Portuguese rule in Angola ended very badly. Portugal
is to Angola
what France is to Algeria, or Britain to Ireland, that is to say, the colonizer left to deal with the colonized. The main difference is that Portugal-Angola have shared a rather more traumatic mutual history. Imagine, for comparison's sake, that the French war in Algeria was waged not by the reasonably democratic Fourth Republic but rather by a repressive right-wing fascist dictatorship that had mishandled things to the point that a goodly chunk of the French population had emigrated, and that the insane unwinnable war only ended with a successful left-wing coup by elements of the military that promptly segued into a minor years-long revolution. Portuguese disengagement, as chronicled by Ryszard Kapuscinski
in his Another Day of Life
, remains a case study of how not to decolonize.
At least Portugal's disengagement from Angola was mercifully quick for the Portuguese. Angola, in the meantime, was left with a three-way civil war that killed hundreds of thousands of people, sowed so many landmines as to make great swathes of the country uninhabitable, and made the country the poorest in the world. The dead remain dead and the landmines remain as devillishly impossible to extract as ever. The economy is booming, though, oil exports propelling an economy projected
to grow by 27.9% in 2006. If Angola's oil reserves prove as plentiful as some people hope, Angola's growing population of 11 million people might manage to make it to a better future, assuming as always that the rampant corruption and theft
of the country doesn't dissipate everything.
Now, thirty-one years after it left, Portugal is returning to its former colony. Humanitarian issues aren't motivating this reengagement, though Portugal is sending school teachers
to bolster a fragile Angolan educational system. Cultural issues play a role, thanks to the two countries' membership in the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries
and the continuing growth of Angolan Portuguese
but not much of a role. The attractive economics of Angolan oil and Portugal's flagging economy, rather, justified the recent visit of Portuguese Prime Minister José Sócrates
to Angola, leading a team of businessmen ready to sign contracts on the model of Jean Chrétien's Team Canada
government-backed trade missions. If Angola is booming, then Portugal is stagnating, a multi-year recession leaving Portuguese companies that had prospered in the growth years of the 1990s stranded. Brazil has its own domestic champions; Angola, now, not nearly so much.
The result is an increasing Portuguese entanglement in the affairs of its largest former African colony. Now, almost half of the turnover
of Portuguese construction company Soares da Costa comes from Angola, while Portuguese banks are making a nice profit
thanks to their entrenchment on the ground in a country that really didn't have a modern banking system. There is even talk of a new talk of a Portuguese-Angolan strategic partnership
. In the Lusophone world, Portugal is always necessarily going to remain in second place behind the subcontinental giant of Brazil, with its trillion-dollar economy and large Angolan-origin population and overwhelming cultural influence. There's still some niches for Portugal, though, and quickly modernizing and Lusophonizing
Angola isn't likely to object. Why bother when there's so much cash floating around?