Angola plan $1 billion facelift for African Nations Cup

LUANDA - Oil-rich Angola hopes to erase the world's memory of it as a place torn by almost three decades of civil war with a $1 billion makeover to host the 2010 African Nations Cup football tournament.

Among the top investments will be four new stadiums in Benguela, Lubango, Cabinda and Luanda, where the final will take place, for $600 million, officials said on Monday. The stadiums will be built by China's Shanghai Urban Construction Group.

Angola also is investing $400 million to revamp old airports and new hotels are being built to accommodate some of the thousands of fans expected during the January 10-31 competition.

"All the construction work is on schedule and we expect to be ready before the end of the year," African Nations Cup (CAN) marketing director Manuel Mariano told Reuters on Monday.

Angola, which rivals Nigeria as sub-Saharan Africa's biggest oil producer, is recovering from a 27-year civil war that destroyed most of its infrastructure. The war ended in 2002.

"This event is an image booster for Angola. It will help the image of a country that was mired in war and hopefully attract more tourists," said Luis Fernando, director of leading weekly newspaper O Pais.

"In fact, Angola's bid to host the CAN had all this in mind," he added.

Such projects are costly, but Angola has oil riches to spare. The OPEC-member country with a population of 16.5 million produced 1.83 million barrels a day in December, just a shade less than Nigeria, which is also Africa's most populous country.

Since 2002, the southwestern African nation has risen to become one of the world's fastest-growing economies, buoyed by record oil prices and billions of dollars in foreign investment to rebuild roads, bridges and ailing communications.

Officials hope the eagerly anticipated tournament will kick-start the tourism industry in a country blessed by a warm climate and long sandy beaches.

"The government has said it wants to bolster tourism in Angola and we expect CAN (the tournament) to be a major step in that direction," Mariano said.

He said another top priority was providing accommodation for visitors during the three-week long competition. The few existing hotels in cities like Luanda are often booked for months in advance.

Tourists lucky enough to find a decent room in Luanda are hit with hotel bills of more than $400 for a one-night stay in what has become one of the world's most expensive city for foreigners, according to London-based human resources firm ECA.

"That's why plans are under way to build a lot more than 30 hotels. We also expect many Angolans to rent out rooms during the competition so there is no shortage of rooms," Mariano said.