Luanda, formerly named São Paulo da Assunção de Loanda, is the capital and largest city of Angola, in Southern Africa. Located on Angola’s coast with the Atlantic Ocean, Luanda is both Angola’s chief seaport and its administrative center. It has a metropolitan population of over 5 million. It is also the capital city of Luanda Province, and the world’s third most populous Portuguese-speaking city, behind only São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, both in Brazil, and the most populous Portuguese-speaking capital in the world, ahead of Brasília, Maputo and Lisbon.
Luanda was founded in 1575 under the name São Paulo de Loanda by a hundred families of settlers and four hundred soldiers. Two forts were constructed in the early 17th century and the city became Portuguese Angola’s administrative center in 1627. From the late 16th century until 1836, Luanda was port where nearly all slaves bound for Brazil left. Aside from a brief period of Dutch rule (1640-48), this time period was relatively uneventful, with Luanda growing much like many other colonial cities, albeit with a strong Brazilian influence as a result of the extensive shipping trade between these Portuguese colonies.
With the independence of Brazil in 1822 and the end of slavery in 1836 left Luanda’s future looking bleak, but the opening of the city’s port to foreign ships in 1844 led the a great economic boom. By 1850, the city was arguably the most developed and one of the greatest cities in the Portuguese empire outside Portugal itself and fueled by trade in palm and peanut oil, wax, copal, timber, ivory, cotton, coffee, and cocoa. Post-emancipation (resisted by the Portuguese but enforced by the British) forced labour began. Numerous imported crops grew well in the surrounding area to support residents, such as maize, tobacco, and cassava. In 1889, an aqueduct opened, supplying fresh water and removing the only inhibitor to growth in the city. The city blossomed even during the Portuguese Colonial War (1961-74), which did not affect the city, and this modern city was even labeled the “Paris of Africa” in 1972
After so much success, the city took a turn for the worse in the mid-1970s. While largely untouched during the Carnation Revolution (Angolan independence), the start of the Angolan Civil War in 1975 scared almost all Angola’s population of Portuguese descent out of the country as refugees (including the majority of Luanda’s population). This led to an immediate crisis as Angola’s African population knew little about how to run or maintain the city. They were helped a little by skilled Cuban soldiers who were able to help the MPLA government maintain some of the city’s basic services, but hundreds of thousands of refugees who fled fighting in the countryside created slums stretching for miles on all sides of the city.
The city saw some sporadic fighting during the Civil War which left bullet holes in many highrises and government building. When peace was reached in 2002, the government began planning to rebuild using oil revenues. Today Luanda’s skyline is dotted with cranes, erecting numerous social housing highrises to replace slums and existing, but grossly dilapidated, 40-plus year old highrises as well as offices for numerous foreign companies operating in Angola. Just South of Luanda in an area aptly called Luanda Sul, Western-standard housing, many compound style, is being built for the growing expat community. Major improvements are being made to roads, highways, and the rail system in and around the city but there is yet an overwhelming amount of work to be done. And while certainly still home to a large impoverished population (59%), free housing and the creation of thousands of new jobs each year means that Luanda may in years to come have a bright future ahead.
Luanda has a mild semi-arid climate. The climate is warm to hot but surprisingly dry, owing to the cool Benguela Current, which prevents moisture from easily condensing into rain. Frequent fog prevents temperatures from falling at night even during the completely dry months from June to October. Luanda has an annual rainfall of 323 millimetres, but the variability is among the highest in the world, with a co-efficient of variation above 40 percent. Observed records since 1858 range from 55 millimetres (2.2 in) in 1958 to 851 millimetres (33.5 in) in 1916. The short rainy season in March and April depends on a northerly counter current bringing moisture to the city: it has been shown clearly that weakness in the Benguela current can increase rainfall about six fold compared with years when that current is strong.