The ill-gotten gains behind the Kilamba housing development

Since last July, thousands of Angolan citizens living in Luanda have been making desperate efforts to acquire state-funded public housing apartments in the Kilamba development. The private real estate company hired to sell the apartments and funded by the state, Delta Imobiliária, charges prices ranging from US$125,000 to US$200,000 per apartment. These unaffordable prices, and the disclosure of the names of Delta Imobiliaria’s shareholders, reveal yet another corruption scandal.

Contrary to the government’s established ceiling prices for state-funded social housing, Delta is overpricing the units by two to three times. On 5 August 2010, the President of the Republic, José Eduardo dos Santos, announced that struggling Angolan families would be able to buy state funded social housing for a maximum price of US$60,000 per unit. He made the announcement during his speech at the meeting of the National Program for Social Housing, held at the presidential palace.

In the run up to the 2008 legislative elections, President Jose Eduardo dos Santos made an electoral promise to build one million houses over four years. Such a promise was seen as crucial to the ruling party’s election triumph. Although limits in building capacity caused it to be scaled down to just a few thousand houses, the Kilamba social housing project became a symbol of what had been promised to the people.

The project, carried out by the Chinese state-owned company CITIC, initially involved the construction of a total of 2,000 residential buildings and support infrastructure, to a total value of US$3.5 billion, according to data posted on the construction company’s website.

CITIC proceeded to hand over the first batch of 115 buildings, containing 3,118 apartments, in a ceremony presided over by President dos Santos on 11 July 2011. The President, in his first ever state of the nation address in the National Assembly, on 15 October 2010, had acknowledged that “the sector in which the situation is very bad is housing. More than 70% of Angolan families still do not have a decent house. In this area, we have to make an enormous effort to reverse the present situation.”

The people of Angola have been at the receiving end of a wave of indifference in the speeches and contrary behaviour of their rulers, which has had egregious consequences for society. Although Angola is a country rich in petroleum, most Angolans are among the poorest people in the world. According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the gross domestic product per capita is US$4,941 per year, while more than half the population (54.3 per cent) lives below the poverty line, on less than US$1.25 per day.

On the one hand ordinary Angolans hear of the noble idea of building social housing, and on the other they witness exorbitant speculation, along with policies that ensure the social, economic and political exclusion of the very people at whom the project is supposedly aimed.

In his speech for the partial inauguration of the Kilamba social housing project, President dos Santos called it “the largest housing project ever built in Angola, [constituting] on a global scale a profound example of social policy put in place to solve the housing deficit.” The president said that his executive would “pioneer here a new model of urban management, that will be functional, simple, rational and will serve its purpose, and be able to find the best solutions to improve citizens’ quality of life.”

Delta Force

This investigation focuses exclusively on the management of the project and its transparency. Delta Imobiliária – Sociedade de Promoção, Gestão e Mediação S.A, which was given responsibility for selling the apartments, was created on 27 December 2007. Its shareholders are the chairman and CEO of the National Oil Company Sonangol, Manuel Vicente; the minister of state and head of the military bureau (Casa Militar) in the presidency, General Manuel Hélder Vieira Dias ‘Kopelipa’, and his top advisor General Leopoldino Fragoso do Nascimento. The company is fronted by officers from the military bureau of the presidency – Colonels José Manuel Domingos ‘Tunecas’, João Manuel Inglês and Belchior Inocêncio Chilembo – as well as General Kopelipa’s private assistant Domingos Manuel Inglês, ‘Avô Inglês’. These men between them hold only 0.16 per cent of the company’s shareholding.

The new city of Kilamba, as the project was officially named, was supervised until the end of 2010 by the then Office of National Reconstruction (GRN), which was part of the military bureau of the presidency, and was headed by General Kopelipa. This office was created in 2004 to deal with the application of Chinese loans, to date worth US$15 billion (, to national reconstruction projects as defined by the GRN itself. The GRN was also responsible for financial management and for supervising the work.

On 27 September 2010, Dos Santos formally transferred all of the GRN’s responsibilities on Kilamba and similar projects in the Luanda area to Sonangol Imobiliária, a subsidiary of the state oil company.

Despite the absence of an official justification for handing over a major state social housing project to  Sonangol, Chinese analysts offer this possible explanation: ‘CITIC has been trying to finance the project with its own money, because the government does not yet have [the money]. It handed over the project to Sonangol, which recently paid for services that were in arrears. CITIC had to invest US$350 million from its own bank to continue the project and to keep the 10,000 Chinese workers on the site.’

No matter which option the state chose, it continued to inject public funds into the project, in this instance by direct investment from Sonangol, whose boss, Manuel Vicente, ranked alongside Kopelipa as the central figure in the negotiations with China. The loans are paid in consignments of crude oil.

By contracting Delta Imobiliária to sell the apartments in the Kilamba social housing project, Sonangol arrogantly and thoroughly broke the laws that are in force. The Law on Administrative Probity defines as ‘an act of corruption conducive to illegal enrichment’ the receiving of economic advantage as commission in a direct or indirect form, among other acts, through an action ‘arising from the duties of a public servant’ (art. 25, 1, a).

Manuel Vicente, as the highest official of Sonangol, is doing business with himself when he arranges for his private company to receive a contract from the state business that he manages. He is in the process of receiving fabulous profits for his personal enrichment from the sale of the apartments, through the commission that Delta Imobiliária will receive on the deal. The same legal argument applies to General Kopelipa, since he is both a shareholder in Delta Imobiliária and the top manager of the Kilamba project, as well as having undoubted influence on President dos Santos, who has the last word on the management of the project.

Despite this criminal situation, the president greeted the inauguration of Kilamba and the way the sale of the apartments had been managed as a great success. “We consider that this promise has been met, and the government had released a communiqué in which it announced the criteria of access to the apartments built at Kilamba, fulfilling the promise made to the people,” the minister of state and chief of staff of the president, Carlos Feijó, said in his thrice-yearly briefing on the performance of the executive.

A Model of Corruption Becomes a Postcard

José Eduardo dos Santos’s government presented the Kilamba social housing project as a great model for its social policy.

In the past two years the Angolan authorities have enjoyed considerable success in inviting foreign dignitaries to visit the Kilamba project, bestowing upon it not only international renown but also internal legitimacy. The project’s managers use the stamp of foreign approval to quieten complaints from at home, at the same time as they have ‘privatised’ the project for their personal and illegal enrichment.

The President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, was the most recent head of state to visit the project on 12 September 2011, and described it as “grand and impressive” according to the state news agency, Angop.

Last August, Mozambican President Armando Guebuza visited the project and described it as a “marvel”. King Mswati II of Swaziland was also present.

When Namibian President Lucas Pohamba visited the project last June, the Angolan Minister of Urban Planning and Construction, Carlos Fonseca, spoke on his behalf. “The President [Pohamba] very much liked this introduction, naturally he drew many lessons from this great development and we believe we will be able to give all our solidarity and support to the Namibian people where projects like this are concerned.” The minister went on to say that “we are giving an example to all of Africa from the perspective of our youth who are longing for the opportunity of development, and this residential complex will show that we have made a promise with our youth and with our people.”

Last June, the President of East Timor, Ramos Horta, also visited the project, and added his voice to the chorus of official propaganda: “The government is to be congratulated for this project and for its vision, which meets the concerns and the dreams of young people, of Angolan families.”

The Chinese Vice-President, Xi Jinping, whose country provided the credit for the project, made an inspection visit to Kilamba on 20 November 2010, according to the state newspaper, Jornal de Angola.

One can say that the Kilamba project, a veritable model for African corruption, has become the main visiting card for the Angolan authorities. The use of Chinese credit, intended for social projects for the disenfranchised sectors of society, has become another unobstructed path for Angolan leaders to loot and further increase their ill-gotten wealth.