P217 – Constructing Power in Contemporary Luanda (Angola)
10 July, 16:00 – 17:30

Ball Jeremy / Dickinson College
Tomas Antonio / African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town


This panel will analyze the concrete and symbolic articulations of power expressed by the government of Angola through the lens of the built city. Since the end of the civil war in 2002, high oil prices and economic diversification have fueled rapid economic growth, resulting in a major urban transformation of the Angolan capital, Luanda.  The Bay of Luanda has been transformed into a major public space for leisure and recreation; monuments to the heroes and heroines of independence have been erected around the city; a new National Assembly and judiciary building visually broadcast governmental authority across the city and social housing and housing for the middle classes dot the landscape on Luanda’s outskirts. Yet, many Angolans remain excluded from the post war dividend and civil challenges to the articulation of power have escalated. In this panel, we explore the changing dynamics of urban space in Luanda.  Some of the questions we will consider include: How does the physical city of Luanda impact everyday lives and livelihoods? Who lives where and why? What does the built environment tell us about citizenship, nationalism, and authority? What narratives do new commemorative projects tell about Angolan nationalism? How are public infrastructure projects determined?

Construindo o poder na Luanda contemporânea (Angola)

Este painel pretende analisar articulações do poder, concretas e simbólicas, inscritas pelo governo de Angola no espaço da cidade construída. Desde o final da guerra civil, em 2002, os preços altos do barril de petróleo e a diversificação da economia têm impulsionado um crescimento económico rápido, cujo resultado é uma visível transformação da cidade de Luanda. A Baía de Luanda (marginal) foi transformada num enorme espaço público de lazer e recriação; monumentos em honra aos heróis e heroínas foram erguidos na cidade; novas sedes para a Assembleia Nacional e para os tribunais  demonstram o poder do governo pela cidade. A construção de novos bairros sociais marcam a paisagem nos arredores na cidade. Porém, muitos angolanos mantêm-se excluídos dos dividendos da paz, e desafios à nova ordem do poder têm aumentado. Neste painel, exploramos a mudança da dinâmica do espaço urbano de Luanda. Algumas questões que nos interessam são: que impacto tem a cidade física de Luanda na vida quotidiana e os meios de vida dos Luandenses? Quem vive onde e porquê? O que nos diz a paisagem construída sobre cidadania, nacionalismo e autoridade. Que narrativas os novos projectos comemorativos contam sobre o nacionalismo? Qual é o processo decisório dos projectos públicos?

Paper 1

Schubert Jon / IHS Country Risk/Martin Luther-Universitat Halle-Wittenberg

The affects of place: urban transformation, memories and loss in contemporary Luanda

This paper discusses the multiple ways in which ‘memories’ are a central element to the renegotiation and dialogical construction of the relation of ‘people’ with ‘power’ in post-war Angola. Fuelled by oil revenues, Angola’s post-war economic boom is transforming the cityscape of its capital Luanda. New, gleaming high-rises and prestige infrastructure developments project the country as an emerging power on the global scene, and Luanda as a ‘global capital’ or an ‘African Dubai’, where a very specific imaginary of global modernity inscribes deepening social cleavages into the cityscape. The concomitant clearance of poorer informal neighbourhoods from the city centre ostensibly follows efficiency, health and urban planning imperatives, but also imposes the ruling MPLA’s post-war ‘master narrative’, cleansing the city of the messiness and ambiguous heritage of the war. This paper, then, looks at the affects of place in the ‘historic’ neighbourhood of Sambizanga: how does the material transformation of a specific place seep into people’s memories? How do holes and gaps in the cityscape evoke feelings of loss, melancholia, nostalgia, and fear? And how does the engagement with urban space, and narrative-making stabilise the unruliness and disruptive potential of past violence that cannot publicly be spoken of?

Paper 2

Ball Jeremy / Dickinson College

“From Cabinda to Cunene”: Monuments and the Construction of Angolan Nationalism since 1975

Since the end of Angola’s civil war in 2002, high oil prices and economic diversification have fueled rapid economic growth, resulting in a major urban transformation of the Angolan capital, Luanda. My paper will analyze articulations of this power through the lens of monuments. Public spaces officially honoring the heroes and heroines of independence have been erected around the city, often on the sites of former colonial-era monuments that have been removed, and they broadcast dominant political narratives that serve to honor and legitimize the ruling MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola) party that has governed Angola since independence in 1975.
Employing Duncan Bell’s concept of a “mythscape” I will analyze how three of Luanda’s most prominent monuments (the Agostinho Neto Mausoleum, the Kifangondo Monument, and the Museu Militar at São Miguel Fort) frame sanctioned nationalist narratives, and then I will consider how these narratives are being negotiated. A few questions I will consider include: What does the built environment tell us about citizenship, nationalism, and authority? What narratives do new commemorative projects tell about Angolan nationalism? Is there space either at these monuments or in alternative locations for the articulation of conflicting nationalist narratives? How, if at all, have Angolan artists participated in Luanda’s commemorative landscape?

Paper 3

Pitcher Anne / University of Michigan

Kilamba, Angola: Dystopian Ghost City or Middle Class Dreamscape?

With its 30,000 residential units neatly arranged in twenty-seven, multicolored blocks of four, eight and twelve story buildings, the new city of Kilamba appears to offer visible confirmation of the Angolan government’s 2008 commitment to build a million houses in four years. Freshly painted, 3, 4, and 5 bedroom apartments on neatly manicured lawns stand alongside smoothly paved roads, working streetlights, functioning schools, and playgrounds. Kilamba’s ordered functionality offers a stark contrast to the littered, potholed streets and crumbling edifices in the old neighborhoods of Angola’s capital, Luanda. Yet Kilamba lay nearly vacant for a year after the President of Angola opened it with much fanfare in November of 2011. Journalists and bloggers ridiculed it as a ghost city comparable to those in China – too expensive for ordinary Angolans to afford, and too remote for anyone with a job to brave the weary 30 kilometer commute into Luanda.
Over the past year, however, musicians and politicians, civil servants and private sector workers have bought dwellings in Kilamba. What happened? Has the dystopian city vanished? Has Kilamba become the new middle class dreamscape imagined by its designers? This paper relies on findings from a public opinion survey of Kilamba residents to explore the reality and the mythology of suburban life on the outskirts of Luanda. Responses reveal deep divisions between personal satisfaction with the quality of life and widespread disapproval of broader economic and political conditions.

Paper 4

Tomás António / Stellenbosch University

The birth of bio-politics: Luanda and the metamorphosis of power

Luanda, the capital city of Angola, has visibly changed in the last years. A number of glass towers have replaced old colonial mansions, and multi-billion urban projects, such as the New Marginal, or the city of Kilamba, have come into being. This is worth noting, even if this process of transformation goes hand and hand with the persistence of old problems: traffic congestion, potholed roads, breakdowns in the distribution of water and electricity, to name a few.
This begs the question: how to account for these transformations? My paper argues that in order to understand such transformations we have to go beyond the form of the urban, and engage with politics. Put differently, recent physical transformations of Luanda underpin a drastic change in the nature of power. In this sense, Angola is experiencing a sort of birth of bio-politics, in that the concept of population has finally entered into the calculations of power. This is not only clear in the rationale for the realization of the first census since independence, in 2014. But the idea of how to manage the population is also clear in the many policy guiding documents commissioned by the Angolan government, namely the Angola 2025, the Planos Integrados de Expansão Urbana e de Infra-estrutura de Luanda e Bengo, or even the Plano Nacional de Desenvolvimento (2013-2017). What these documents show, I will argue, is a correspondence between the physical transformation of the city and the management of population. Or, to put differently, the population has to be managed in a certain way so that particular forms of the built environment may come about. Ultimately, this explains de-politicization, or the extent to which the process of providing infrastructure and services to the population is detached from its will expressed in elections.

Paper 5

Zawiejska Natalia / Institute for the Study of Religion/Jagiellonian University

Churches in the (re)making of Luanda

During the last years Luanda is subdued to the rapid change and tremendous growth. The old divisions and dynamics within city scape are being reshaped and changed. New logics of city life and use of the city as well as new spatial divisions are emerging. As in the past, spatiality is currently playing important role in everyday life and affects most city dwelling practices. The old divisions of asphalt and sand city were remodeled under new neoliberal order of city growth and expansion.
Last two decades marked Luanda with intensive religious activity, flourishing of churches and places of worship turned Luanda into the religion saturated city. Seeing the great potential of religion in the city context, on one hand as physically present power and on the other hand as invisible and informal agent, the paper will analyze the role of churches and religious movements in reinterpreting of the cityscape. Looking at the example of the Angolan Assembly of God and The Good God Church (Igreja Bom Deus) I would like to show how the Christian religious movements are affecting and cooperating in creating of the new city dwelling logics. I will shed light on ethnic and gendered spaces of the city, spatial power articulations and reconciliation seen through the religious activity lens. I will stress different forms of activities and manifestations of religious agents within the city remaking politics.

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