Chinese-built ghost town in Angola - the first of many to come?

The BBC's Louise Redvers reports on the ghost town of Kilamba, Angola, a horrendously expensive high-rise enclave built by Chinese companies on a line of credit secured with Angolan oil, which has only seen 220 apartments out of 2800 sold. Kilamba is the most ambitious of several new towns being built outside of existing Angoloan cities by Chinese firms.

It's like a bizarro-world version of the Keynsian idea of getting the economy going by paying one group of laborers to dig holes and another to fill them in. But in this case, one group of workers are paid to pump oil, which is offshored to China. In exchange, a group of Chinese workers is paid to build a gate-guarded enclave for a non-existent pool of mega-rich locals that no one can afford to live in, and which gradually turns into a massive liability. Profit!

The place is eerily quiet, voices bouncing off all the fresh concrete and wide-open tarred roads.

There are hardly any cars and even fewer people, just dozens of repetitive rows of multi-coloured apartment buildings, their shutters sealed and their balconies empty.

Only a handful of the commercial units are occupied, mostly by utility companies, but there are no actual shops on site, and so - with the exception of a new hypermarket located at one entrance - there is nowhere to buy food.

After driving around for nearly 15 minutes and seeing no-one apart from Chinese labourers, many of whom appear to live in containers next to the site, I came across a tiny pocket of life at a school.

It opened six months ago, bussing in its pupils in from outlying areas because there are no children living on site to attend.

Angola's Chinese-built ghost town (via Super Punch)


  1. In India, high rises, which are more established than these, simple things taken for granted in the US, like garbage, even human waste, are handled by hand or just flow out into the streets.

    The problem with building up, a smaller footprint if you will, concentrated refuse oozes out into one local spot, often clogging the city streets surrounding it. Basically, there’s no underground infrastructures to service these buildings. 


    Google map of Kilamba:

    If you click and drag Oscar, the golden image on the slider bar, little blue dots will populate, drop Oscar onto one at a time and see some great images of the ghostly town. Spooky.

    1. I heard the situation is the same in Dubai. With many of the big buildings being serviced by daily lorries, carting off their refuse.

      I fail to understand how this isn’t a basic requirement in any modern build like this. The Romans cracked this shit quite a while back.

  2. I’m pretty sure Keynes never actually suggested digging holes and filling them in again. Just that even that ridiculous activity had the effect of increasing aggregate demand.

    1. Yea, i wonder where Doctorow got that idea from. All i recall Keynes pushing was government spending during a recession to get the production > wages > consumption > production flow going again.

      1. Did he say people should be paid to dig holes?


        If he did, that’s proof that he was no economist. Keynes’ profession was to invent absurd rationalizations for power-grabbing. 11:19, 20 May 2009 (UTC)
        Yes he did say this.. Read The Text!! Book 3, Chapter 10, Section 6 pg.129 “The General Theory..”–Oracleofottawa 02:23, 20 September 2009 (UTC)
        Here is what you are referring to, straight from the General Theory. Keynes was talking about the marginal utility of labor. This quote means nothing different than someone saying that war can have an economically stimulating effect.
        “If the Treasury were to fill old bottles with banknotes, bury them at suitable depths in disused coalmines which are then filled up to the surface with town rubbish, and leave it to private enterprise on well-tried principles of laissez-faire to dig the notes up again (the right to do so being obtained, of course, by tendering for leases of the note-bearing territory), there need be no more unemployment and, with the help of the repercussions, the real income of the community, and its capital wealth also, would probably become a good deal greater than it actually is. It would, indeed, be more sensible to build houses and the like; but if there are political and practical difficulties in the way of this, the above would be better than nothing.”
        Book 3, Chapter 10, Section 6 pg.129 “The General Theory..”
        —This unsigned comment is by (talk • contribs) .
        [edit]”Capitalism is the astonishing belief …”

        1. One thing about the “Digging up banknotes”  quote that is lost on a modern audience is that it’s also intended as a humorous jab at the gold standard, which was an active political issue at the time.

  3. I think the most depressing thing is that a enclave intended to be luxurious in Angola resembles nothing so much as East Berlin circa 1970. Even in economically weak countries like East Germany, plattenbaus like this were the living places of the working class, not the elite.

  4. I thoroughly recommend the documentary “The Pruitt-Igoe Myth.”  It’s about the Pruitt-Igoe projects in St. Louis, but it’s about so much more than that.  I can safely say that it was the first documentary about postwar urban planning that has ever made me cry.

    Here’s the trailer; the film is available via Netflix streaming.

  5. Here in Mexico, we have “dormitory towns” where thousands of cheap houses were built outside the big cities that become ghost towns between 7am and 10pm. People get up really early, pick up their kids and go to the city to have their lives, only to return to sleep at night. Commute times are 2-4 hours each way.

    This is because these towns are built with only the most basic infrastructure (electricity, water, sewage), but no there are no schools, commercial areas, and of course no jobs for miles around.

  6. Sometimes I think the Chinese really are the communists they claim to be, and that this post-Mao turn towards capitalism that Deng Xioaping ushered in is part of a long game: speed along the collapse of capitalism that Marx predicted would eventually happen.

    1.  This reminds me of two things I’ve heard over the years:

      “Democracy is a lousy form of government, it’s just the best we’ve been able to come up with so far.”

      And a suggestion that, taken on technical merits alone, communism is one of the better possible scenarios.  The caveat there being that it is far too easy for a small cabal to take control, as we’ve seen repeatedly around the world. (Of course that seems to have finally happened with democracy as well! :)

      I guess we just need the best of all worlds: communism managed by a benevolent dictator who is re-elected (or recalled) every few years.

    2.  On a completely different tack, your astute observation implies subtly that the Far Right (who seem equally bent on collapsing capitalism) are closet Marxists!  In league with the Chinese government!  Although, now that I think about it, a lot of Chinese money does flow into our elections.  Ah, what a tangled web we (politicians and bankers) weave…

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