On Strengthening Ties between Brazil and Africa

Brazil’s ties to Africa obviously date all the way back to the rise of the African slave trade in the 16th century; ever since then, Brazil and the African continent have been connected culturally, and Brazil has often celebrated those connections in its own public festivals. However, in the 20th century, those connections also strengthened along political lines, as the military dictatorship reached out to African nations, appealing to the shared cultural and economic interests of Brazil and Africa. And in the early-2000s, Brazil further attempted to strengthen its connection to African countries via diplomatic and economic ties, including Brazil representing not just itself but other African countries in challenging unfair cotton subsidies in the US before the World Trade Organization. Thus, in the last sixty years, Brazil has made a not-insignificant push to strengthen not just its historical connections but also its diplomatic and economic ties to Africa, a process that has only seen further acceleration in the last decade as  Brazil diversified its global trading partnerships, as I mentioned yesterday.

Paulo Rogério has a piece up at Americas Quarterly that further looks at the current dynamics of Brazil’s relations with African countries. Rogério does a great job succinctly summarizing both the accomplishments and the ongoing challenges of Brazil’s efforts:

Under the presidency of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2010) 17 new diplomatic posts were opened, making Brazil the Latin American country with the largest number of embassies on African soil—at 37 posts. Brazil’s budding relationship with Africa demonstrates how Brazil is growing and diversifying its commercial partnerships, which helped Brazil largely weather the economic crisis of 2008. Moreover, the collaboration is part of a Brazilian strategy of consolidating itself as a leader in the South Atlantic and seeking its coveted permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

However, despite the remarkable efforts of the Brazilian government to consolidate its leadership and influence in Africa, we can see is that there are still many challenges. Other emerging countries like China and India have invested far more in Africa. For example, the new $200 million African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa was donated and built by the Chinese and is a symbol of this new era of African politics, where Western influence has been increasingly reduced and China increasingly magnified. Plus, one-fifth of all petroleum used in India comes from Africa. India’s trade with Africa doubled in the last four years, from $24.98 billion in 2006-07, to $52.81 billion in 2010-11, per Indian government figures.

That’s not to say Brazil is too late. As the article points out, the failures of India and China to treat local African workers fairly or to respect human rights provides a possible opening for Brazilian companies to make headway in the world’s second-largest continent. As Rogério says, Brazil

has a renewed opportunity in this new century to promote an open dialogue for the development and the African renaissance and strengthening the cultural links that unite the historically African peoples on both sides of the Atlantic. These relationships should be based not only on commercial terms, but also in technology transfer and the empowerment of African institutions.

As Brazil’s recent defense agreement with Angola and the recent creation of a university designed to stimulate and aid intellectual and academic exchange between Brazil and Africa demonstrate,  Brazil seems cognizant of the ways in which it should be a full partner rather than strictly an economic one, and it is acting on those opportunities to further strengthen its ties to Africa.

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About Colin M. Snider

I have a Ph.D. in history, specializing in Latin American History and Comparative Indigenous History. My dissertation focused on Brazil. Beyond Latin America generally, I'm particularly interested in class identities, military politics, human rights, labor, education, music, and nation. I can be found on Twitter at @ColinMSnider.
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