Faced with mounting unemployment, rising taxes and cuts to social welfare programs, many Portuguese are traveling to former colonies in search of work, to the very places their colonial ancestors were forced to leave — countries such as Brazil, Angola and Mozambique, which boast some of the world’s fastest-growing economies, fueled by vast deposits of oil, minerals and other raw materials.
Sub-Saharan Africa, to be sure, is no economic promised land. Much of the continent still struggles with high poverty, disease and unemployment, and businesses face major hurdles, including corruption and red tape.
But the Portuguese arrivals are an indication that the continent is on the move economically. The middle class is growing in many African countries, as are large infrastructure projects. Foreign investors are scouring the region for opportunities, while trade with China is expanding. The World Bank predicts that one-third of all African countries’ growth rates will top 6 percent this year, with many nations’ economies swelling more rapidly than the East Asian tiger economies.
From 2009 to 2011, the number of Portuguese who registered with their embassy in Maputo increased about 21 percent to nearly 19,000, and the embassy estimates that more than 23,000 Portuguese live in the Maputo and Beira regions. Many new arrivals are highly skilled professionals, including architects, engineers and doctors.
The number of Portuguese companies expressing interest in investing in this southern African country has more than doubled this year, from 10 visiting delegations last year to 22 this year, according to the Mozambique-Portugal Chamber of Commerce.
Across this capital city, restaurants and cafes are filled with recent Portuguese immigrants. Portugal’s national airline has increased flights to Maputo from once to three times a week.
“Everyone is feeling the pinch of the economic crisis, and Mozambique offers a lot of opportunities,” said Goncalo Teles Gomes, Portugal’s consul general in Maputo.
“People think this is El Dorado,” he added, referring to the legendary “lost city of gold” that has captivated explorers for centuries.
A new, growing wave
Portugal ruled Mozambique from the 16th century onward, breeding what would become a shameful colonial legacy, including the forcing into slavery of thousands of locals. In 1964, fighting erupted between liberation fighters and the colonial authority, eventually leading to Mozambique’s independence in 1975.