The Portuguese empire collapsed in Africa under the worst possible conditions. After 15 years of bloody conflict, a military coup in Lisbon replaced the existing government with one that wanted to get the hell out of Africa yesterday. The result was a chaotic flight of a half-million Portuguese settlers back to the metropole. Over the subsequent decades, Portugal attracted some immigration from its former colonies, but other the Cape Verde (a country that almost certainly would have preferred to remain united with the metropole) it was never great. As of 2007, only 33,000 Angolans lived in Portugal. The reasons were simple. First, it cost a whole lot of money to get to Portugal from Angola, and most Angolans were poor and getting poorer. Second, Portugal shut the door to the citizens of its former colonies. Third, Portugal itself wasn’t exactly a glowing destination for immigrants.
But now it looks like the Portuguese are headed to Angola. And not in small numbers, either. Something like 17,000 people moved to Angola in 2006, followed by 24,000 in both 2007 and 2008. So far this year they’re moving at an annual rate of 31,000. Of course, 31,000 people is only 0.3% of Portugal’s population and 0.2½% of Angola’s, but still.
The question is whether they’ll stay. I tend to doubt it. First, while Angola’s economy is exploding, it is pretty much all due to oil. Most of the growth pulling in Portuguese expats (and Portuguese capital) is construction-driven and paid for out of government revenues. To be frank, I would bet that the boom will last for a while, but the challenge for Angola is making the growth permanent. Not that Gabon is a terrible outcome, but turning into Gabon is something that happens once, after which the foreigners who came in to help build stuff turn around and go home.
Second, some of the movement is driven by a crappy economy in Portugal. That could also turn around.
Finally, it isn’t all clear that Angola will be that welcoming. Expats from the developed world go to all sorts of places. Relatively few of them settle down and raise families outside their home, and even then mostly in other developed countries. (Right, Doug?) The French in Gabon, for example, are clearly an expat community and not part of the local fabric. In Côte d’Ivoire they’ve mostly gone home.
So while this is a neat story, I’ll bet that it won't have much lasting effect on Angola. I would like to be wrong. Thoughts?