Portuguese find the good life in Mozambique

  • 17 February 2012
  • From the section Africa
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A beach in Mozambique

Tropical beaches. Grilled prawns. Fine coffee. And an economy growing by almost 8% a year.

Who wouldn't be tempted by Mozambique?

"Here we can have a new life - a good life," says 32-year-old Marcio Charata. And he is not talking about a few weeks' holiday in the sun.

In his grey suit and tie, Mr Charata is one of a growing stream of unemployed Portuguese, fleeing the economic storms sweeping Europe and heading to their country's former colonies - Mozambique, Angola and Brazil - in search of jobs and opportunities.

"Here is the opposite of Portugal - each day you see the economy of Mozambique is growing," says Mr Charata.

"When you open the newspaper you see hundreds of millions of dollars are to be invested.

"So it's a great atmosphere to be here and I'll say a safe gamble to come here to work," he says, eating lunch at an outdoor cafe in Maputo, surrounded by other young Portuguese.

"Of course it is quite ironic for Portuguese people coming here. Portugal as a colonialist country in Africa - we did a lot of mistakes and people my age are not proud of that.

"But I think our mentality is very, very different. We are not here to conquer a country," he says.

'Best and brightest'

After 18 months on the dole in Portugal, Mr Charata is now a financial director at a large Mozambique media conglomerate, earning "a similar" salary to what he could have expected in Lisbon.

Marcio Charata (R) with colleagues
Marcio Charata (R) earns a similar salary to one when he could expect in Lisbon

He has no plans to return home: "In Portugal your effort doesn't matter. Unless you have a well-connected father there are no jobs in private companies."

But the exodus of skilled workers - 120,000 left Portugal in the past year alone, actively encouraged by their debt-ridden government - has attracted criticism.

"It's very distressing to see that Europe cannot make the right decisions to overcome the crisis and is again forcing the people of Portugal to emigrate," says Ana-Maria Gomez, a socialist member of the European Parliament.

"Portugal… is exporting the best, the ones that we need, our scientists, our teachers, our engineers - the best and the brightest that Portugal and Europe really need.

"It's a tremendous impoverishment to the country."

Looking out across the blue ocean in front of the Portuguese embassy in Maputo, Ambassador Mario Godinho de Matos takes a more sanguine view, pointing out that the Portuguese have always been explorers.

"The world has really changed. We are facing many challenges in our country. We must be realistic and try to adapt," he says.

"This is a country of big opportunities for young Portuguese people - mostly very young with very high degree of education.

"It's an opportunity for them to change their lives."

'Stealing jobs'

With Chinese and Brazilian mining firms already queuing up to do business in Mozambique, the government here has imposed limits on the number of foreigners each company can hire, and there are plenty of stories of disillusioned Portuguese heading home without finding work.

There are also hints of a backlash from the Mozambique public, who have already taken to the streets recently to protest against rising prices and the country's growing wealth gap, and who now worry about a creeping re-colonialisation.

"They've been stealing jobs," says Carlos Litulo, a local photographer and entrepreneur.

"How can you bring someone from Portugal when you have qualified accountants here?

We have good universities - so they graduate people but when they go to these companies they don't get jobs."

He warns of trouble "in the coming years".

Much will depend on how Mozambique's government manages these boom years - whether they can spread the wealth widely enough and ensure that a soaring GDP translates into jobs for locals.

Daniel David runs the SOICO, the media conglomerate which recently hired Mr Charata.

He is also the chairman of the Mozambique Portugal Chamber of Commerce.

While some of his colleagues "laugh and joke" at the sight of their former colonial masters struggling, he sees this as "a learning process".

"What can we learn from this situation in Europe? What can we do so that in the future it does not happen to us.

"We must export, we must expose ourselves to good governance and accountability in order not to have the same problems that Europe is having now."

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