Luanda once used to be known as the Nice of the West African coast. The city surrounded a huge natural port so beautifully positioned; strategically, economically and aesthetically that the Dutch and the Portuguese fought over it. The Portuguese, who eventually came out on top, created a wonderful boulevard, lined with palm trees and street side cafes. The Fortaleza overlooking the Marginal as it was known was the spectacular start and finish for the Angolan Grand Prix, a race that formed part of the Springbock Series and saw famous European and American teams dueling it out during the European off season with the latest Ferraris, Fords and Porches racing through the streets of the city. The Le Mans winning GT40’s were tested here.
Sadly, the city and more importantly its West African harbor and oil resources would be fought over again as America, itself a country born of revolution, made the same mistake it had with Cuba and failed to embrace the Angolan revolution. The Angolans then made the same mistake as the Cubans and turned to the Soviet Union and the seeds for the proxy war were sown. The war for Angolan independence started, officially, on the 4th of February 1961 and ended fourteen years later at 11 O’clock (at night) on the Eleventh day of the Eleventh month of 1975. It should have been eleven in the morning but, being Africans, they were late.
Then the proxy war started. America and South Africa supported and supplied the rebels, and the Soviet Union and Cuba supported the government. Twenty seven years later, in 2002, the proxy war ended. Over a million were dead, millions were displaced and starving, the country was littered with the dangerous detritus of war and the country’s infrastructure was trashed. Luanda, a vibrant and beautiful city of two and a half million at independence was now groaning with an extra three and a half million refugees living in abject squalor. Raw sewage ran down the streets and oozed across the shattered pavements of the once charming marginal and into Luanda Bay. Where once families enjoyed evening strolls along a park like avenue lit by the many cafes and restaurants on one side and soothed by the sound of gently washing surf on the other, now only the foolhardy or the desperate ran the gauntlet of the many police and military checkpoints set up amongst the rubble in the total darkness of a capital city with no power and people willing to murder for a piece of bread. Homeless children, many of them refugees fleeing the terrors of the interior and failing to hook up with family in the city, begged in the streets and slept in drains. Girls as young as twelve prostituted themselves in order to feed their families and were eagerly devoured by some UN employees and other expatriates who flooded the city and frequented the illicit bars and nightclubs that sprang up in broken down buildings. The black market flourished and armed car hi-jackings were a daily occurrence. Not a night passed without the chatter of automatic weapons and the sight of little red comets of tracer streaking through the sky. The stench of the place was unbelievable. It wasn't just a horrible city, it was a desperate one which is far worse.
Eleven years after the war, things couldn’t be more different. All the main roads have been repaired and new ones built. Now we can say that the electricity, in the city at least, is more on than off. I have lost count of the number of new hospitals, the airport has been refurbished, and the police are almost human. Whereas before you were doomed whatever if they stopped you, now if you are bang on legal, they will wave you on with a salute and a smile and if you are only slightly illegal, it’s still open to reasonable negotiation. It is all terribly civilized.
The Marginal is unrecognizable. It has been widened. They have rebuilt the bridge over to the Ilha and have obviously reclaimed a chunk of the bay. Neatly trimmed grass grows between well laid pavement shaded by countless palm trees. It is a three mile long park. There are intersections connected by dual carriageways to get you there. It is all quite astonishing.
Naturally, it is not just the well-heeled who are attracted to the marginal and its restaurants and other diversions. Anyone wishing to exchange the eye bleaching view of yet more apartment blocks from their own can quickly be sucking on an ice cream, happy family in tow, strolling down the marginal with a westward view towards Brazil only interrupted by the curvature of the Earth.
Sadly, the well thought out marginal attracts not only the honest citizen but the odd and the criminal. Often, it is hard to distinguish between the two, I pity the police, but instead of family groups, this wonderful initiative, this public investment was being dominated by thugs and groups identifiable only by their dress. Bleach blond Mohican haircuts and a tendency to dump litter as soon as they had evacuated the contents of their beer cans. A willingness to square up to anyone who tried to pass through ‘their territory’. Muggers, pickpockets. If you wanted drugs or a prostitute, this was the place to go and I am certain not what the city burghers had in mind when they made this enormous investment on behalf of their citizens.
Responsibility for sorting out this distressing state of affairs fell to the local Police Chief. Clearly the old technique of declaring more than three collected together as an illegal manifestation and machine gunning them all to death was no longer acceptable. Equally he understood that arresting them all and consigning them to an overloaded court system would serve no purpose either. They’d be out of his cells in hours and by the time the case, even if it ever came to court, arrived in front of a beak, it would have cost the taxpayer a fortune and would be dismissed through lack of evidence. He could, of course, ask his troops on the ground to keep moving them along but we are talking about a three kilometer long and very wide boulevard so it would be like trying to keep track of the letters in a frequently stirred bowl of alphabet soup.
So do you know what this guy did? He sent a fleet of vehicles down the marginal after midnight and rounded up everyone who looked dodgy. Now looking dodgy in Angola isn’t exactly a crime so he didn’t arrest them and throw them into cells. What he did was have them driven 100 kms south of the city limits (which is bush) and dumped. They then had to make their own way back to the city. His argument, and let’s face it, questions were bound to be asked, was that if they were old enough to be out after midnight and cause problems, they were old enough for a bit of exercise. If the police moved into a town centre in UK, rounded up anyone who looked ‘dodgy’ and took them for a one way ride into the countryside, it would cause outrage but I bet there would be plenty of long suffering citizens who would roundly applaud the man who ordered the operation. And that’s exactly what happened here. As a government official being interviewed on a government controlled TV station he wasn’t exactly given a hard time but his reasoning, if we ignore the basic human rights issue, was flawless and smoothly delivered to a wide eyed, slack jawed and largely delighted audience. No-one was hurt, the court system wasn’t clogged with petty offenders; all that happened was that those citizens hell bent on inconveniencing other citizens were themselves inconvenienced.
No-one can deny the effectiveness of the initiative; once again it is a pleasure to stroll down the Marginal. Maybe I have been here too long but try as I might, I can see bugger all wrong with this low cost zero tolerance approach.
|Misbehave here and it could be a long walk home|