“Things are going badly,” said Delta, sitting on a stool and glancing at a bag stuffed with Chinese mobile phones.
As one of scores of traders trying to legally sell her wares in one of Luanda’s most famous markets, known as “The Congolese”, the 32-year-old Angolan’s complaint is not unusual.
Despite the din and bustle of vendors pitching for cash in Angola’s sweltering capital, she is struggling to provide for her two children.
“I see some customers at the end of the month once they’ve been paid – but the rest of the time they don’t come,” she said.
A year after the election of President Joao Lourenco, the oil-rich nation is still waiting for the economic “miracle” that he promised on the campaign trail.
Angola is a country that has been scarred by prolonged war and where the economic benefits of an oil-fuelled boom have not always trickled down to the mass population. As a result entrenched poverty remains the norm for nearly half the population.
“I’ve sold pork here for more than 20 years,” said butcher Teresa Pereira, grimacing on her stall’s counter as her colleague tried to swat away flies.
“For a long time, business was good, but since the financial crisis (of 2014) it’s been very difficult because of the grey (unofficial) market,” she said.
“Now people are selling on the street… customers are rare.”
The country enjoyed a decade of rapid growth fuelled by its booming oil sector after the end of the civil war in 2002. However, in 2014, a global slump in the price of crude, which makes up about 70 percent of government revenues, and the failure of the authorities to diversify the economy, plunged Angola into a serious financial crisis.
Since then it has experienced mass unemployment, the mostly poor population turned to the grey and black markets for survival, denying already weakened state coffers of much-needed taxes.
Many tax-paying market vendors place the blame on the growth of unofficial street sellers and illegal shops often run by foreign nationals, many of them from Nigeria and elsewhere in West Africa.
According to observers, the parallel economy accounts for up to 90 percent of Angola’s fiscal activity.
“If all the informal traders come here to the market to conduct their business (legally), customers would return in force,” said Elisabeth Lumbunga, 43, her hands in a bowl of water as she washed her vegetables before sale.
In search of new tax revenues, the government launched a nationwide crackdown at the beginning of November on “zungas” – the term used to describe illegal traders, who are often undocumented migrants.
“In our society and in our urban centres, anarchy and disorder reign supreme,” said police chief Paulo de Almeida as he launched the operation.
“Our goal is to re-establish public order and the state’s authority.”
Photo credit – AFP