Latin America & Caribbean

Brazil's President Lula makes final visit to Africa

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva with children at the Pedagogy University of Maputo on November 9, 2010
Image caption Lula spoke again about the historic links between Africa and Brazil

It is perhaps no surprise that Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva decided to stop over in Mozambique on his way to Seoul for the G20 summit of developed and emerging economies.

Lula, who is in the final weeks of his presidency, is bidding farewell to Africa, the continent he made a foreign policy priority during his eight years in office.

On 1 January, he will be succeeded by Dilma Rousseff, Brazil's first elected female president.

Ms Rousseff campaigned on a message of continuity with the Lula government but she will be hard-pressed to better his visits to 27 African countries on 12 different occasions, more than all his predecessors combined.

News that Ms Rousseff would be accompanying President Lula to Mozambique was welcomed here as a clear sign of no rupture in Brazil's Africa strategy.

This made the disappointment all the greater when it was subsequently announced that she would head straight to Seoul to meet world leaders.

'Our strength'

Lula's two-day visit to the Mozambican capital, Maputo, which began on Tuesday, is intended to focus on the pro-active agenda Brazil has pursued under his leadership.

The number of Brazilian embassies in Africa has more than doubled to 35, while bilateral trade increased fivefold to $26bn (£16bn) last year.

Lula has said the relationship between Brazil - the country with the biggest population of African descent outside Africa - and African countries is more than just business.

He has regularly referred to what he calls Brazil's historic debt to Africa, a reference to the millions of Brazilians who are descended from African slaves.

It was a theme he returned to during his speech at the Mozambican National Institute of Distance Learning.

"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," said Lula.

"When we make a choice for Africa, we want to stand up and lift our heads together. We want to build together a future in which the South is not weaker than the North, not dependent on the North, a future in which, if we believe in ourselves, we can be just as important and as smart as they are."

President Lula made the speech as he announced a joint distance degree programme to teach initially 620 and, in the future, 7,000 students in the fields of health and sciences.

It is one of many initiatives with which Brazil hopes to make a difference in Africa, despite involving little money.

Another one is a factory that aims to start producing anti-retroviral medicine in Mozambique within the next year, for which Brazil is buying equipment worth $13m (£8m).

It will alllow Mozambique to produce 21 drugs, including five contained in the anti-HIV cocktail, without the need to pay royalties.

Dialogue

Some 34 African nations benefit from 250 projects with Brazil, according to the Brazilian Co-operation Agency (ABC), including in health, education and agriculture.

Historically the recipient of aid, Brazil has become what is known as a non-traditional donor, directing resources particularly to the poor countries of Africa, Central America and the Caribbean, and East Timor.

The ABC manages a budget of about $30m (£18.5m) a year but studies show that the Brazilian institutions providing technical assistance contribute at least 15 times that amount to similar development projects.

Nevertheless, the difference in scale becomes clear when these amounts are compared with the estimated $300m the US devotes to Mozambique annually.

"It is true that Brazilian co-operation is not big in terms of money, but the question is not size; it is the advantages that different forms of co-operation can bring to African countries," says Caroline Ennis, senior adviser at KPMG audit and advisory firm in Maputo.

Brazilian officials insist that aid can be given without imposing political conditions in the way that the traditional donors, the rich countries, have done.

"I think this makes possible a better relationship between donors and recipient countries, and this has a huge impact, because governments feel less defensive. In Mozambique the dialogue with Brazil seems easier and more adaptable," Ms Ennis told the BBC.

Jamisse Taimo, former director of the Mozambican Institute of International Relations and expert in Brazil-Africa relations, believes ties have much to do with Lula's own life story.

"Lula's humble background and his political history as a union leader perhaps have made Lula perceive the world as an unfair place, in which the differences between the North and South are too big and someone had to do something about it. And he has looked at Africa in a way that is free of prejudices," he said.

After Lula

But precisely because the Brazilian foreign policy towards Africa has been so much centred in the figure of Lula, there are concerns as to what will happen when he leaves office.

Ms Rousseff has given no indication that she will change the South-South co-operation pursued by Lula.

Image caption Dilma Rousseff's early moves as president will be closely watched

Brazilian commentators speculate that, if anything, she may change her team in order to consolidate Lula's policies.

Brazil's ambassador to Mozambique, Antonio de Souza e Silva, believes his country's role in Africa will keep growing, reflecting Brazil's economic power and its presence in the world stage.

"Foreign policy is a state policy. Governments can put a little bit more emphasis here and there, give it bit more push here or there but the main ways are open," he told the BBC.

"Since the early 1960s we had two or three pushes towards Africa, but then Brazil probably didn't have the same muscle as it has today nor the same companies with the ability to embrace internationalisation.

"The presence of Brazil in the world will grow and not only in Africa; in Asia, the Caribbean, all over the world."

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