Brazil in Africa: Seeking International Status, Not Resources

By Stolte, Christina | Harvard International Review, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

Brazil in Africa: Seeking International Status, Not Resources


Stolte, Christina, Harvard International Review


In the shadow of China's and India's inroads into the African continent, South America's emerging power, Brazil, has been increasing its presence in Africa. However, its role in Africa has remained relatively unnoticed by international media and academia thus far. Brazil's low visibility in Africa cannot be explained exclusively by the fact that its financial engagement is still limited in comparison to that of China or India. An explanation would also need to include the unique way the South American power has interacted with Africa. Brazil has presented itself as a partner for Africa's development challenges rather than as a business partner. Although Brazil primarly imports oil and other natural resources from Africa, Brazil's cooperation with African countries, in contrast to that of China or India, has not been tied to contracts for oil-drilling or mining concessions. In fact, Brazil's expanding engagement in Africa serves other motives than resource-seeking. Brazil is trying to gain status as a global player by acting as a provider of development assistance and demonstrating global leadership on pressing international issues such as poverty alleviation, the fight against AIDS, or the provision of energy security.

Gaining a Foothold in Africa

Being a late-corner in terms of its diplomatic presence in Africa, Brazil has expanded the number of its embassies on the continent significantly in recent years. Whereas existing Brazilian embassies on the African continent closed down in the 1980s and 1990s due to economic problems, Brazil increased the number of its embassies in Africa from 17 to 37 in the first decade of the new millennium. This increase has, of course, been linked to the South American country's economic rise, but also reflects a new direction in Brazil's foreign policy. Especially under the leadership of former Brazilian President Lula da Silva (2003-2010), the country undertook major efforts to expand its presence on its neighboring continent.

Brazil has also actively forged relations with African nations through intensive travel diplomacy, with a record of 13 presidential visits to 29 African countries in the last ten years. No other head of government has visited Africa as often as Lula. Current President Dilma Rousseff, who has limited her visits to Brazil's most important partners, has already paid a visit to Africa in her first year in office. In addition to the intensification of bilateral ties with African countries, Brazil has also established stronger links with the continent at an institutional level. Cooperation agreements linking Brazil with African institutions include partnerships with the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) and the African Union (AU) as well as the CPLP (Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries).

In line with the enhancement of its diplomatic footprint, Brazil has also expanded its economic engagement in Africa. Between 2000 and 2011, trade has increased more than sixfold from US$4.2 billion to US$27.6 billion, making Brazil the BRIC-country with the second highest rate of increase in trade with Africa, after China. As an export destination for Africa, Brazil currently holds the 10th rank; among Africa's so called emerging trade partners Brazil is in fourth place behind China, India, and South Korea. Due to historic ties and linguistic similarities, Brazil's presence is especially strong in Portuguese-speaking Lusophone Africa. In Angola, for instance, Brazil is already among the three most important investor countries and the biggest private employer in the West African country.

A Resource-Driven Rapprochement?

Looking beyond the impressive growth rates, trade statistics suggest that Brazil's trade relationship with Africa is not balanced. Brazilian imports from Africa at US$15.43 billion clearly surpass the US$12. …

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