In 2003, the former Prime Minister of Mozambique, Mário Machungo, gave an enthusiastic speech, due to the promise of the Brazilian President, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, to build an AIDS drug factory in the country.
“It is an eloquent confirmation that cooperation with Brazil will take place between equal partners, without the paternalism or search for hegemony that characterize Mozambique’s relations with developed countries,” he said.
Seven years later, when Lula left the presidency, the factory was not yet ready. Fearing that the Brazilian president could inaugurate something, diplomats suggested that he at least accompany in person the start of the training of professionals who would work there.
This cycle of promise and reality in Brazil-Africa relations permeates the book “Brazil-Africa Relations in the 21st Century: From Ripple to Slowdown and Beyond” (Brazil-Africa Relations in the 21st Century: from growth to deceleration and beyond ”), recently launched (publisher Springer).
The work, published in English, is a collection of articles by different authors, covering various aspects of a relationship as close as it is inconsistent. The texts deal with subjects such as the role of entrepreneurs, trade relations, cooperation in the fields of agriculture and health, military agreements and the role of civil society.
The organizers are Mathias Alencastro, researcher at Cebrap and columnist for Folha, and Pedro Seabra, associate professor at the University Institute of Lisbon. For now, there is only the English edition, which can be purchased through Amazon. A Brazilian version is slated for 2022, with additional chapters on the future of the relationship.
This Tuesday (16), the book will be debated during a virtual seminar organized by the Fernando Henrique Cardoso Foundation (more information below).
The book’s subtitle aptly describes Brazil’s relationship with Africa over the past two decades. First, there was a period of frenzy within the Lula government, with an increase in embassies, colossal infrastructure contracts and cooperation projects, like the Mozambique drug factory.
As the driving force behind this strategy, there was a booming commodities cycle that gave an economic boost to the Brazilian government, in addition to a president with an ambitious strategy to expand the country’s geopolitical horizons.
In the Dilma Rousseff administration, the equation began to reverse, with the economy slowing, Lava Jato putting pressure on companies that have invested in Africa and a president clearly without the same interest as the predecessor in l outdoor arena.
This process intensified under Michel Temer and Jair Bolsonaro, two presidents without too much time or patience for South-South rhetoric.
Two examples cited in the book illustrate this lack of interest: in 2013, Dilma left an African Union event in Ethiopia earlier; five years later, Temer did the same at a meeting of the emerging BRICS bloc in South Africa.
With this change, say the authors, “one of the most visible consequences has been the reorientation of geographic priorities [do Brasil] far from the South and again towards the North, in particular the USA ”.
The period of expansion of the bilateral relationship has left traces of transformation. Perhaps most important of these was the new role of the private sector in the formulation of Brazilian foreign policy, a process which reached its peak under Lula’s government.
“Diplomats note that the private sector began to intervene more consistently in foreign policy decisions in the 2000s, as companies like Vale and Odebrecht increased their foreign investment,” one of the articles explains.
Lula liked to define himself as a “peddler”, accompanying Brazilian companies on his many trips across Africa and giving them all the financial support possible to conclude contracts on the continent, whether with democrats or dictators.
As we know, this expansionism would have serious political consequences for him, with the triggering of Operation Lava Jato.
Perhaps the best example of this model is Angola, which deserves an exclusive chapter in the book.
In the former Portuguese colony, the Brazilian presence was felt above all by the entrepreneur Odebrecht, even more than by the embassy. The company’s relationship with the government actually dates back to construction in the 1980s, when the country was going through a civil war.
In Lula’s government, this participation was anabolized by BNDES, which financed mega-constructions like the Laúca factory. Odebrecht was even approached by the government to help rebuild a state supermarket chain that was on the verge of bankruptcy, even though it never sold a scroll in her life.
Lula, in turn, was used by then Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos as a sort of safety net to extend his 38-year regime. “Angolan political elites invoked Lula, because of his international prestige and his role as a tutor in Brazilian politics, to justify the perpetuation of Dos Santos in power.”
The first decade of the century was also the moment when the image of Brazil suffered its most serious shocks to African public opinion.
Proximity to dictators has taken its toll, sometimes due to decisions close to surrealism, such as the defense that Equatorial Guinea, a former Spanish colony ruled by Teodoro Obiang 42 years ago, would join the CPLP, a community of speaking countries. Portuguese. The reason was the oil deposits discovered on its territory.
At the same time, Brazil’s reputation as a benign presence on the continent, in opposition to European colonialism and China’s predatory predilection, has suffered from the mobilization of civil society.
In Mozambique, as the book shows, a network of NGOs and farmers have organized themselves to torpedo ProSavana, an agribusiness incentive program with the participation of Brazil, in the north of the country. Brazil began to be associated with a kind of “sub-imperialism”.
If the second decade of the century showed a decline in the Brazilian presence, this does not mean the complete withdrawal from the African scene. There is still a considerable stock of work and cooperation projects on the continent.
The coming decades will see Africa continue in the process of demographic and economic growth that began precisely when Lula put the continent on his priority radar, which will inevitably attract the interest of businesses and the Brazilian government.
If it can be a more mature relationship and less prone to cycles of euphoria and failure, we will have learned something.
Fernando Henrique Cardoso Foundation, March 16, at 10:30 am, with the participation of the organizers Mathias Alencastro and Pedro Seabra, in addition to Natalia Dias (CEO of Standard Bank Brasil), opening by Irene Vida Gala (deputy director of the Itamaraty Bureau of representation in SP)) and mediation by Sergio Fausto (director of Fundação FHC) subscriptions on this link.