Month: January 2012


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The interaction between Brazil and Africa is coming to increasingly closer scrutiny as the continent that was once labelled the ‘dark continent’ has now been labelled the ‘hopeful continent’[1]. Burgeoning African economies are being called ‘Lion economies’ insinuating the potential and interest that the Asian ‘Tiger economies’ raised in the past; Brazil is but one interested party in the continent. However what is the nature of the interaction between Africa and Brazil? And can Africa truly benefit from this growing relationship?

Africa and Brazil are linked by the sad and brutal reality of the Brazilian Slave Trade that started around 1550 and ended in the late 1800s. Over the course of this barbaric affair, during which Africans were treated as nothing but plantation fodder, it is estimated that over 3 million Africans were forcefully migrated into Brazil. There are now over a staggering 190 million black or mixed race blacks in Brazil making up 50.7% of a total population[2]. Despite this significant historical connection, Brazil’s official political and economic relationship with Africa has been anything but steadfast and interested. There has been a blend of distancing and rapprochement by the consecutive Brazilian governments towards Africa. It was mainly under Lula Di Silva’s tenure that Brazilo-African relations were truly brought to focus by the Brazilian government. Indeed, Lula’s administration (2003- 2010), ‘revived Brazil’s interest in Africa and set it on a surer footing, as part of the search to extend Brazil’s global influence’[3].   So serious was Lula’s interest in Africa that, ‘one of his first acts of office was a federal decree that made the study of African history and African and Afro-Brazilian culture mandatory at all levels of Brazil’s national curriculum’.[4] Lula was also outspoken with regard to Africa’s political position in the world seen in 2011 when he stated that, ‘It isn’t possible that the African continent, with 53 countries, has no permanent representation on the Security Council…(The west) is unable to see an Africa that is composed of human beings equal to those on the European continent’ [5]. During his tenure, Lula, spoke of, ‘Brazil’s “historic debt” to the continent stating that, ‘Brazilian society was built on the work, the sweat and the blood of Africans,’ and for that reason, Brazil ‘is in debt to Africa’[6], [7].


Lula’s rhetoric aside, there are very concrete economic connections that have made between Africa and Brazil, especially under his administration.

‘Brazil’s trade with Africa increased between 2000 and 2010 from US$4 billion to US$20 billion’[8]. In terms of FDI, the Brazilian government has been prioritizing FDI in Africa and increased FDI from about US$69 billion in 2001 to US$214 billion in 2009[9].

Source: World Resources Institute

Brazilian companies of significant scale have been moving into Africa, for example:

  • Mining giant Vale is to invest a total of $15-20 billion in Africa within the next five years [10]
  • Infrastructure firm Odebrecht operates in several African countries and in 2009, Africa accounted for $2.427 billion in revenues for the group, or about 10 percent of its earnings[11]
  • Oil company Petrobras plans to invest some $3 billion in Africa from now until 2013[12].
  • By September 2007 Brazil’s National Economic and Social Development Bank (BNDES) had approved 29 projects in Africa worth $742 million. [13]



In addition to these economic ventures, political connections between Brazil and Africa have been burgeoning in recent times. For example, in 2003 the India-Brazil-South Africa Dialogue Forum (IBSA), was created. IBSA is a multilateral initiative which, among other things, has a Fund for Poverty Alleviation, the first initiative of cooperation for development on the basis of a trilateral South-South cooperation. 

Another, somewhat informal but potentially formidable political connection which is linked to IBSA developed in 2003 when Brazil played a key role in the creation of the developing countries’ ‘Group of 21’ (G21). G21 is essentially a collection of developing countries that seek to get more favourable trade deals with the economic powers of the global north and is testament to the fact that, ‘Developing countries have woken up to their negotiating power… and are trying to make the WTO work for the poor despite the best efforts of the EU and US to frustrate them’[14]. Though not formally recognised, such political alliances between Brazil and African nations may prove to be of significant use for both.  In addition to these, Brazil has demonstrated interest in forging ties with ECOWAS, the Economic Commission of West African States and welcomed several African nations into what used to be the exclusively South American economic and political club, Mercosur’ [15].

All of these political and economic bonds that are being forged between Africa and Brazil speak to the recent focus Brazil has had for Africa. However, it is important to note that most of these initiatives were taken under Lula’s administration which has since been replaced. That said, it appears as though Lula’s legacy with Africa is going to be respected by the new Rousseff administration. Indeed, ‘Under the leadership of President Lula da Silva, ties between Brazil and Africa deepened and under the new Brazilian President, Dilma Rousseff, these ties are continuing to strengthen’.[16] This interest is being echoed by African governments who, ‘have continued to engage and deepen partnership with Brazil’[17].


Another interesting angle through which one can analyse Brazilo-African relationship is through development assistance. It is important to note that Brazil is not a loud development partner that has high profile organisations and programs in the tradition of EuroAmerican development assistance. Rather, ‘Without attracting much attention, Brazil is fast becoming one of the world’s biggest providers of help to poor countries’[18]. But how exactly does Brazil implement its development assistance?

Technical cooperation

So far, ‘Brazilian assistance programs have focused on technical cooperation in developing countries’[19]. Indeed, ‘Countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have requested cooperation from Brazil in five key areas: tropical agriculture, tropical medicine, vocational training (to support the industrial sector), energy, and social protection’[20]. These areas probably reflect the relevance of Brazilian expertise for Africa since in reality, ‘Brazil is simultaneously a developed country and a developing country, a donor and a recipient of development aid’[21]. Therefore there are areas of similarity where Brazil can understand where Africa is, what the challenges are and possible areas of strategic collaboration. Indeed, ‘Brazil’s development projects are mainly based on concepts that have already been implemented at home’ and therefore one can argue Brazil has practical experience that Africa can draw on[22].

Financial interventions: concessional loans, debt relief

In terms of the financial instruments that Brazil uses in it development assistance arsenal it, ‘provides concessional loans and debt relief to developing countries’ with, ‘Brazilian debt relief to the continent exceeding US$1 billion[23], [24]. Although there is not much published on concessional loans, Brazil has given significant debt relief packages to some African nations. For example, ‘under the HIPC initiative, Brazil forgave $369 million of Mozambique’s debt as well as smaller amounts owed by Mauritania and Guinea-Bissau’[25].  Brazil has also unofficially waived $240 million of Tanzania’s debt[26]. In addition to these, Brazil ‘renegotiated several African nations’ debt during the Lula administrations…This financial action exceeded US$1 billion and accounted for almost 75 percent of the total debt renegotiated by the Lula administrations’[27] .

Such steps in development assistance seem to be practical, targeted and relevant to Africa. They are bound to encourage African governments to draw closer to Brazil as they seem to indicate that Brazil is genuinely interested in propelling the continent’s growth.


However, although there is a growing interest in the Brazilo-African connection, there are complexities that inform this interaction as well, some less positively than others.

Race: The Afro-Brazilian experience

It is well documented that the attitude towards blacks in Brazil leaves a lot to be desired, ‘Economic and educational disadvantages, combined with the system of alliances, bargaining, and patronage that (has) recruited the political and diplomatic elites, marginalized Brazilians of African descent and deprived them of the benefits of modernity and progress. Such obstacles needed to be removed, rather than deepened’[28]. Since most of Africa is black, one wonders the extent to which this problematic aspect of Brazilian culture will inform the manner through which Brazil interacts with Africa. Bear in mind that, some in Brazil already view investment in Africa as, ‘wasting money in a continent without future’ and view Africa as a colossal failure that cannot be salvaged[29]. Will such sentiment on the domestic front affect the extent to which the Brazilian government can continue to positively engage with Africa?

History of anti-imperialist theoretical development

On the other hand, one can argue that Brazil is genuine in its action to draw closer to Africa; indeed it can be seen to have feelings of solidarity with Africa. Infact, ‘Brazilian diplomats claim that its development aid has not been linked to the country’s political and commercial interests, but guided by solidarity’[30]. Brazil has a rich history of anti-colonial and anti-imperialistic theorists such as Paulo Freire, as well as those who analysed race and class in Brazil such as Clovis Moura, Florestan Fernandes and Octávio Ianni. These are topics and issues that Africa itself resonates with as seen in the works of individuals such as Patrice Lumumba, Kwame Nkrumah, Ngugi Wa’Thiongo and Thomas Sankara. So it can be argued that there are solid grounds for a genuine feelings of solidarity between the Brazil and Africa as they have both gone through and overcome colonialism and continue to address the social problems and challenges that it created.


Anti-Africa arguments

Given this renewed interest, many ask what the true intentions driving Brazil’s renewed interest in Africa are. Some argue that Brazil’s emerging role as a medium-sized power is the reason why it has ‘begun rejuvenating the nation’s relations with the African continent’[31].  Brazil sees Africa as a power that can enhance its global positioning as a force to be reckoned with.

Others argue that economics drives this renewal and that Brazil is engaged in, ‘soft imperialism’ in that the, ‘Brazilian business community wants to make profit where it is possible, especially in the new markets’[32]. Indeed some argue that, ‘A key aim of Brazilian foreign policy under Lula…has been to reduce Brazilian vulnerability on the international stage’ by engaging in a more ‘muscular foreign policy’ to pursue its interests’[33]. Therefore, there is no real desire to help Africa develop economically but rather it is the capitalistic ambition driving Brazil’s renewed interaction with Africa. It can be argued that, ‘An economic goal of Brazilian foreign policy is the development of new export markets to create employment within the country (Brazil) in order to reduce poverty’[34]. After all, one can observe that some of the patterns of trade between Africa and Brazil echo that between Euro-America and Africa; a preponderance of Africa’s export of raw materials. Note, ‘More than 80 percent of Brazil’s imports from the African continent are mineral products and crude materials (oil and gas)[35]. This may indicate that Brazil is note interested in driving any structural economic change in either African trade patterns nor in Africa’s position in the global economic order. It seems content with the status-quo that keeps Africa at the bottom of the economic pile as the supplier of raw materials. In addition, most of Brazil’s economic engagement is with a handful of natural resource-rich African nations, ‘Brazil’s major trading partners in Africa are Nigeria (32 percent), Angola (16 percent), Algeria (12percent), South Africa (10 percent), and Libya (7 percent). Together these countries make up 77 percent of its total trade with the continent’[36]. Therefore, it can be argued that Africa as whole is truly benefiting from this trade.

Another concern with Brazil’s interaction with Africa is its biofuel agenda. Indeed, Brazil’s push for biofuel has registered concern with some whom argue that in a continent, ‘That suffers persistent hunger, using millions of hectares of agricultural land to grow crops to power European cars is immoral and perverse’ [37]. The core concern here is that Brazil seems to advocating for the use of arable land for generating renewable fuel sources thereby risking a loss of much needed arable land and a likely hike in food prices. This is surely set to worsen Africa’s already fragile food (in)security position. Further, targeting Africa for biofuel production makes Brazil a mere addition to one of the many foreign parties engaged in the ongoing scuffle for African land[38].


Pro-Africa argument

However, there is another side to this equation because, as explored earlier, Africa can draw direct relevance from Brazil to Africa not only because Brazil has a tropical climate like Africa, but Brazil is also partly a developing country which, like Africa, has areas with dire poverty and a growing divide between rich and poor. Brazil’s technical know-how can thus arguably be effectively used in Africa in areas such as tropical agriculture, medicine, renewable energy, social protection and vocational training. Lessons drawn from Brazil may well be more relevant than those drawn from EuroAmerica.

Secondly, as stated, Brazil has demonstrated support for Africa’s economic growth through its action on trade and debt. Further, ‘Brazil is being utilized by African governments to counter the European infrastructural economic domination’[39]. Brazil gives Africans an alternative social and economic development partner to the EuroAmerican parties which have dominated Africa for so long.


Regardless of what position one takes, there is an interesting tension in this relationship. Firstly, on one hand, the motivation for Brazil’s interaction with Africa can be seen to be pure self-interest with Brazil pursuing Africa for the economic and political benefits it will gain due to this relationship. At the same time, there are genuine common points of agreement and solidarity between Africa and Brazil, especially on economic issues and the attitude the EuroAmerica has towards trade and debt with regard to poor countries. So there is pure self-interest as well as genuine solidarity informing Brazil’s continued pursuit of relations with Africa. It will be interesting to see how these opposing motivations will inform Brazil’s engagement with Africa.

Secondly, further interwoven into this conundrum, is the fact that on one hand Brazil is pro-EuroAmerican as it develops and seeks to expand interaction with this bloc in order to develop economically, using the capitalist model. It thus seeks to draw from the experience and expertise EuroAmerica has in this field. The concurrent reality is that Brazil, as mentioned earlier, has stood and will likely continue to stand in solidarity with Africa in what can be seen as Africa’s ‘anti-EuroAmerican’ positions on trade and debt. Due to asymmetry in the global capitalistic system, African nations openly condemn the trade policies and economic behaviour that EuroAmerica has with and towards them. Therefore, on one hand Brazil in pro-EuroAmerican and seeks to build ties with them for its economic benefit and on the other hand it is anti-EuroAmerican as it seeks to address the global economic asymmetry. Ergo, there is a perplexing internal contradiction Brazil has with regard to EuroAmerica of which it needs to be aware. This contradiction is one that African nations ought to be aware of and use it inform their interaction with Brazil such that they benefit from it.


The bottom line question is: what can Africa do to ensure it benefits from Brazil’s interest in Africa?

Short term

In the short term, Africa can do the following:

  • Insist that locals are hired for Brazilian projects in Africa. This will increase the likelihood of a transfer of skills and wealth on a basic level at the very least.
  • Make use of the conundrum described above and build solidarity with Brazil and use its bargaining power to ensure that where possible, Brazil supports Africa’s position particularly in the context of global interactions on trade and debt.
  • Continue to use Brazil’s development assistance and draw on Brazil’s experience to the fullest extent possible with regard to developing and strengthening vocational educational institutions in Africa, improving agriculture, developing social protection programs and the development of renewable energy options. Africa should take advantage of the huge skills transfer possibilities these opportunities present.

Long term

In the long term, Africa should:

  • Build positive cultural ties with Brazil particularly in light of the significant Afro-Brazilian population. In this way Africa can begin to exert its own influence in Brazil.
  • Continue to push for and consolidate Brazil as an ally to Africa with regard to getting fairer trade terms in global trade discussions
  • Use Brazil’s technical cooperation activities to build a manufacturing base for value addition in Africa
  • Support Brazil in building South-South cooperation so that many African nations can benefit from their knowledge and expertise as well
  • Learn from how Brazil works in some African countries and implement relevant and successful elements to other African countries. In this light, encourage exchange-tours between African countries on activities done in conjunction with Brazil.
  • Encourage the development of dialogue between Africa-wide institutions such as the African Union and the African Development Bank and Brazil.

[1] Economist, The (2011), ‘The hopeful continent: Africa rising’,

[2] 2011, Góes, Paul, ‘Brazil: Census “Reveals” Majority of Population is Black or Mixed Race’,

[3] World Bank (2011), Bridging the Atlantic-  Brazil and Sub-Saharan Africa: South–South Partnering for Growth ,

[4] Pham, Peter (2010), ‘Brazil Expanding Links in Africa: Lula’s Positive Legacy’,

[5] Karpova, Lisa (trans.) (2011), ‘Lula criticizes UN, West at African Union summit,

[6] The African Development Bank Group (2011), ‘Brazil’s Economic Engagement with Africa’ Africa Economic Brief (Volume 2, Issue 5)

[7] Harsch, Ernest (2004), ‘Brazil repaying its ‘debt’ to Africa’

[8] The African Development Bank Group (2011), ‘Brazil’s Economic Engagement with Africa’ Africa Economic Brief (Volume 2, Issue 5)

[9] World Bank (2011), Bridging the Atlantic-  Brazil and Sub-Saharan Africa: South–South Partnering for Growth ,

[10] Lewis, David (2011), ‘In Africa, Brazil takes a different track’, Reuters

[11] Lewis, David (2011), ‘In Africa, Brazil takes a different track’, Reuters

[12] Biofuels Digest (2010), ‘ Brazil, Petrobas spreading bioenergy tentacles across Africa’

[13]Seibert, Gerhard (2011), ‘Brazil in Africa: Ambitions and Achievements of an Emerging Regional Power in the Political and Economic Sector’

[14] The Guardian (2003), ‘G21 alliance of the poor fights subsidies deal’

[15] ECOWAS Press Release (2010). ‘Ecowas, Brazil Agree New Initiatives To Bolster Their Collaboration’,

[16] World Bank (2011), Bridging the Atlantic-  Brazil and Sub-Saharan Africa: South–South Partnering for Growth ,

[17] Ibid

[18] Economist, The, ‘Speak softly and carry a blank cheque’,

[19] Yonemura, Akemi(2010), ‘A Brave New World of ‘Emerging’, ‘Non-DAC’ Donors and their Differences from Traditional Donors’,

[20] World Bank (2011), Bridging the Atlantic-  Brazil and Sub-Saharan Africa: South–South Partnering for Growth ,

[21] Seibert, Gerhard (2011), ‘Brazil in Africa: Ambitions and Achievements of an Emerging Regional Power in the Political and Economic Sector’,

[22] Seibert, Gerhard (2011), ‘Brazil in Africa: Ambitions and Achievements of an Emerging Regional Power in the Political and Economic Sector’,

[23] The African Development Bank Group (2011), ‘Brazil’s Economic Engagement with Africa’ Africa Economic Brief (Volume 2, Issue 5)

[24] [24] World Bank (2011), Bridging the Atlantic-  Brazil and Sub-Saharan Africa: South–South Partnering for Growth ,

[25] ONE (2010), ‘The Data Report’,

[26] Embassy of Dar Es Salaam (Tanzania) (2010) ‘Exports Key To Tanzania’s Debt Sustainability’

[27] World Bank (2011), Bridging the Atlantic-  Brazil and Sub-Saharan Africa: South–South Partnering for Growth ,

[28] World Bank (2011), Bridging the Atlantic-  Brazil and Sub-Saharan Africa: South–South Partnering for Growth ,

[29] Visentini, Paulo Fagundes (2009), ‘Prestige diplomacy, southern solidarity or “soft imperialism”?Lula’s Brazil-Africa relations (2003 onwards)’

[30] Seibert, Gerhard (2011), ‘Brazil in Africa: Ambitions and Achievements of an Emerging Regional Power in the Political and Economic Sector’,

[31] Doelling , Rachel (2008), ‘Brazil’s Contemporary Foreign Policy towards Africa’, Journal Of International Relations (Vol. 10)

[32] Visentini, Paulo Fagundes (2009), ‘Prestige diplomacy, southern solidarity or “soft imperialism”?Lula’s Brazil-Africa relations (2003 onwards)’

[33] Alden, Christoper (2011), ‘Emerging Powers and Africa’,

[34] Seibert, Gerhard (2011), ‘Brazil in Africa: Ambitions and Achievements of an Emerging Regional Power in the Political and Economic Sector’,

[35] The African Development Bank Group (2011), ‘Brazil’s Economic Engagement with Africa’ Africa Economic Brief (Volume 2, Issue 5),

[36] The African Development Bank Group (2011), ‘Brazil’s Economic Engagement with Africa’ Africa Economic Brief (Volume 2, Issue 5),

[37] BusinessWeek (2010), ‘Critics Slam EU-Brazil African Biofuel Plan’

[38] Paiva , Marcelo and Tsegay Wolde-Georgis (2010) ‘GUEST Editorial: “Brazil-Africa ‘Biofuels Diplomacy’: South-South Relations on the Rise.”’