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Portuguese professionals flee to Angola

Former colony in southern Africa offers an escape from southern Europe's economic downturn.

Speedboats sit beneath the backdrop of Angola's capital, Luanda on Jan. 27, 2010. (Rafael Marchante/Reuters)

POMBAL, Portugal — In a country enduring its highest unemployment in decades, the list of jobs on offer looks very tempting: financial director for a leading retail chain; sales manager in consumer electronics; air-conditioning technician; computer systems engineer; communications consultant.

The online employment agency's advertisements for well-paid, skilled workers seem endless. There’s just one catch: the jobs are all a continent away, in Angola.

Angola’s oil-fueled economy is booming, while its former colonial ruler is stuck in the doldrums. As a result, tens of thousands of Portuguese have left to seek work in the southern African nation, heading in the opposite direction of poor African emigrants desperate to find a better life in Europe.

“Salaries are really much higher than they are in Portugal,” said Goncalo Nobre da Veiga, a Portuguese architect who has worked in Angola for the past four years.

“In Portugal, like in much of Europe, it’s becoming hard to find work. Here there are lots of opportunites and you can climb up the career ladder much quicker, because there’s a lack of qualified people,” he said in a telephone interview from the Angolan capital, Luanda.

From 1961 to 2002, Angola was embroiled in almost non-stop warfare. First the struggle against Portuguese rule, then, after independence in 1975, a brutal civil war between rival factions backed by the Cold War superpowers.

When peace finally came the country was in ruins.

Hundreds of thousands had been killed, a once flourishing agricultural sector devastated and many cities flattened. Angola, however, had a trump card that has allowed its economy to rebound. The country rivals Nigeria as sub-Saharan Africa’s largest oil producer and peace, combined with rocketing oil prices, led to a flood of investment to get the crude pumping from its offshore wells.

Angola’s economy grew at an average of over 16 percent over the five years up to 2008, according to the International Monetary Fund. Over the same period, Portugal’s growth rate was 1.1 percent.

Unable to find employment at home, young Portuguese professionals and skilled workers increasingly looked abroad for jobs. At the same time, Portuguese-speaking Angola was in dire need of qualified people to fill posts in civil engineering, telecommunications, retailing, banking and other sectors taking off in the post-war reconstruction boom.