[BLOG] Reverse labour migration to Angola, a solution or a curse ?
The last two years we can see a remarkable phenomenon that occurs in the labor market of Angola. Increasingly we see young Portuguese emigrating from their country, the former colonizer of Angola, in order to build a new future in the african country
In the Netherlands, around the same time the political discourse was dominated by a young illegal Angolan who had to return after a failed asylumrequest, but refused to go back by the lack of a perspective in his homecountry.
Since the nineteenth century Angola was formally a Portuguese colony and was known as Portuguese West Africa. Of dissatisfaction with the situation in 1956 the MPLA, Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, was established. Besides the MPLA, the FNLA and UNITA fought for Angola's independence. After the Carnation Revolution in Portugal in 1974, Angola gained its independence in 1975, which ushered in a new conflict. The resistance movements of the MPLA and UNITA were the principal groups, wanting to to take power and fought against each other to be the first to reach the Angolan capital Luanda . During almost 40 years years of civil war that followed the Cold War was fought out in the interiors of Angola. America and the former Soviet Union armed respectively the MPLA and Unita. Even an army of Cuban troops led by Che Guevara himself fought a number of years along Unita in the the Angolan civil war.?
After the war, which lasted until 2001, Angola began a slow and long reconstructing process. Not everyone benefited from this . If you are in the interior of Angola driving around you can clearly see that former UNITA villages still bear the scars of war, while the traditional villages in the MPLA region are already entirely reconstructed.
The population that drifted apart and fled during the war comes back slowly, but thereis no more social cohesion. People have no education and no work experience. Many have moved away to Europe, a classic case of what migration philosophers calle ‘ Brain Drain’ . The best people, the highly educated are leaving the country, and seek their opportunities elsewhere in the world.
Now, the Angolan economie is on an oil-driven economig boom, while the rest of the world is diving into recession . Driven by the oil discoveries off the coast of Angola the dollars come in abundantly . The country must be rebuilt after the war, so there is a lot of work in infrastructure projects, building houses, repairing bridges, roads, airports, ports etc.
This economic boom is making a small part of the Angolan population is filthy rich. We also see that the ordinary Angolans take no benefits from this oil wealth. Since there is no potential within the Angolan population, the economy is forcedto attract highly qualified professionals from other countries like South Africa, Brazil and increasingly from the former colonial power Portugal to meet the needs of an ever faster growing economy .
The phenomenon will become more intense. In 2006, only 156 visas issued to Portuguese who left for the former colony. Last year there were 23,787.
Henceforth there will be 1000,000 Portuguese living again in Angola, that's four times as many as there are Angolans in Portugal, where they stopped coming - a side effect of the economic crisis.
Portugal is sick, Angola is in excellent shape. With its diamond stocks and oil deposits - the largest in Sub-Saharan Africa, The GDP of the country grows for about 14 % a year since 2003.
This presents an excellent opportunity for the Portuguese, who are connected to this country by a common language and a mutual history, even if it’ s not all that positive .Fresh graduates, or older professionals with a lot of experience set sail for Africa. As a motivation, the candidates come for easy money and high salaries. A recently graduated engineer or a journalist with three years experience in Portugal, will make with hard work perhaps 10000 euro per month in Portugal wheras in Angola his pay slip will show at least 3000 euros and most of his living expenses and housing costs will be reimbursed by his company.
Question to ask ourselves is ; who benefits from all this ? . We can not speak of Brain Gain, because it is very doubtful whether the portuguese in Angola will continue to live there, or that they will share their experience or transfer their knowledge to the Angolans themselves.
In the worst case scenario you could speak of a kind of parasitic neo colonialism, where the Portuguese again will benefit from the resources in their former colony, leaving the country again after some time, without Angola gaining any durable profit from this migration.
At first glance, the Angolan government is acting to prevent a complete brain drain by setting quota for the numbers of Westerners that are aloowed to work in the management of an Angolan company. But this is not a measure that has been invented by Angola itself , but it derives from a strategy used by development organisations to make sure that not all money earned by foreigners in Angola, left the country. The question is whether this policy can remain upright even in the commercial field where hard dollars are to be earned, and as quickly as possible.
Angola is the ultimate case and perhaps the best evidence for Europe to allow the increase of circular migration experiments . If people are free to choose where they want to live and work, like the Europeans are, then the international labor market dynamics are better able to find a balance. Now the acess to labor is not equal for westerners and africans.
Angola, depends again on its former colonial power.
In europe we are faced with cases like the rejected asylum seeker Mauro, for whom a future in his own country is not an option, because he sees no perspective whatsoever.
Jan Vranken is a dutch expert on circular migration and the sustainable return of migrants. He has worked in Senegal, Angola, Mali,Guinea, DRC , Uganda and Iraq. Jan lectured on the subject on universities is Senegal, Uganda and Iraq. He writes on the subject on his Road Blog.
This article was originally posted on Sustainable Development Africa Platform