The Guardian Weekly‘s Claire Gatinois reports on the controversies surrounding Angolan investment in former colonizer Portugal. Portugal, in a pronounced economic slump even before the global economic slowdown in 2008, is increasingly dependent on oil-rich Angola, whether as a destination for Portuguese migrants or as a source of investment. Many Portuguese seem skeptical of this, whether because of skepticism about the good sense in cozying up to the Angolan kleptocracy or because of resentments dating from the colonial era.
There was no doubt about the firm handshake, but the smile looked a bit forced. The date was 17 November 2011, the place Luanda. Pedro Passos Coelho, the Portuguese premier, had just completed talks with the president of Angola, José Eduardo dos Santos, sealing an agreement that was both a boon for Portugal and deeply humiliating.
Six months earlier, Portugal, verging on bankruptcy, received a €78bn ($100bn) bailout from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. In exchange Lisbon agreed to radical austerity measures, leaving the population poorer and sapping the welfare state. In a curious reversal of fortunes, the former colonial power was in poor shape, but its ex-colony, finally at peace, was awash with oil dollars.
Angola was a Portuguese colony for more than 400 years. It gained its independence in 1975 after a long struggle, but a devastating civil war ensued, only ending in 2002. Dos Santos has been in power since 1979 and the country now enjoys growth rates of between 5% and 15%. Portugal, heavily in debt and struggling to climb out of recession, finally exited its bailout last month.
[. . .] “Angola is looking for recognition and makes it very clear where the money is, sometimes to the point of humiliation,” says French historian Yves Léonard. In February, when the cash-strapped government in Lisbon raised the possibility of selling 85 Miró paintings, an Angolan millionaire, Rui Costa Reis, offered to buy them. Well-off Angolan families are now the only people who can afford to shop on the capital’s upmarket Avenida da Liberdade. They are investing in luxury apartments at Cascais, a fashionable seaside resort, and buying up companies hastily privatised by the authorities. They – and the Chinese – are the prime beneficiaries of the “golden visas” that the government has promised to anyone investing €500,000 ($650,000) in the country.
In a detailed survey, O Poder Angolano em Portugal (Angolan power in Portugal), Ceslo Filipe, the deputy head of business magazine Jornal de Negócios, has charted the extent of Angolan assets in Portugal. According to his calculations Angola has invested between €10bn and €15bn, with a wide range of interests: in the media (Impresa), energy (Galp), banking (Banco Comercial Português, Banco Português de Investimento), building and agrifood. Dos Santos and his entourage have played a leading role in these investments, according to Filipe. Meanwhile, the president’s son, José Filomeno de Sousa dos Santos, now heads Fundo Soberano de Angola, controlling assets worth about $15bn.