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Portugal’s Contemporary Relations with Africa: A Limited Shelter?

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Small States and Big Powers

Part of the book series: The World of Small States ((WSS,volume 10))

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This chapter examines the importance of Africa for Portuguese foreign policy from a shelter theory perspective. While providing a broad historical contextualisation, it focuses on the twenty-first century and on Portugal’s relations with Angola. We argue that Angola has only been a limited shelter to Portugal, with the latter representing a clearer source of support for its former colony. Ultimately, Africa is a domain where Portugal has perceived itself as less small, mainly due to its long and rich history of external engagement. Simultaneously, Angola has so far remained too weak to be a comprehensive shelter, especially in economic and political terms. Nevertheless, it is still significant that an ex-colonial power turned to one of its former African colonies to the extent that Portugal did during the recent Eurozone crisis. Moreover, Angola’s relevance for Portugal becomes more significant when considered in connection with the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries or the European Union, two key pillars of Portuguese foreign policy. These results provide a new, up-to-date and nuanced interpretation of Portugal’s contemporary relations in Africa, one which is also theoretically-informed and evidence-based, contributing to Portuguese studies and to the broader literature on small states.

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  1. 1.

    See, for example, Costa et al. (2014), Newitt (2009).

  2. 2.

    Oliveira (2016).

  3. 3.

    Oliveira (2017).

  4. 4.

    Cravo (2012), Teixeira (2003).

  5. 5.

    Carvalho (2018), Raimundo (2019a).

  6. 6.

    Raimundo (2013a, 2019a).

  7. 7.

    See, for example, Cravo (2012).

  8. 8.

    See Raimundo (2019b, pp. 16–17).

  9. 9.

    Thorhallsson (2018), Thorhallsson and Steinsson (2019).

  10. 10.

    Ball (2017), Soares de Oliveira (2015).

  11. 11.

    See Thorhallsson and Steinsson (2019, p. 24).

  12. 12.

    See, for instance, Telo (1996).

  13. 13.

    See Cravo (2012), Sá (2015), Teixeira (2003).

  14. 14.

    For an overview of relations see, for example, Seabra (2019).

  15. 15.

    See, for instance, MacQueen (1997, 2003a), Reis (2019), Reis and Oliveira (2018), Venâncio and Chan (1996).

  16. 16.

    Venâncio and McMillan (1993).

  17. 17.

    Neves (1996), Raimundo (2020).

  18. 18.

    Seabra and Gorjão (2011).

  19. 19.

    Seabra (2011), Seabra and Abdenur (2018).

  20. 20.

    Carvalho (2018, pp. 153–157), Hewitt et al. (2017), Santos (2003).

  21. 21.

    MacQueen (2003b), Tavares and Bernardino (2011).

  22. 22.

    Raimundo (2020), Robinson (2015), Vines (2012).

  23. 23.

    For instance, in 2013 Angola agreed to raise its contribution for the CPLP Secretariat (up to the level of Portugal’s own contribution), even if its actual payments have remained inconsistent. See Seabra (2019, p. 84).

  24. 24.

    These efforts successfully led to the signature of the 2012 ‘EU-Angola Joint Way Forward’ cooperation agreement.

  25. 25.

    Reuters: “Portugal PM: Angolan capital welcome in privatisations”, 17.11.2011. Accessed 4 July 2023.

  26. 26.

    Angop: “Governante luso defende agenda estratégica entre Angola, Brasil e Portugal”, 17.11.2011. Accessed 4 July 2023.

  27. 27.

    The ‘strategic partnership’ process was suspended in 2013 due to Portuguese judicial investigations on corruption and money laundering involving members of the Angolan elite. Later, the bilateral relationship was complicated by other diplomatic ‘irritants’ that were only overcome around 2018 through a series of reciprocal high-level visits and new agreements.

  28. 28.

    Portugal had already received similar support for its 1997–1998 temporary Security Council seat. See Seabra (2019, pp. 86–87).

  29. 29.

    See Cravinho (2010, p. 29).

  30. 30.

    See, for instance, Seabra and Gorjão (2011, p. 11), Seabra (2019, p. 85).

  31. 31.

    See Thorhallsson and Steinsson (2019, p. 25).

  32. 32.

    Ferreira (2005).

  33. 33.

    Telo (2008, p. 237).

  34. 34.

    See Mah (2019).

  35. 35.

    For instance, in 2016 Africa was the second regional destination for Portuguese exports (around 8% of total), but far behind Europe (around 80% of total). See Mah (2019, p. 126).

  36. 36.

    Ferreira (2002).

  37. 37.

    Soares de Oliveira (2005, pp. 61–62), Vines (2012, p. 374).

  38. 38.

    Ferreira (2002).

  39. 39.

    Between 1975 and 1991 Portugal was on the OECD list of developing countries.

  40. 40.

    See Raimundo (2013b).

  41. 41.

    For example, in 1995 Lusophone Africa only represented 2.7% of Portugal’s total exports.

  42. 42.

    Hewitt et al. (2017, pp. 300–304).

  43. 43.

    See, for example, Sousa and Gaspar (2015).

  44. 44.

    In order to cope with its financial crisis, in May 2011 Portugal signed a 78 billion euros Economic Adjustment Programme with the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that lasted until June 2014.

  45. 45.

    Governo de Portugal (2011), Programa do XIX Governo Constitucional, p. 107. All quotations in this article originating from non-English sources are the author’s own translation.

  46. 46.

    BBC: “Angola’s Eduardo dos Santos offers help to Portugal”, 18.11.2011. Accessed 4 July 2023.

  47. 47.

    Lusa: “Passos Coelho espera ‘abertura’ relativamente a nova pauta aduaneira a adoptar por Luanda”. In Público, 17.11.2011. Accessed 4 July 2023.

  48. 48.


  49. 49.

    In 2015, Angola was replaced by the USA as Portugal’s main market outside the EU and by 2019 it was again occupying the ninth position as the main destination for Portuguese exports. Source: AICEP Portugal Global, Angola - Ficha de Mercado (2009, 2014, 2015).

  50. 50.

    Luís Villalobos, Mais de 5000 empresas dependem a 100% de Angola para exportar, Público, 22.06.2015. Accessed 4 July 2023.

  51. 51.

    Raphael Minder: “Portugal Turns to Former Colony for Growth”. In New York Times, 13.07.2010.

  52. 52.

    Público: “Remessas dos portugueses a trabalhar nos PALOP subiram 13.6% para 316 milhões”, 24.03.2014. Accessed 4 July 2023.

  53. 53.

    AICEP Portugal Global, Angola - Ficha de Mercado (2009, 2014).

  54. 54.


  55. 55.

    See, for instance, Costa et al. (2015).

  56. 56.

    Norimitsu Onishi: “Portugal Dominated Angola for Centuries. Now the Roles Are Reversed”. In New York Times, 22.08.2017, Accessed 4 July 2023.

  57. 57.

    Luís Villalobos: “Angola já pagou 176 milhões de euros de dívidas a empresas portuguesas”. In Público, 7.03.2019, Accessed 4 July 2023.

  58. 58.

    By December 2021, Portugal had already sent more than 1.8 million vaccine doses to Angola.

  59. 59.

    See Thorhallsson and Steinsson (2019, p. 25).

  60. 60.

    See, for instance, Alexandre (2003), Pinto and Bandeira Jerónimo (2015).

  61. 61.

    The number of white inhabitants in Angola went from 40,000 in 1940 to 173,000 in 1960. See Alexandre (2003, p. 76).

  62. 62.

    Castelo (2011).

  63. 63.

    Pinto and Teixeira (2002).

  64. 64.

    Teixeira (2003, pp. 113–118).

  65. 65.

    See MacQueen (2003a), Pinto and Bandeira Jerónimo (2015, p. 110), Reis and Oliveira (2018).

  66. 66.

    Reis and Oliveira (2018, pp. 633, 638).

  67. 67.

    Pinto and Bandeira Jerónimo (2015, p. 111).

  68. 68.

    In 2010, there were around 150,000 to 200,000 Africans living in Portugal, but their visibility was limited (except in domains such as sports or popular culture) and they suffered from social exclusion, thus exposing the limits of Lusotropicalism. See Eaton (2003), Buettner (2016), Vines (2012, p. 380).

  69. 69.

    See, for instance, Carvalho (2019).

  70. 70.

    See Vines (2012), Raimundo (2014, 2020).

  71. 71.

    Sá (2015, p. 58), Zúquete (2013, p. 213).

  72. 72.

    See Ashby (2017), Zúquete (2013, p. 222), Reis and Oliveira (2018, pp. 647–648).

  73. 73.

    Buettner (2016, pp. 489–490).

  74. 74.

    See Figueiras (2021).

  75. 75.

    See Raimundo et al. (2021).


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The author would like to thank Pedro Seabra who commented on an earlier draft of this chapter. This work was supported by the Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT) under Grant UIDB/CPO/00758/2020 and Grant SFRH/BPD/99579/2014.

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Raimundo, A. (2023). Portugal’s Contemporary Relations with Africa: A Limited Shelter?. In: Cunha, A., Thorhallsson, B. (eds) Small States and Big Powers. The World of Small States, vol 10. Springer, Cham.

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