foreign dignitary, including United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon and former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
But now Kilamba is rapidly turning from a flagship reconstruction project into an expensive white elephant that is mocked on social networking sites and has become a must-see for every visiting overseas journalist.
Since the first batch of 20 000 apartments went on the market more than a year ago barely more than 4000 have been sold, of which fewer than 600 have actually been paid for – 465 outright and 96 with a mortgage. The remainder were “purchased” through a 30-year monthly-installment scheme, known as “renda resolúvel”, which is available exclusively to government employees, some of whom it is understood are getting the properties for free as a salary perk.
Of the flats that have been sold few are occupied, leaving row after row of the newly paved streets empty and much of the 54km2 development bathed in an eerie silence. There are some tiny pockets of life on the estate, mostly around some of the schools that began operating earlier this year, although their pupils are being bussed in from outlying areas.
The slow take-up of properties is blamed on their high cost – between $120000 and $200 000 each – well out of the reach of the average Angolan, an estimated half of whom live on less than $2 a day.
Untested property market
For the country’s tiny middle class who could afford the apartments with a mortgage, most already have homes. But for others a lack of land registry documentation has complicated the access to bank credit and many people also feel uncertain about the viability of investing in Angola’s so-far untested property market.
Paulo Cascao, manager of Delta Imobiliária, a private firm – widely reported to be owned by senior government officials – that is responsible for the commercial sales of Kilamba properties, admitted there had been delays. “It is complicated to get bank credit for properties in Angola; that has been an issue. We don’t yet have land registry title deeds for Kilamba, so we have to use a temporary document, but I believe this will be resolved soon. By the end of the school year we will see more people moving there and the city will start to have more residents.”