The Portuguese are coming!

Well speaking economically at least. Portugal turns to former colony, Angola for growth.

Portugal, one of Europe’s ailing economies, is increasingly placing its hopes of recovery on Angola, a former colony that has established itself as one of the strongest economies in sub-Saharan Africa — thanks largely to oil and diamonds. The shift comes as competition is getting stiffer in Brazil, another booming former colony, and as Portugal’s traditional European trading partners, led by Spain, struggle under a mountain of debt and soaring joblessness.Angola has already become Portugal’s largest export market outside of Europe, accounting for 7 percent of Portuguese exports last year, compared with 1 percent in 2000, according to the Portuguese statistics institute and Eurostat, the European Union’s statistics agency. Machinery and industrial equipment lead the list, along with food, beverages and metals.

Perhaps even more spectacular than the trade flow has been the arrival of a new generation of Portuguese working in Angola, a trend that is expected to gather pace as more Portuguese companies shift operations there and Angola moves ahead with investment-friendly plans like the opening of a local stock exchange. Last year, 23,787 Portuguese moved to Angola, compared with only 156 in 2006, the Portuguese immigration observatory said.

Underlining Angola’s growing importance, Aníbal Cavaco Silva, the Portuguese president, is expected to make his first trip to Luanda on Sunday with a delegation of about 80 Portuguese executives for a weeklong visit.

The Portugal isn’t alone with it comes to Angola.

China has recently been at the forefront of Angola’s economic re-emergence, trying to secure access to its natural resources in return for help building roads and other infrastructure ruined during three decades of war.  Although Portuguese companies do not have the financial clout to compete with the Chinese and other larger investors, a common language, coupled with cultural links, may give the Portuguese an advantage.

Still, Mr. Cunha Vaz, the public relations consultant, emphasizes the need to tread carefully when rekindling Portugal’s historical relationship with his native country.

“Clearly, we share the same language and have much more in common with Angolans than the Chinese and others, but Portuguese investors also need to make huge efforts not to be seen as pushing for a return to colonial times,” he said. “Little can be achieved in Angola without full help and cooperation from local partners.”

Economic ties between both Angola and Portugal are going to continue to grow ever closer.

For the last year, Ricardo Gorjão, a project manager for CPI, a Portuguese company that produces software for banking and other services industries, has spent two-thirds of his time in Angola, where banks are building a countrywide network almost from scratch, after initially restricting operations to Luanda. “We’re going through a huge recession in Portugal, while here, the banking sector is having an amazing development, so it has made a lot of sense to be shifting our business toward Angola,” he said by phone from Luanda.

Although life in Angola’s capital can be “tough, dangerous and expensive” compared with Lisbon, “When you see the unemployment that there is in Portugal, I think more people are certainly going to be ready to move here for a good job.”

Portugal’s gloomy economic outlook was underlined on Tuesday when Moody’s downgraded its government debt rating by two notches, to A1, from Aa2. Moody’s justified its decision, which follows recent downgrades from other credit rating agencies, on poor growth prospects and on a prediction that “the Portuguese government’s financial strength will continue to weaken over the medium term.”

The outlook for Angola, on the other hand, is strong. The World Bank recently raised its 2010 growth forecast for Angola to 8.5 percent, from 7.5 percent.

Still, analysts highlight Angola’s corruption, coupled with excessive bureaucratic procedures, as serious hurdles for foreign investors. The country ranked 162 out of 180 nations in last year’s corruption perceptions index compiled by Transparency International, a global organization that measures corruption.

Given its booming economy and windfall oil profits, Angola has also become a leading foreign investor in Portugal, spearheaded by family members and advisers to José Eduardo dos Santos, Angola’s president since 1979. They have snapped up assets as varied as olive groves and vineyards in northern Portugal and stakes in leading companies.

Santoro, a financial holding company controlled by Isabel dos Santos, the president’s daughter, has a 9.7 percent stake in BPI. Sonangol, the state oil company, has invested in another major Portuguese bank, Millennium Bcp, and acquired an indirect stake in Galp, the Portuguese energy company.

But aside from the ambitions of Angola’s ruling elite, another reason to expect business ties to expand is that Angolans are leading a growing contingent of African students attending universities in Portugal.

Portuguese professionals are fleeing to Angola for better pay and job prospects.

“Salaries are really much higher than they are in Portugal,” said Goncalo Nobre da Veiga, a Portuguese architect who has worked in Angola for the past four years.

“In Portugal, like in much of Europe, it’s becoming hard to find work. Here there are lots of opportunites and you can climb up the career ladder much quicker, because there’s a lack of qualified people,” he said in a telephone interview from the Angolan capital, Luanda.

Angola’s economy grew at an average of over 16 percent over the five years up to 2008, according to the International Monetary Fund. Over the same period, Portugal’s growth rate was 1.1 percent.

Unable to find employment at home, young Portuguese professionals and skilled workers increasingly looked abroad for jobs. At the same time, Portuguese-speaking Angola was in dire need of qualified people to fill posts in civil engineering, telecommunications, retailing, banking and other sectors taking off in the post-war reconstruction boom.

“Angola really lacks skilled professionals,” explained Ricardo Bordalo, Luanda correspondent of the Portuguese news agency Lusa. “During all those years of war, the priority of the Angolan government was not in training managers and professionals, it was buying Kalashnikovs.”

According to official estimates, there are about 100,000 Portuguese now living in Angola, a country of about 18 million. The real figure could be much higher, taking into account those who have acquired dual-nationality — a possibility for many thousands born in the African country before independence.

“There’s an emotional link between Angola and Portugal that runs deep,” he said. “I came here for the first time in 2003, but I’ve lived with an image of Angola in my head, pretty much since I was a kid, because my grandfather came here in the 1940s, died and is buried here. For millions of Portuguese there’s a link to Angola.”

While European settlers in many African colonies were mostly limited to wealthy landowners or imperial administrators, tens of thousands of Portuguese moved to Angola during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s in an effort to escape from the poverty that grew in Portugal under the dictatorship of Antonio de Oliveira Salazar.

During that period, wars against independence movements in Angola and the other colonies of Mozambique and Guinea Bissau led to the deaths of 8,290 Portuguese soldiers. An estimated 50,000 Angolans were killed.

Back in Lisbon, on April 25, 1974 Portuguese army officers dissatisfied with the war overthrew Salazar’s successor in a bloodless revolution that ushered in democratic rule. The new rulers moved quickly to end the fighting and granted independence to Angola and the other colonies. Amid chaotic scenes up to a million Portuguese fled the “overseas provinces.”

In a nation of 10 million, few Portugueses families were left untouched. Almost all had a relative among the refugees or an acquaintance among the dead and wounded. In this little town in the center of the country the main street is still named for the “heros of the overseas war” in honor of the 37 local boys who never made it home.

Despite the two countries’ sometimes traumatic history, Portugal and Angola retained close cultural links. Blame for colonial abuses is laid firmly on the Salazar regime rather than modern, democratic Portugal. Although some refugees from Africa remain resentful over their sudden exodus, many on the political left in Portugal link the African independence struggle to their own resistance to the dictatorship.

Web chatter shows that not all Angolans are happy to have so many Portuguese back among them, just as some Portuguese complain about the 27,000 Angolans living officially in Portugal. However, the newcomers in Luanda seem to feel little real animosity.

“In general, Angolans don’t feel any ill-feeling toward the Portuguese, perhaps some in the older generations still hold some bitterness, but not among the young,” said Angolan sociologist Paulo de Carvalho.

Rector of the university in Benguela, Angola’s second city, de Carvalho says linguistic, historical and cultural ties enable the Portuguese to integrate into Angolan society more easily than other immigrants, such as the around 30,000 Chinese who are estimated to have moved there since the end of the war.

“It’s different now, these Portuguese who come here now, they don’t try to act superior like in colonial times,” de Carvalho said. “If they did they wouldn’t get very far.”

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