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Will Lula reignite Brazil’s African flame?

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Ex predicant of Brazil Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is making a strong comeback in Brazil. If he wins the October election, it will have an impact on Brazil’s trade and diplomatic ties with Africa. Image credit: Commons Wikipedia.

Will Lula reignite Brazil’s African flame?

The outcome in Brazil’s hotly contested October elections will give us a glimpse of what the country’s future economic and diplomatic relationship with Africa will look like.

By Leon Louw, founder and editor of WhyAfrica

Depending on which president and party ruled largest economy in Latin America, Brazil’s relationship with Africa has been rock solid at times and volatile at others. Under current President Jair Bolsonaro it has been non-existent.

However, that might change if left leaning Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva snatches the election from anti-globalisation, right-wing populist Bolsonaro in October. For Workers Party leader Da Silva, released from the Curitiba prison in 2019 (after serving almost a year and a half of his 12-year sentence for corruption) ties with Africa has always been a priority.

Lula da Silva served two terms as president of Brazil from 2003 to 2010 and left office on 1 January 2011. According to the book Africa and the world: navigating shifting geopolitics (edited by Francis Kornegay Jnr & Philani Mthembu) the zenith of foreign policy during Lula da Silva’s presidency was marked by diplomatic coalitions aimed at reform of the international order and South-South cooperation. During Lula da Silva’s reign, Brazil became one of the key emergent powers in Africa by strengthening political ties and trade with the continent.

Whether that will still be the case if Lula da Silva returns to run the country, is another question. A lot has changed since 2011. The Brazilian economy is in bad shape after Covid-19, even worse than what it was under Lula da Silva’s successors Dilma Rousseff and Michel Temer. When Rousseff, but especially Temer came to power, Africa was no longer a political priority as economic conditions in Brazil deteriorated. Nevertheless, strong links with the continent continued to exist.

The rise of Bolsonaro

When Bolsonaro was sworn in as Brazil’s 38th president on 1 January 2019, it marked a rightward shift in Brazil’s foreign policy. Bolsonaro’s government turned its back on Africa, despite being part of the BRICS (Brazil/Russia/India/China/South Africa) axis. The main foreign policy guidelines of Bolsonaro’s administration were based on an automatic alignment with the United States of Donald Trump at the time. And we all know how Trump feels about Africa.

However, a Lula da Silva comeback (which looks more and more likely) could mean a return to the glory days of Brazil and Africa cooperation.

Lula’s African affair

According to Kornegay and Mthembu, Africa under Lula da Silva, was the major experiment in Brazil’s South-South cooperation, receiving 52% of its technical assistance and becoming a major recipient of energy, mining, and infrastructure investments.

“Former president Lula da Silva visited 21 African countries on 12 different occasions during his tenure – more than all his predecessors combined. Brazilian companies such as Petrobas, Odebrecht and Vale, became major stakeholders in African countries, supported by credit policies from the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES). Brazilian trade partnerships were mainly concentrated in three African countries – Angola, South Africa, and Nigeria (Visentini, 2010).”

Brazil-Africa trade expanded from USD4.3-billion to USD28.5-billion between 2000 and 2013, before falling to just USD12.4-billion in 2016 because of economic recession and political strife in Brazil (Niang, 2018).

Lula lands in hot water

Ironically (and worryingly) it was Lula da Silva’s close ties with Africa that landed him in hot water. While he was president, the biggest Brazilian companies involved in Africa have been targeted by federal investigations, and Lula da Silva has been prosecuted for facilitating deals between Brazilian construction companies in Angola and Equatorial Guinea.

Lula da Silva was imprisoned in April 2018, following convictions of money laundering and passive corruption by the Operation Car Wash, an anti-corruption crusade initiated by the Brazilian Federal Police in 2014 (Felter & Labrador, 2018).

Nonetheless, despite several setback, it seems that Lula da Silva is back, stronger than ever. Bolsonaro’s rule and Covid-19 policies has been disastrous for the country, and he faces several accusations as well. According to a recent survey by IPEC, Lula da Silva’s lead over Bolsonaro ahead of the October election rose to 13 percentage points and widened from 13 to 16 points in an expected second-round runoff.

Lula da Silva on the comeback trail

The survey by IPEC showed Lula with 44% of voter support against 31% for Bolsonaro in the first round of the election, compared to 44% and 32% respectively in the previous poll. In the expected runoff, Lula would get elected by 52% of the voters versus 36% for Bolsonaro, a 16-point gap, up from 13 points a week ago, the poll showed.

Bolsonaro has also posted a slight worsening in his approval rate, which dropped to 30% from 31% a week ago, despite efforts after passing welfare programs and measures to tackle inflation.

His disapproval rate was 43%, according to the poll, the same result a week ago. Although this time, Africa will not be a top priority if Lula da Silva wins the election, as internal politics will initially keep him busy. But if he makes it through to a second term, there is no doubt that Lula da Silva will resume his unwavering relationship with Africa.

Leon Louw is the founder and editor of WhyAfrica. He specialises in the extraction and responsible utilisation of natural resources, the primary sector of African economies and Africa’s political economy. 

WhyAfrica does research, and reports about, natural resources and the primary sectors of African economies, and the infrastructure, equipment and engineering methods needed to extract and utilise these resources in an efficient, responsible, sustainable, ethic and environmentally friendly way, so that it will benefit the people of Africa.

Furthermore, WhyAfrica promotes Africa as an investment and travel destination, analyses the continent’s business environment and investment opportunities, and reports on how the political economy of African countries affects its development.         

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