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Jan 01 0001
Contemporary Brazil-Africa Relations:Bilateral Strategies and Engagement with Other BRICS
By Danilo Marcondes de Souza Neto
While considerable attention is given to Indian and Chinese engagements in Africa, less attention is dedicated to contemplating Brazil’s role in the continent. In dealing with Africa, Brazil benefits from several different identity labels: as a developing, South Atlantic, Lusophone country, and these different labels will be contemplated in the analysis that follows.
I. Brazilian Foreign Policy to Africa under Lula
In his inauguration speech in January 2003, President Lula da Silva (2003-2010) mentioned his interest in strengthening the deep bonds between Brazil and the African continent, in order to help Africa reach its full potential. Brazil’s strategy in Africa under the Lula government can be defined as based on two main fronts, cooperation with South Africa and cooperation with the Lusophone countries.
As do other emerging powers, Brazil identifies that Africa is essential to its pursuit of greater voice and recognition internationally, for example, supporting from Africa to its ambitions to run for elections in international bodies, especially its desire for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. African nations that benefit from Brazil’s development cooperation, have endorsed Brazil’s permanent seat, but lack of a unified African position on reforming the Council has negatively affected the possibility of reform in the near future.
In terms of the engagement, Brazil’s presence is facilitated by the country’s broad representation overseas. Brazil currently has 37 embassies serving Africa, with 17 of these inaugurated or reopened under Lula, only next to major powers like USA, China, France, and Russia, in terms of diplomatic representation in the continent. Brazil is also followed closely by emerging powers that also wish to increase their presence in the continent, India with 27 and Turkey with 31.[①]
In addition, Africa became Brazil’s fourth largest commercial partner, with a bilateral trade increase from four billion in 2000 to 20 billion in 2010. Between 2003 and 2010, 48 African heads of state and 67 African foreign ministers visited Brazil, Lula himself visited 29 African nations in 12 official visits to the continent. Diplomatic exchanges were followed by concrete initiatives to expand Brazil’s presence and the Brazilian National Bank for Social and Economic Development (BNDES) initiated two lines of credit for Brazilian companies to conduct business in Africa.
II. Brazilian Foreign Policy to Africa under Rousseff
In 1 January 2011, Dilma Rousseff took over from Lula as president of Brazil and has kept a lower profile regarding foreign policy and emphasizes the economic dimension of Brazil’s foreign relations.
Rousseff has made her first state visit to the African continent to attend the IBSA Summit in South Africa in October 2011, including visits to Angola and Mozambique. In 2013, President Rousseff is scheduled to visit Africa in late February for the Africa-South America Summit in Equatorial Guinea and in late March, for the BRICS Summit in South Africa.
A new commercial promotion strategy has been drawn under Rousseff in which Brazil is looking to strengthen the commercial promotion capacity of its diplomatic representations, including 12 missions located in Africa.[②] In addition, BNDES has inaugurated a new line of credit for Brazilian companies. The bank will focus on companies that wish to operate in the areas of energy, medicine, banking services, biofuels and agriculture, complementing the three main sectors in which Brazilian companies are already heavily involved in Africa: oil and gas, infra-structure and mining. The bank also wishes to increase the export of Brazilian high-value industrial equipment, such as electrical and agriculture machinery.[③]
However, Brazil’s relations with Africa during the Rousseff’s administration were not reduced to commercial considerations. Since it was occupying a non-permanent seat at the Security Council between 2010 and 2011, Brazil was called to take a position regarding African security problems. Recognizing the importance of protecting civilians under threat, Brazil expressed caution about the possibility of expanding the mandate to include other functions, particularly military intervention, which could bring more harm than good to the situation, with crisis in Libya and the Ivory Coast as the examples.[④] One important Brazilian contribution that might have an impact in Africa is the concept of Responsibility while Protecting, presented by Rousseff in her 2011 speech at the General Assembly.[⑤] However, the concept still needs to be more developed and operational before its application into concrete situations.
III. Advantages and Challenges in Brazil’s African Strategy
Brazil is the only Latin American country capable of developing and maintaining a consistent African policy. However, Brazil’s own location in South America and the importance that Brazilian governments have given to the region since the late 1980s might also set the limits of Brazil’s South-South strategy and further cooperation with Africa. Since the early 1990s, Brazil has decided to pursue a strategy of uniting South America in political, social and economic terms, with Brazil as the regional power. Thus, South America has played a key role in Brazil’s South-South cooperation, which might limit the possibilities of Brazil increasing its presence elsewhere, either in Africa or the Far East.
In terms of the potential to contribute to peace and security in Africa, Brazil has a strong tradition of contributing troops to UN peacekeeping missions in the continent. However, logistical considerations have limited Brazil’s potential to contribute with troop contingents to Africa. Brazil currently has 31 observers in Africa. It’s important to note that there are other areas in which Brazil could initiate a more effective cooperation, especially in increasing existing efforts related to helping address state failure and the strengthening of state institutions, for example, the potential of cooperation with China in Guinea-Bissau. In addition, Brazil is currently a major destination for African refugees with 4401 refugees in the country.[⑥]
Practical challenges also add up to the limitations. Establishing a connection with Africa from Brazil is very difficult. There are limited flights between Brazil and the African continent, with only three direct flights. In addition, there is excessive bureaucracy that increases the time for ships to go between Africa and Brazil, and vice versa, as well as the existence of stereotyped images of the continent in Brazil and of Brazil in Africa.
Returning to political challenges, Brazil’s initiative to increase its commercial space in Africa is part of an effort to offer an alternative to the continuous increase in Indian, Chinese, as well as South Korean, Turkish and Malaysian influence in Africa. While Brazil has used the common Portuguese language as an element to facilitate Brazilian present in Africa, other emerging powers, especially China, has recently started to emphasize soft power strategy in Africa. At the same time that there is competition with other BRICS for markets and resources in Africa, there are also joint cooperative initiatives such as the IBSA Trust Fund managed by the UNDP’s Special Unit for South-South Cooperation.[⑦]
It is also important to take note of some advantages regarding Brazil’s approach to Africa. Brazil is perceived as having a more balanced approach towards the African continent than other emerging powers, involving a perception of mutual partnership and reciprocity and creating a “middle-ground” approach between the Chinese state-led approach and the Indian strategy based on private sector investment. Brazilian authorities have become well aware that Brazil’s relations with the African continent now take place in the context of emerging powers growing interest in the continent.
Brazilian cooperation in general and in Africa in particular faces a high level of expectation, to which Brazilian actors are not always able to meet due to institutional and financial limitations. While Brazil has cultivated diplomatic relations with a broad number of countries, one of the main elements that could improve relations is to concentrate the development cooperation projects in a specific number of countries to guarantee more effectiveness and greater adaptation into local contexts. Trilateral cooperation initiatives involving traditional donors, an instrument that Brazil is more receptive in engaging with than other emerging powers, might also serve Brazil’s interests in improving cooperation.
IV. Conclusion
Two recent episodes reveal the challenges that Brazil will still have to face in Africa as it wishes to expand its presence in the continent. In December 2011, a young Brazilian diplomat died of malaria after returning from a short official mission in Equatorial Guinea. The diplomat’s death received broad coverage in the Brazilian media and in a rare gesture, Brazilian diplomats wrote a letter to the Minister asking for an improvement in the medical assistance and pre-departure orientation provided to diplomats sent to serve in posts located in areas of harsh conditions, such as some countries in Asia and Africa.[⑧] The second episode involves the kidnapping attempt, by pirates of the coast of Tanzania, of a ship serving the Brazilian state oil company (Petrobrás) in October 2011.[⑨] These two episodes provide some examples of what Brazil faces in expanding and deepening its relations with Africa and what will be required from the country from now on as it increases its presence in the continent. A national debate on the involvement in Africa, remains essential in order to create a more balanced and effective engagement with Africa. The debate is important not only in terms of development cooperation, but also economic interest, contributions regarding security cooperation, as well as to define in which occasions Brazil will engage as partner or competitor with other actors in the continent.

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[①] See João Fellet, “Brasil tem 5ª maior presença diplomática na África,” BBC News Brasil, October 17, 2011, br_jf.shtml.
[②] Daniel Rittner, “Governo usará embaixadas em ofensiva commercial,” Valor Econômico, November 15, 2011.
[③] Ricardo Leopoldo, “BNDES vai apoiar negócios com a África,” Estado de São Paulo, November 17, 2011.
[④] Eliane Oliveira e Fernanda Godoy, “Brasil pede negociação na União Africana,” O Globo, April 8, 2011.
[⑤] Conor Foley, “Welcome to Brazil's version of ‘responsibility to protect’,” The Guardian, April 10, 2012.
[⑥] The figures are provided by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Brazil and refer to the year 2011. See: t3/fileadmin/Documentos/portugues/Estatisticas/Dados_sobre_refugio_no_Brasil_-_Abril_2011a.
[⑦] For additional information see:
[⑧] See: -sobre-morte-de-colega.shtml.
[⑨] For further information in Portuguese see: ia-prende-7-piratas-apos-ataque-navio-da-petrobras.html.