Global consulting firm Mercer this week released its much-watched annual Cost of Living survey, which it creates largely by examining the consumption habits of expatriates.

The Angolan capital of Luanda ranked as the costliest city globally for the third year running.

With almost all its goods imported (especially expat-friendly brands), prices on Angolan shelves tend to be off the wall, with prices of $10 for a can of coke fairly common, melons going for a cool $100, and apartments in the region of $16,000 not entirely unheard of.

The math would add up—the oil-rich country has more universities that South Africa…yes. However it is one of the least developed countries in the region, partly because of the legacy of a ruinous civil war, and also because of a corrupt political elite loath to parcelling out the wealth to potential challengers of the status quo.

“Despite being recognised as a relatively inexpensive city, the cost of imported goods and safe living conditions in this country are available at a steep price,” Mercer, which uses New York as a base city, said.

While locals often find ways of surviving in African cities, even those in Luanda admit it is a tough place to live in. In interviews with Mail & Guardian Africa last year, residents said they tended to make ends meet by having two or even three jobs on the side.


The lack of infrastructure was felt by both expatriates and locals. Foreign employees stick to the highly secure areas of Luanda, driving up real estate and retail prices. Locals are then forced to live further away and incur more transport and food costs, sapping the life out of already parched pay packets.

Another African capital—Chad’s N’Djamena was also in the world’s top 10 costliest cities, with Victoria in Seychelles and Libreville in Gabon spotted in the top 30. In Chad, the expat community is quite small, as is the middle class, while security is a major concern.

But for other expatriates south of Angola, specifically in Windhoek, they did not have too many such concerns.

The inexpensive ones

The Namibian capital was ranked the lest expensive African city, at position 206 of the 207 countries ranked, even if some expats there would disagree. The country’s stunning landscape are apparently just the start. (Read: 10 things Namibia boasts of that no other Africa country has)

Tunis came second, at 204th, while Banjul, the capital of minuscule The Gambia, a popular destination for foreign tourists, was ranked 202.

Cape Town at 200th position was a relative surprise, but the South African currency has taken a battering against the US dollar in recent months, also informing the positioning of Johannesburg in the top five least costliest on the continent.

Gaborone, Blantyre, Kampala, Algiers and Lusaka were also ranked as among the least expensive African cities.

Algiers saw a steep dive in the cost of living—the Algerian capital was ranked 181st this year, from 124th in the previous survey.

Kenya, which expatriates ranked as the best African country to live in on the strength of their satisfaction with personal finance and overall work experience, however saw its ranking rise to 104th from 117th last year.

This article is published in collaboration with Mail & Guardian Africa. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Christine Mungai is a writer & journalist with Mail & Guardian Africa.

Image: A long exposure picture shows a seasonal fog illuminated by the lights of Cape Town harbour as the city prepares for the start of the southern hemisphere winter. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings