I came across a brief article at Ozy by Pooja Bhatia noting that prosperity in former colonies is leading to the reversal of traditional patterns of post-colonial dominance. The effect is perhaps biggest in the case of Portugal, which is the smallest and poorest of the former imperial powers and has (in Brazil and Angola) larger and richer colonies. Spain, too, is noteworthy: Spanish-speaking America is much more populous than Spain, and has in aggregate a bigger economy.
In recent years, investors from Angola, former colony of Portugal, have bought significant chunks of Portuguese companies. Spanish officials are urging their counterparts in South and Latin America to come invest — never mind the conquest. And an exodus of bright young Portuguese is seeking opportunity abroad — often in erstwhile Portuguese colonies like Brazil, Angola and even East Timor.
It’s a significant reversal from decades past, when former colonies went begging their former masters for investment, aid and trade preferences, while stomaching the brain drain of their best-educated graduates. Now the roles have reversed, at least in some quarters. Some former colonies have become emerging markets, logging fast rates of growth, while the erstwhile imperialists are scrambling to stay afloat in the global recession.
Nowhere has the reversal been as dramatic as in Portugal and Angola. The former colonizer expects its economy will shrink 1.8 percent this year, while Angola, fat on diamonds and oil and Chinese love, grew nearly 12 percent annually from 2002 to 2011.
To be sure, the phenomenon is neither widespread nor particularly thoroughgoing. The Democratic Republic of Congo remains mired in terrible conflict, while its former overlord, Belgium, enjoys relative peace and absolute wealth. And for all the Indians snapping up real estate in the United Kingdom, hundreds of millions of Indians still struggle well below the poverty line. Angola’s riches, meanwhile, are concentrated among a handful of oligarchs, including the daughter of President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who is worth some $3 billion. (She’s got a half-billion-dollar chunk of a Portuguese media company.) Moreover, the country’s relationship with Portugal got testy just last month, with dos Santos complaining that Europeans were casting aspersions on the ethics of Angolan investors.
But nowhere are northern countries’ woes on better display than in the reversal of migration patterns. Migrants tend to vote with their feet. Since widespread decolonization in the mid-1950s, they’ve tended to stream from global south to global north, often to the imperial motherland. After India’s independence from Britain, for instance, Indians tended to immigrate to “Commonwealth” countries, for instance, while Haitians often went to Francophone ones like France, French-speaking Canada or Belgium, and Angolans headed for Portugal.
The flow appears to be reversing — at least in Portugal and perhaps in other places. Since the start of the financial crisis in 2008, young Portuguese have been streaming not only to wealthier European countries but also to former Portuguese colonies like East Timor, Brazil and Angola.