Portuguese migrants seek opportunities in Mozambique

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Fledgling trend of European migration to Africa continues

Maputo, Mozambique (Picture: Andrew Moir / Flickr)

Maputo, Mozambique (Picture: Andrew Moir / Flickr)

Following the recent news that increasing numbers of Spaniards are seeking their futures in Morocco, the UN humanitarian and news analysis service, IRIN points out that the crisis in Europe has also brought the largest influx of Portuguese migrants to Mozambique since colonial times. Portugal has one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe, while Mozambique’s recent resource boom and growing middle class have helped create more opportunities for newcomers.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), while the Mozambican economy grew by 7.5% in 2012, Portugal’s GDP shrank by 3% during the same period. In addition to economic factors, Mozambique’s cultural and linguistic ties with Portugal makes it relatively easy for Portuguese nationals to adjust to life in Mozambique.

The potential for economic growth, boosted in recent years by the exploitation of coal and natural gas and coupled with Mozambique’s recent political and social stability, is turning the country into an attractive destination for foreign investors and immigrants.

In the first nine months of 2012, the Mozambican Foreign ministry received more than 11,800 applications from foreign nationals for work permits, in particular from citizens of South Africa, China and Portugal.

Goncalo Teles Gomes, the Portuguese consul in Maputo, the capital, estimates that 30,000 Portuguese now live in Mozambique, the majority of them in Maputo. The majority of the migrants have high levels of education, but less qualified Portuguese are also arriving and opening shops and restaurants or starting construction firms.

Sociologist Eugénio Brás, from the University of Eduardo Mondlane in Maputo, says the Portuguese migrants bring a number of benefits. “The Portuguese don’t come empty-handed. They come with money to invest and knowledge to use and share,” he said. “Many come to start their own businesses, or to enter into businesses opened by other foreigners; others come to start working in positions that need a certain level of qualification that is not easily found among Mozambicans.”

Goncalo Fernandes is a 31 year-old Portuguese engineer and has lived in the Mozambican capital since 2012, employed by the Portuguese architectural firm Pitagoras. He says he has settled in well, and that there is no shortage of work for a construction engineer. “There is a lot to be done, apartments, offices and other commercial property are shooting up. There is a lot of scope for growth.”

Joao Carlos Simoes and his wife moved to Maputo from Portugal two years ago. They opened a restaurant in Matola Rio, a middle-class suburb 20km outside Maputo’s city centre. Back home, their timber business had already been struggling before the financial crisis hit. When the situation became dire, they decided to try their luck elsewhere. “We chose to move to Mozambique mainly because of the language and the cultural similarities,” Simoes told IRIN.

However, the transition is not always an easy one. “I always say to the ones who want to come that there are opportunities here, but this is not an El Dorado,” said Gomes. “Everybody is talking about the richness of resources, but there are a lot of challenges.”

Portuguese businessman Nuno Pestana has seen increasing numbers of his compatriots arrive in the Mozambican capital. “Many come here expecting too much; much more than the country can offer them,” he said. But he emphasized that “there is still a lot to be done, opportunities to be grasped, but a lot of investment is needed.”

Mozambique is now an expensive country to live in. Raw materials are costly, wages are not that high, but the workers are often poorly qualified and not very productive. Housing is expensive, so is transport. “That does not make it easy to invest in Mozambique,” Pestana adds.

Fernandes says you need three things to invest successfully in Mozambique, capital, time and patience. His employers had to wait three years before they got a return on their investments. “It is a difficult market to break into,” Fernandes said. “It is also difficult to win over the Mozambican authorities. We had to convince them that we have the best of intentions,” he added.

Domingos Machava, an economics student at Eduardo Mondlane University believes there could be a negative response if a group of foreign nationals achieve a higher level of prosperity that the local population. With his studies coming to an end, he regrets that “some foreigners have more opportunities on the labour market than Mozambicans.”

When referring to the wave of immigration from Portugal, critics can be heard speaking of a “new colonization” by Portugal. However, sociologist Eugénio Brás, from the University of Eduardo Mondlane in Maputo, vehemently rejects this interpretation, preferring instead to focus on the positive aspects of recent Portuguese migration to Mozambique.

“They bring with them a new dynamism and plenty of experience. They come from a new Portuguese society, not the Portugal of 200 years ago. It is a society with a new vision, technical expertise and qualifications.” That is why Bras is convinced Mozambique will profit from Portuguese immigration.

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