Brazil’s President Lula prepares to tour Africa and resume South-South Cooperation

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After visiting Argentina, China, Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom, the United States and Uruguay, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva plans to relaunch the South-South Cooperation policy he exercised during his first two terms in office. Although the list of countries to be visited is still being drawn up, Lula’s tentative plans are to travel to three African countries – South Africa, Angola, and Mozambique – in an attempt to show that his government prioritises the African continent.

Relations between Brasilia and Africa changed under Lula’s predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro, who failed to visit a single African nation during his tenure, the first Brazilian president to do so, mimicking the stance taken by the then US President, Donald Trump. After a cooling of relations, Lula’s return as President of Brazil signals to all African countries that relations will strengthen again.

Contrarily to Bolsonaro, Lula had a strong and positive relationship with many countries in Africa during his previous mandates which lasted from 2003 to 2010, with his government committed to strengthening Brazil’s ties with Africa, making several trips to the continent himself, namely to most of Africa’s Lusophone countries: Angola, Cape Verde, Guinee Bissau, and Mozambique.

Lula also visited Nigeria, Libya, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya and Ghana where, despite the language barrier, his charisma and ability to win over the room was palpable, gaining roars of laughter at his notorious anecdotes, despite being translated to an audience of non-Portuguese speakers.

At the time, Brazilian presence in the African countries Lula had visited suddenly increased, with Brazilian construction companies visibly occupying the waiting rooms of African Ministers of finance, with one of the construction companies, Odebrecht, gaining ground and growing bigger than it was in its home country of Brazil in places such as Angola. Until Brazil’s corruption scandal, Lava Jato, brought Odebrecht and Brazil’s oil major Petrobras down resulting in President Lula being sent to jail.

Lula had established a number of initiatives aimed at promoting economic and social development in Africa, including the Brazil-Africa Cooperation Programme, which focused on areas such as agriculture, energy, health, and education.

The Brazilian President had regularly referred to what he calls “Brazil’s historic debt to Africa”, a reference to the millions of Brazilians who are descendants from African slaves. “Brazilian people are what they are – happy, beautiful, full of swing, samba, carnival and football-loving – because of our miscegenation and the extraordinary mix between Africans, indigenous peoples and Europeans. This in fact should be our strength compared to the rest of the world, but because we had our minds colonised for centuries, we were taught that we were inferior,” Lula famously said.

According to the Brazilian television conglomerate Globo, “the difference between this tour and the previous mandates is that before Brazil competed with China for political and economic space on the African continent, with the presence of Brazilian contractors in the region. There are practically no more exports of services financed by Brazil since the outbreak of Lava Jato.”

Lula’s relationship with Africa was characterized by a commitment to promoting economic development, reducing poverty, and building stronger ties between Brazil and the African continent. A campaign promise, Lula said that the resumption of relations between the African continent and Brazil is “a historical reparation, a humanitarian obligation”.

The visit to the continent of over 1.4 billion people is likely to take place in a few months’ time and while expectations are said to be high from African countries seeking investment as well as technological transfer of know-how across various sectors, Kenya for example has better internet coverage than Brazil, and Cape Verde has higher levels of education.

Economically and politically, Brazilians and Africans have been allies on international issues ranging from food security to climate. Lula is proving to dial back on the damage done by his predecessor to the Amazon already, and his planned visit to the African continent, on different terms today, as Lula has aligned Brazil with China, formerly a competitor on African soil, marking a return to certain values and normalising South-South Cooperation, claiming to prioritise Africa. According to Globo “Brazil’s bilateral trade with Africa was $21.3 billion in 2022”, lower than it was in 2010 at the end of Lula’s tenure, a figure Brazil could easily double under the Brazilian president’s mandate if his past performance is anything to go by.

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