Soap operas give Brazil the edge in Mozambique rush

Tue Dec 18, 2012 9:18am EST
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By Marina Lopes

ILHA DE MOCAMBIQUE, Mozambique (Reuters) - Cackles, moans and gasps stream from the only police station on Ilha de Moçambique, a small island off the Mozambican coast, as five officers cluster around a small, battered television, their eyes glued to the figures arguing on the faded screen.

It is time for "Balacobaco" (slang for "awesome"), the Brazilian television soap opera that has taken the southern African nation by storm, and the officers are so engrossed they barely notice their chief of police behind them.

"Turn that off and get back to work," he barks.

In fish markets, hospital waiting rooms and government offices, Brazilian soap operas have become a Mozambican staple, underpinning a cultural bridge across the South Atlantic that Brazilian companies are rushing to exploit as memories of Mozambique's brutal 17-year post-independence civil war fade.

With the former Portuguese colony thought to be home to some of the world's biggest untapped coal reserves and enough natural gas to power Western Europe for more than a decade, the pickings are rich.

"Mozambique is a natural partner. We speak the same language, have the same origins," said Miguel Peres, the local chief executive of construction firm Odebrecht, which has been in Mozambique since 2006.

"The Portuguese colonized both countries, so we identify with their problems, the same problems we have in Brazil. So we feel comfortable doing business here and we see lots of opportunities."

Mirroring the primacy of "Balacobaco", which regularly attracts twice as many viewers as nightly news bulletins on state television, Brazilian mining giant Vale lays claim to being Mozambique's biggest foreign investor.   Continued...