Americans sometimes think that the Chinese in Africa are ten feet tall. But, other countries are more quietly expanding their African economic and political ties: India and South Korea come to mind. A must-read August 8 story in the New York Times highlights the increasingly important Brazilian presence.
Brazil has the largest population of African descent outside of Africa and had close links particularly with Mozambique, Angola, and Guinea Bissau during the days of the Portuguese empire. In Nigeria, a Yoruba traditional ruler told me that he regularly visited his “subjects” in Brazil’s northeast.
Brasilia’s current focus on Africa, however, is much more recent. It is usually dated from the administration of President Lula (2003-2010) and reflects Brazil’s remarkable economic development and the search for new trade and investment venues– according to the Times, Brazil has displaced Britain as the world’s sixth largest economy. Brazil’s presence in Africa is also diplomatic – there are now thirty-six Brazilian embassies in Africa, compared with forty-four American embassies. Brazil also has a small aid program.
In my view, the expanded Brazilian interest and presence in Africa is win-win. Brazilian trade and investment will promote African economic development. Brazil is a democracy: its greatly enhanced diplomatic presence can only encourage the development of African democracy conducted according to the rule of law. And Brazil may be able to exercise positive influence in those places where there is ambiguity about the United States, such as Angola.