Portuguese Escape Austerity and Find a New El Dorado in Angola

David Smith, Guardian (London), September 15, 2012

Pungent cigar smoke drifts across the veranda at one of Luanda’s upmarket beachside restaurants. It is Saturday afternoon and four Portuguese men are lounging with drinks, savouring the good life and rubbing shoulders with a nascent local elite. “The Angolans have money and we need it,” muses José Luis Sousa, 47, who moved here four years ago and co-owns a printing company. “They are buying things in Portugal and around the world. In Portugal people don’t like this situation, but they have money and we don’t.”

The men are among tens of thousands of Portuguese who have emigrated to Angola in recent years. Capital, meanwhile, is flowing in the opposite direction, as Angolan millionaires snap up chunks of Portugal’s ailing economy. After five centuries of colonialism, and an era when thousands of Angolans fled to Portugal, the roles are in reverse. “Maybe some day Portugal will be a colony of Angola,” Sousa quips.

The economics are simple: Portugal is enduring its worst recession since the 1970s, with austerity measures imposed, unemployment at a record 15% and the economy predicted to shrink by 3% this year. So deep is the malaise that one government minister offered some provocative advice: “If people are unemployed they should leave their comfort zone and look beyond our borders.”

This is what they are doing in such former colonies as Angola, Brazil and Mozambique, whose economies hold up an inverted mirror to their own. Oil-rich Angola enjoyed growth averaging 15% between 2002 and 2008 and, although it then lost momentum, it is still posting figures that the eurozone would envy, with growth expected to recover to between 8% and 10% this year.

Angola is attractive to the Portuguese because of business and cultural links—not least a shared language—forged before it gained independence in 1975. A long, devastating civil war followed, but a decade of peace has transformed the desirability of taking part in sub-Saharan Africa’s third biggest economy.

The number of Portuguese living here has soared from 21,000 in 2003 to more than 100,000 last year, according to official figures which are likely to be a conservative estimate. Some 38% of foreign companies registered in Angola are Portuguese, media reports say, still well ahead of Chinese firms at 18.8%.

Luis Ribeiro opened a pizzeria in Luanda two years ago. Wearing a T-shirt bearing the name “Portugal” and his country’s flag, he reflected: “Definitely more Portuguese people are coming here in recent years, not only because of the bad financial situation in Europe but because Angola is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world.”

They are joining an influx that includes Chinese, Brazilian and, to a lesser extent, British investors. “We’ve always been one of the biggest communities, but we’re slowly being surpassed by the Chinese,” Ribeiro, 52, continued. “The Chinese are very resilient people and are prepared to do the donkey work that Portuguese and Angolans are not.”

Portuguese people are scenting opportunities in Angola’s thriving construction industry: the skyline of Luanda, the capital, is a symphony of cranes, new skyscrapers and the still incomplete dome of a parliament building by Portuguese company Teixeira Duarte. They are also finding work in banking and IT.

“There’s no humiliation in coming here,” Ribeiro added. “The Angolan government only accepts people with a decent CV looking for a proper job. It’s mostly professionals in the higher bracket. The language still matters. Communication is very important if you hold a high position and need to communicate with workers on a day to day basis. And of course there is a cultural understanding. In 500 years we left an imprint of everything, even a taste for wine, and the hostility towards us is long gone.”

As Europe lurches from financial crisis to crisis, Africa’s economic “lions” offer a lifeline. A 49-year-old supply chain manager, who preferred to give his name only as Mario, said: “Portugal is not in the best situation economically and it’s complicated for people to make a living. Angola is something of an El Dorado.” But El Dorado comes with sacrifices. Angola has one the highest costs of living in the world: a hamburger can cost £30 and admission to a nightclub might be £60. There are beautiful beaches but little by way of entertainment or shopping compared to most European capitals.

Given Angola’s estimated jobless rate of 26% and its yawning inequality, there seems potential for conflict between locals and foreign immigrant workers. Mario said: “Uneducated Angolans have a little bit of frustration. I don’t think we suffer the colonial hangover; maybe they do. Angola always had the potential to be something Portugal wasn’t. It’s so rich in everything: diamonds, oil, gold, copper. If we can contribute to the progress in this country, I think it’s a good thing… There’s a peaceful coexistence here. We are blood brothers.”

Carlos Araujo, 29, was born in Angola, moved to Portugal aged 10 and returned to Angola three years ago. The civil engineer said: “There are as many Portuguese people here now as when Angola was a colony. There’s no embarrassment; exactly the opposite. It’s kind of a salvation. Thank God it’s Angola and not another African country. Portuguese people are made to feel welcome here.”

The countries’ contrasting economic fortunes mean that, while Portuguese citizens are flooding Angola, money is streaming the other way. The Angolan elite are buying luxury homes in Lisbon and investing in Portuguese energy companies and banks. They now reportedly account for 4%, or £1.25bn, of the total value of companies listed on the Portuguese stock exchange. When the Portuguese prime minister, Pedro Passos Coelho, visited Luanda last year the symbolism was inescapable. Avoiding the chance to gloat, José Eduardo dos Santos, the Angolan president, said: “We’re aware of the difficulties the Portuguese people have faced recently and in such difficult times we must use our trump cards.”

Among the leading investors is Angola’s oil and gas giant Sonangol, which has a major stake in Portugal’s biggest private bank, and Isabel dos Santos, the president’s eldest daughter. One of Africa’s richest women—Forbes estimates her net worth as $170m (£106m)—she has stakes in Portuguese banking, energy, media and telecommunications. But critics say pieces of the Portuguese economy are being sold off at rock bottom prices, in effect to an authoritarian, corrupt regime. After 33 years, dos Santos is Africa’s second longest-serving leader, described by some as a dictator; last week he secured another landslide victory in elections criticised for lack of transparency.

Marcolino Moco, a former prime minister turned foe of dos Santos, said: “The regime is buying banks and other things in Portugal and no one in the EU is saying anything. They have to ask: ‘Where is the money coming from?’ It’s the children of the president. Sometimes, when I’m in Portugal, people like ex-MPs tell me, ‘Don’t worry, it’s part of politics’. I say no, what would happen in Portugal if one of the children of the president took over one of the TV channels?”

There were few Portuguese voices agitating for change at the recent election. The migration looks set to continue. But Moco added: “When Portuguese people come here, they improve their own situation but not that of the Angolan people. Because of the kind of regime we have, it won’t help the situation of young Angolans. We are living under dictatorship. Maybe people outside can’t see it very well.”

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  • http://profile.yahoo.com/7RORAJVG7LJJZECDJIILHJBE7U So CAL Snowman

    Prediction : This does not end well for the Portuguese.

    • Puggg

      You took the words out of my snoot.  Is it really such a good idea for white people to be settling down in a sea of black Africans these days?  Yeah, they might do well for awhile, then the natives will go Full Mugabe.

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/7RORAJVG7LJJZECDJIILHJBE7U So CAL Snowman

         You NEVER go Full Mugabe.

    • n_arov

      Fittingly, the Angolan flag features a machete.

  • The__Bobster

    Two words: Remember Haiti.

  • haroldcrews

    I’m sure that Afrikaners believed they had a special relationship with black South Africans. 

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_JZ5HL6SGXRWK24JHDOPZ7FINS4 Zimriel

       No, the Boers never did. They actually had to live in the countryside and deal with Zulu raids. They had no illusions.

      It was us smug Victorian English who thought we could Bring Everyone Up To Our Level.

  • loyalwhitebriton

    Britain made Uganda stable and prosperous. Milton Obote at least tried to maintain this stability and prosperity after independence in 1962. Then came Idi Amin (71-79) – need I say much more?
    The Portuguese should learn from history.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_3ZIVXWHQ47HZVMPKXYOTMLGK7Y .

    Angola has one of the lowest life expectancies in the world at only 50 years and very high rates of infant mortality, HIV and tuberculosis with frequent epidemics of cholera, malaria, rabies and hemorrhagic fever. Moreover, the literacy rate is 67%, per capita GDP of $9K and an average IQ of 69.

    So why are Portuguese moving to Angola? Simple, Angola is very rich in natural resources with over 92% of it’s income coming from petroleum exports alone. After 27 years of civil war the country is finally getting a chance to develop them in peace. It’s
    not unusual for developing nations to grow faster because they’re
    playing “catch up”. But the local population lacks both the talent and experience to do it themselves. So unemployed Portuguese are coming to Angola to do it. Its not unlike the situation in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia where the royal families own the oil but all the engineers and technicians are foreigners working under contract. Only in this case it looks like dos Santos and his children are the “royal family”.

    The local population is absolutely incapable of supporting the petroleum industry in their own country. And they really do need foreign workers to develop it. But the warm and fuzzy feelings towards foreigners won’t last forever. Right now, the local population is just grateful that their economy is growing. But soon they’ll become angry and bitter at seeing foreigners doing better than them in their own country.

    • IstvanIN

       And in the mean time the Portuguese are letting Africans buy up Portugal, move to Portugal and even have an African First Lady.  Portugal once before allowed itself to be Africanized and now has a very mulatto population.  This time will be the final blow which will make Portugal completely and irrevocably non-European.  It takes very little time to water down a population’s genetics  but a long time evolve upwards.  Portugal will never be the great nation it was 300-400 years ago.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_3ZIVXWHQ47HZVMPKXYOTMLGK7Y .

         Well, that is the silver lining to Europe’s economic woes. I’m sure you realize that a bad economy makes people a lot less willing to put up with immigration. And if their economic situation gets severe enough… show their guests the door.

      • convairXF92

         It has been claimed (I don’t have the source) that the average Portuguese today is about 1/16 black African, and as much as 1/4 black African in some tucked-away valleys.  This was due to interbreeding with “the ones that got away” during Portugal’s slave-trade heyday in the 16th century.   Here in Boston many of the maintenance men/ladies and janitors are from Portugal.  They tend to have curly hair and puffy lips.

        Portugal has one of the lowest IQ averages in Europe.  The above racial admixture is likely a factor.  I wonder what impact this has had on the Portuguese economy. 

  • KenelmDigby

    The European Uinon has to be one of the biggest disasters to visit the White race in the last 40 years.

    • rightrightright

      Last 40 years?   I think you mean ever.   The EU sluices third worlders in their millions into the White heartlands and plans to invite North Africa and Turkey into the Union.  What is going on is genocide by salami slice.  

  • JackKrak

    I get the point of the story but let’s keep some perspective. We’re not going to witness a mass return of the former colonizers to the former colonies. The example in this article has as much to do with Portugal’s Greece-like incompetence as it does with the (for now) booming economy of Angola. I’d advise everyone to hold off on making those reservations on the next plane to Zimbabwe…..

  • Bill

    Yup.  Africans and latin Americans are more than happy to have whites bring their competence and money into their countries and save the economy.  As soon as things are going well, they nationalize it all, kick the whites out (at best) or more usually engage in terrorism and violent murder against the “white invaders”.  Over and over again.  But the Chinese?  They will most certainly do differently if blacks try that route with THEM.  They will send in their Navy and draw on their billions of manpower and send in their army and take it ALL by force of arms making the black man slaves in every definition of the word.  They have NO regard for humanity and most especially despise the black man of all non-asians races.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_JZ5HL6SGXRWK24JHDOPZ7FINS4 Zimriel

    Portugal is not independently wealthy and has never had strategic-depth, especially not against Spain. Nor against other invaders coming from Spain – Joao VI moved his throne to Brasil in the face of the Napoleonic War.

    The greatest folly of Portuguese history – and, worse, Angolan history – was when the Carnation Revolution turfed out Salazar and abandoned the colonies.

    So anyway. A restoration of Salazarism or a monarchical form of government, in which Portugal and Angola are autonomous components, would be best for both nations.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_JZ5HL6SGXRWK24JHDOPZ7FINS4 Zimriel

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but the ones who were most resentful against the Portuguese weren’t the blacks, it was the mulattoes. Full blacks in places like Angola know they need help. It’s the mulattoes who get pretensions that they’re whites with caramel skin, and who attempt to compete with whites on their own turf.

    This was certainly the case in Haiti. L’Ouverture (black) was fine with whites if they supported independence. It was Dessalines (mulatto) who started up the genocide against the “blan[c]s”.

  • pmdawn

    To put it quite simply, the sun has set on the West.