Wednesday, December 05, 2007

"Misadventures" in Angola

My friend Lynette forwarded me this article from Newsweek about China’s presence in Africa. To my surprise, the article started with a Chinese work camp in Catumbela, home of the best ice cream in Benguela province. Unfortunately, the journalist said that Catumbela was in the central highlands, several kilometers from Lobito. Wrong! Catumbela is about 15 km from Lobito, right on the water. I just drove through there this morning. Perhaps he meant Alto Catumbela, which is on the way to Huambo, but that’s like confusing Columbia, South Carolina and New Columbia, Pennsylvania. Similar name, completely different place and context.

That wasn’t the only thing that made me scratch my head and say, “What?” For example,
Even China's success in Angola is creating headaches for its businessmen. The
handful of business hotels in Luanda are booked months in advance. Good luck
finding a cab—the city has only one official taxi service—or renting a car,
which can go for as much as $12,000 a month. Rents for houses in Lobito are double that.
Really? Rents here are outrageous, but the highest rent I’ve heard of is US$12,000 for a 2nd story, full floor apartment, outfitted with WiFi and brand new American-style appliances. I believe the US$24,000 for a place in Luanda, but even in Lobito it seems a bit much.

The rest of the article seems to mesh with what I’ve heard and read. Now I know where they get those rice noodles for the new Chinese restaurant in Benguela:
State-owned Chinese companies prohibit any type of fraternization between their employees and Angolans. If a worker becomes romantically or sexually involved with a local, he's quickly hustled back to China. "Africans and Chinese think differently," says Xia Yi Hua, a regional director for China Jiang Su, a massive construction conglomerate with offices across Angola. Xia has been in the country for four years, and his company still sends him shrink-wrapped packets of Chinese food from back home, along with regular sets of chopsticks. Everything in his office comes from China. One coffee table is made of Angolan wood, he admits, but he flew in a Chinese carpenter to fashion the table.

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