Inverted economic roles

Angola’s booming economy is reshaping colonial power structures. Now, there is a steady flow of labour migrants arriving from the former colonial power Portugal.

Angola’s economy is one of the fastest growing in Africa. However, the growth is largely concentrated on the capital, with around 75 per cent of GDP produced in Luanda. People go where the money is. Half a million people move to Luanda each year, which is growing more rapidly than any other city on the continent. The majority of the newcomers are Angolans from rural areas, but quite a few of them come from Portugal. There is no precise data on how many Portuguese have migrated since the onset of the economic recession in Portugal, although some estimates put the figure at 150,000 to 250,000. A telling fact is that the value of remittances from Angola to Portugal is 21 times higher than remittances going the other way. This is a marked historical reversal, with Portuguese earning money in Luanda and sending it to relatives in Portugal.

Inverted economic roles
“Today, many talk about ‘Africa Rising,’ but always from a macro perspective. Our project instead looks at what happens to the people, how identities and human relations change. However, there are still traces of old colonial structures. Angolans often mention the arrogance of the Portuguese” NAI researcher Lisa Åkesson says.

With today’s inverted economic roles, Angolans just won’t accept being dominated by the Portuguese. Nevertheless, they see how young inexperienced Portuguese come to Angola and manage to get much better positions than they could at home. This creates friction and it doesn’t help that the Portuguese newcomers often help their friends get jobs. All this is happening despite a law that favours Angolans for employment.

Also the Portuguese feel mistreated
“The employment law is bypassed by job descriptions that only fit a certain person, such as a friend from home. Working class Angolans see no point in filing complaints because they view domestic elites and the Portuguese as allies. They feel unfairly treated, Lisa Åkesson observes.

The Portuguese also feel exposed. Many say they would return home immediately if the economic situation in Portugal improves. They also know that if they upset the wrong people among the Angolan elite, they will be kicked out of the country.

“Just as African migrants in Europe are often afraid of the police, the Portuguese in Angola are constantly worrying that the authorities will go through their documents. There is a widespread trade in illegal visa documents in Luanda, and many people are there on false pretences,” Lisa Åkesson observes.

Portugal as Angolans turf
Her research project shows that while some colonial relations remains, the roles are also very much inverted. The Angolan elite sees Portugal as its turf: the wealthy go shopping there, build houses, buy local enterprises. However, a third option is emerging.

“There are signs of new kinds of relationships between Angolans and Portuguese that are more than postcolonial. Among younger well-educated Angolans in Luanda, a cosmopolitan culture is emerging. They care less about colonial history,” Lisa Åkesson remarks.   





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