21 September 2012
Brazil is perhaps the only rising power involved currently in Africa with real cultural affinities with countries south of Sahara. Unlike other powers, it has also been a colony like Angola, Guinea Bissau, Mozambique, and Cape Verde--the so called “Luso-phone countries”. Brazil has been closely linked for centuries to Africa through shipping routes and the slave trade. It is thought to have imported 10 times as many slaves as the United States did before slavery was abolished in 1888. For a stretch in the 19th century, Brazil was the seat of the Portuguese empire, making the capital, Rio de Janeiro, a nerve center for trade with Africa.
Brasilia’s current focus on Africa, however, is much more recent. It is dated from the administration of President Lula (2003-2010), and reflects Brazil’s remarkable economic development and the search for new trade and investment venues–-according to The New York Times, Brazil has displaced Britain as the world’s sixth largest economy. From 2000, sustained economic growth and falling social inequality has — for the first time in decades — followed Brazilian political stability, which was entrenched in the mid-1990s by former president Fernando Hernique Cardoso. Between 2003 and 2008 Brazil enjoyed its best economic performance in more than 25 years, with economic growth averaging 5 percent per annum. Foreign investment reached record levels of $45 billion in 2008 and a favorable trade balance, with exports exceeding $700 billion, is driving Brazil’s export-led growth. Brazil’s former president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, built these inroads into Africa from 2003 to 2010, referring to the “historic debt” Brazil had to Africa in its formation as nation.
Brazil’s presence in Africa is also diplomatic: there are now thirty-six Brazilian embassies in Africa, compared with forty-four American embassies Brazil has a small aid program; from the 1990s onwards, as well as receiving cooperation, Brazil began to provide cooperation at a growing pace, generally directed at Sub-Saharan African countries and Latin American neighbors. Cooperation became a fundamental instrument for Brazilian foreign policy under Foreign Minister Celso Amorim who declared that, “Brazil is not aiming at commercial gain or profit, or any other conditionality”. The cooperation provided is based on values such as the new view of relations between developing countries, inspired in common interest and mutual help. These principles were present in the balance made at the end of 2003 by Ambassador Ruy Nogueira on the occasion of the G-77 High-Level Conference in Marrakesh, Morocco. The exposition of the main Brazilian initiatives highlighted a few areas, without intending to make an exhaustive list. The initiatives reported that among the main beneficiaries of the professional qualification courses done in partnership with the National Industrial Learning Service, Senai were St. Thomas and Prince and Mozambique.
As other rising powers are pouring funds into state coffers, Brazil has chosen a fashionable way; it relies more than other rising powers on one of its valuable assets: soft power. When I opened the TV in one of Luanda’s most fine hotels the Alvalade what I saw was not BBC world, CNN, or Angola’s Public TV, but a Brazilian soap opera. Furthermore, in the streets of Luanda I saw kids wearing Brazilian futbol clubs jerseys of Flamengo and Sao Paulo, but what is on in demand is the jersey of football club Kaburscorp, the Luanda based football club which has acquired the services of former Ballon d’or Laureate Brazilian superstar Rivaldo. Despite the fact that the Brazilian could ensure a big paycheck from a Chinese, Qatari, or Uzbekistani football club (as he did in Buydonkor) his choice was to invest in Angola. Rivaldo has purchased a large piece of land in Luanda and he plans to develop it in the following years. We can easily imagine that no Indian, Chinese, or Russian athlete could do that and target in Angola’s small but growing middle class. In addition, when I talked to an Angolan youngster with a jersey of Brazilian football club Santos, he asked me if knew when Santos was playing that night. You can imagine how weird was for me in a country with few television sets per household to be asked when a Brazilian football club was playing!
But while discussing resentment among Angolans about the Chinese, according to a European official in Luanda with whom I spoke, there is also discrimination against Africans and especially Angolans travelling to Brazil. Angolans are visiting Brazilian universities on exchange programmes, but they are stopped regularly by the police for identity checks. However, despite the fact that patents from Brazil are in relatively low numbers, a rising numbers of Brazilian scientists are being cited globally and especially in Portuguese-speaking universities.
It is more than obvious that Dilma Rousseff's administration is trying to continue the legacy of President Lula’s political initiatives in Africa. Nevertheless, the strong drivers of the Brazilian surge in Africa are Brazilian MNCs in resource extraction, construction, and agriculture emerging beyond the former Portuguese colonies to other parts of Africa, representing a new era of commercial exchanges between Africa and Brazil.
The scenario of Brazilian-African affinity is most possibly a win-win scenario due to the fact that other BRIC members are not in the same level of development as Brazil is right now. India is a democracy but has its own security and borders issues; Russia is an autocracy with more concern over the Central Asia region. Brazil seems to be bringing positive energy in the African continent--with a commitment to human rights and democracy, better than every country in South America at the moment, they do not reflect the old Cuban-style “Africa Brotherhood” solidarity or the Venezuelan instability. Obviously, however, Brazil is not yet a rival to the U.S., China, or Europe in Africa.
In the wake of the trilateral partnership known as IBSA (India, Brazil, and South Africa), Brazil could possibly assume the role of a negotiator and promoter of issues ranging from reform of the United Nations Security Council to the leadership of international financial institutions or nuclear non-proliferation.
Ioannis Mantzikos is a PhD Candidate at King’s College London and an external consultant for Consultancy African intelligence. Prior to this he served as a research Director in the Hellenic African Chamber of Commerce and Development.
Photo: Austin H. Kapfumvuti (cc).