Hot, heaving, oil rich and cash poor, Luanda is a city of unfathomable contrasts and vividly shocking extremes. Perched tantalisingly on the Atlantic coastline overlooking a narrow pine-fringed sandbar known colloquially as the Ilha, the balmy ocean-side setting is as spectacular as it is exotic. The sweeping vistas would be even more stunning if it weren’t for the teeming bairros (townships) and ramshackle makeshift dwellings that have taken root around Angola’s rapidly expanding capital in the 30 years since independence.
Built for a healthy half million, Luanda now bursts with 3.5 million beleaguered inhabitants and the evidence of this rampant overpopulation resonates everywhere. Whiff the stench of fetid water that intoxicates early-morning joggers on the picturesque Marginal promenade, dodge the manic lines of traffic that make hot afternoons in gridlocked central Luanda even more cauldron-like, and contemplate how running water and electricity are still comparative luxuries for all but a highly privileged (and often foreign) minority. But despite such calamitous problems, Luanda still manages to retain a dash of panache in the face of all this adversity.