Context of Forced Evictions in Luanda

Much of the rural population in Angola migrated to urban areas during the war years, either displaced by the armed conflict or in search of alternative livelihoods.8 The flow of people combined with a high fertility rate to foster the rapid growth of the urban population, particularly in Luanda.9 The city grew from less than 500,000 inhabitants in 1940 to 750,000 in the late 1970s and to more than three million in 2000.10 Luanda’s area expanded from approximately 50 square kilometers in 1980 to approximately 270 square kilometers in 2000. SOS Habitat, an Angolan nongovernmental organization (NGO) working with communities affected by forced eviction, currently estimates Luanda’s population at approximately five million persons.11

The growing demand for land and housing in Luanda in the 1990s, limited availability through formal market mechanisms, and the cost and bureaucracy of titling procedures facilitated the rapid expansion of an informal housing and land market.12 In the poorer areas of Luanda, especially in the agricultural areas surrounding the city, low income families and internally displaced persons acquired land through occupation or purchase from previous residents.13 This led to the growth of informal areas beyond the planned neighborhoods existing at independence, forming a new peri-urban zone in which previously rural land gradually became residential. These informal areas are generally not developed according to an urban planning regime or adequately supplied with basic services by the state. Because current inhabitants acquired land or housing through informal transactions or through occupation, formal land registration and titles are an exception.  

In the past five years, local and international organizations working on housing rights in Luanda have reported a growing practice of forced eviction and demolition by the Angolan government in several informal areas of the city. This is occurring in the context of the postwar reconstruction, which involves numerous development and “beautification” projects, fueled by increasing oil revenues and considerable economic growth. While the Angolan government has the right to carry out such projects and, if necessary, to remove people from areas required for such development in accordance with the law, it also has the legal obligation to protect its citizens against forced eviction and any other human rights violations.

8 Many internally displaced persons did not return to their original regions after the end of the civil war, mainly due to poor living conditions in those areas. In December 2005, there were 61,700 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Angola according to the United Nations Technical Coordination Unit. Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, “Angola,” (accessed May 23, 2006).

9 Luanda is the largest urban center in Angola, raised to the category of province due to its special status as the national capital. It is formed by nine municipalities.

10 Development Workshop and the Centre for Environment & Human Settlement, Terra—Urban Land Reform in Post-war Angola: Research, Advocacy & Policy Development (Luanda: DW and CEHS, 2005), p. 68.

11 There is no official number for the population of Luanda. The last nation-wide census was carried out in the 1970s.

12 Development Workshop and the Centre for Environment & Human Settlement, Terra, chapter 4.  

13 Based on interviews with settlers in informal neighborhoods, including elderly small farmers, and with local NGOs, Human Rights Watch and SOS Habitat have collected information on the history of informal areas. In most of these areas surrounding the city, land was originally acquired by farmers through occupation. Some are members of peasant’s associations registered with the Ministry of Agriculture (for example, UNACA) or have documents from this Ministry acknowledging their settlement in those areas in the 1980s as part of a government agricultural project (Cintura Verde). Original settlers transferred land to relatives and acquaintances according to the traditional custom, in which elders are consulted and authorize the newcomers to settle without any payment. From the late 1990s peasants and other residents started to cede and sell land plots, normally relying on a simple receipt or witness testimony for the transaction. Many of these arrivals were internally displaced persons and, to a lesser extent, returnees and demobilized soldiers. In the last three years, many newcomers occupied land irrespective of the consent of elderly residents and peasants, either through informal transactions or simple occupation. According to local organizations interviewed by Human Rights Watch in April 2006, many low income families and IDPs who acquired land/housing in the informal market were unaware of the legal provisions concerning land registration and assumed payment to former residents or peasants who occupied the house/land before them automatically gave them legal title to the land/housing they were purchasing.