The trials and tribulations of visiting an African boomtown
Feb 10th 2011 | LUANDA | from PRINT EDITION
THE Angolan capital calls itself the “New Dubai” and there certainly are similarities with the emirate. Luanda has vast oil wealth. If they could only get visas, which are rarely granted, tourists would flock to its beaches and nearby game parks. Following the opening of a modern airport, flights arrive non-stop from Europe and America.
But if prices in Dubai seem inflated, they have nothing on Luanda. Last year Angola’s capital was the most expensive city in the world, according to Mercer, a New York-based consultancy. A bog-standard hotel room costs $400, a non-alcoholic drink in the lobby $10 (though a mere $2 in a supermarket). An underwhelming hotel buffet is $75 and a pizza on the street $25.
A taxi-ride within the city easily adds up to $50, especially since the taxi company–the only one in town–starts the meter as soon as the car leaves the depot. There are no cruising cabs. A standard flat costs $10,000-$15,000 a month to rent or at least $1m to buy. A supermarket sold a melon for $100 to a Frenchman at Christmas. He tried to sue the retailer for profiteering in a local court last month, presenting a picture of the melon plus the receipt. The judge threw out the case for lack of evidence: the Frenchman could not provide the court with the original melon, since he had eaten it.
Officialdom rarely favours outsiders. Your correspondent was walking along a seafront road between the presidential palace and the national police command when a policemen asked to see his passport. Two Japanese businessmen were caught in the same dragnet. Meeting blank incomprehension, the policeman wrote $10 into the sand with a stick. When this failed to elicit the required backhander, the copper stammered, “Angola… polícia… bandidos.”