Angola in African Cup rush

CAMAMA - In a year in which Angola's two main exports, oil and diamonds have plunged, a scene on the outskirts of the capital city of Luanda defies the notion of scaling back in bad times.

CAMAMA - In a year in which Angola's two main exports, oil and diamonds have plunged, a scene on the outskirts of the capital city of Luanda defies the notion of scaling back in bad times.

Over the last few months, a massive 50000-seater soccer stadium has risen in Camama where thousands of people live in shanty towns without running water or electricity.

About 900 workers, mostly Chinese, are engaged in its construction. When complete, it will be the showpiece venue for next year's African Nations Cup final.

Thousands of fans are expected to come to Angola to see the tournament, known as CAN, when the continent's 16 top teams do battle. The January 10 to 31 event will also be broadcast live to millions on TV screens across the world.

A CAN director has put the cost of staging the competition at one billion US dollars (R10 billion) - $600 million alone is the price tag on new stadiums in Cabinda, Huila, Benguela and in Camama.

Millions more will be used to revamp old airports, roads and build hotels across the nation to accommodate the increased number of tourists expected.

"We're working at breakneck speed to have this ready before the end of the year," said Manuel Mariano, CAN marketing director.

Just last month the government cancelled the World Diamond Summit, branded as one of the most important gatherings of diamond producing nations, in an indication that the industry was losing its lustre.

Yet nothing seems to get in the way of soccer even though Angola's national team has failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa.

Outside, children play barefoot on dirt pitches.

The hype is understandable. It will be the first international soccer competition to be staged by Angola in several decades.

Analysts say the country's hosting of the tournament could also help keep the engine of its economy from stopping now that global demand for oil and diamonds is down.

"Football is a passion for Angolans," said Alex Vines, the head of Africa Research for London-based think-tank Chatham House.

"The investment in the tournament is huge, I agree, but it also means more jobs and it can definitely help the economy grow."

The event has also helped attract much-needed foreign investment as Angola recovers from the almost three decades-long civil war that ended in 2002.

"I feel that investors are looking at the Angolan market with even greater interest than before," said Aguinaldo Jaime, the head of the country's investment agency ANIP.

"For Angola, I believe this crisis is more of an opportunity than it is a threat."

At the construction site in Camama, about 30 kms from the centre of Luanda, hundreds of Angolans and Chinese from the Shanghai Urban Construction Group work around the clock.

"I'm happy to have a job here, especially when there is talk that the economy is slowing down," said one worker.

Asked if he thought the half-built edifice would be finished in time for the tournament, he replied: "I'm sure it will, the Chinese are building this thing." - Reuters

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