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Brazil repaying its 'debt' to Africa

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Brazil repaying its 'debt' to Africa

President's tour of Southern Africa strengthens South-South ties
From Africa Renewal: 
Le Président du Brésil, Luis Inácio Lula da Silva, à la fin de sa visite en Afrique avec le Président de l'Afrique du Sud, Thabo Mbeki.  Photo: © Getty Images / AFP / Alexander Joe
Photo: © Getty Images / AFP / Alexander Joe
Brazilian President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva with South African President Thabo Mbeki at the end of his trip to Africa. Photo: © Getty Images / AFP / Alexander Joe

Citing a “political, moral and historical obligation,” Brazilian President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva spent a week touring five Southern African countries in early November. Just a year after his inauguration to Brazil's top office, the trip signalled the importance that Africa holds in Brazil's foreign policy under President da Silva.With a strong base of political support among Brazil's poor and marginalized, the former trade union leader has emphasized that nearly half of the 180 million Brazilians can trace their ancestry directly to Africa. Brazil, Mr. da Silva often points out, has the second largest black population of any country in the world, after Nigeria.Moreover, as he noted at a state banquet in Mozambique, “Brazilian society was built on the work, the sweat and the blood of Africans,” the millions of slaves who were brought to Brazil between the 16th and 19th centuries. For that reason, Brazil “is in debt to Africa” — a debt which the country intends to repay by strengthening its solidarity and cooperation.One significant expression was the Brazilian president's agreement in Mozambique and Namibia to support the creation of pharmaceutical plants to manufacture generic anti-retroviral medicines (ARVs) which help prolong the lives of people infected with HIV. Brazil has had some success in this field, managing to cut the mortality rate from HIV/AIDS by 50 per cent through the production and distribution of ARVs manufactured in Brazil. “In no other area is our cooperation and solidarity more urgent than in the fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemic,” President da Silva said in Namibia.Brazilian President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva with South African President Thabo Mbeki at the end of his trip to Africa.Photo: © Getty Images / AFP / Alexander JoeProjects and plans  In Angola, new agreements were signed in health, education and agriculture. In Namibia, Brazil agreed to train marine and air force personnel. In Mozambique, it signed accords on agriculture, literacy, health and technology, and cancelled the $20 mn debt owed to Brazil. South Africa, which already has a number of agreements with Brazil, signed new ones.Investment and trade were prominent elements throughout Mr. da Silva's tour. This could be particularly important for Africa, since Brazil has one of the strongest economies among developing countries. By the size of its gross domestic product, it is ranked the twelfth largest in the world. Although the value of its trade with Africa is already about $5 bn annually, this is only about 5 per cent of Brazil's total, so there is scope for expansion.More than 100 Brazilian business representatives accompanied Mr. da Silva on the tour. In Angola and the island nation of São Tomé and Príncipe, they showed special interest in the oil industry. Now that Angola is at peace, it is planning to double its oil output within the next four years.Also in Angola, Brazilian companies won contracts for a $150 mn water supply project and explored opportunities in the cellphone, urban transport and timber processing sectors.Brazilian companies also showed a keen interest in various investment opportunities in Mozambique's Zambezi River valley, which has great potential for agriculture, livestock, forestry and mining. The Brazilian mining giant, Companhia do Vale do Rio Doce, plans to compete for agreements to rehabilitate the Moatize coal mine and the Sena railway, which links the mine to the port of Beira. These projects are valued at some $700 mn.South should ‘be more demanding' Beyond the immediate benefits for both Brazil and Africa of increasing their mutual ties, President da Silva's trip highlighted growing efforts among leading developing countries to forge stronger solidarity across the South.About a year ago, India, Brazil and South Africa established a tripartite alliance that focuses on such topics as global agricultural trade and reform of the UN Security Council. The countries' leaders meet frequently — South African President Thabo Mbeki, for example, visited India in October and has met with President da Silva seven times in 2003.In addition, Brazil played a leading role in the creation of the developing countries' Group of 21 during the recent World Trade Organization (WTO) talks in Cancún, Mexico, in September. Mr. da Silva's African trip was partly intended to help bolster that group. By acting together, developing countries can have a stronger voice in world fora, he said in Angola. “Developing nations must take a new role, be more demanding.”It is also important for countries of the South to trade more with each other, he added. He is pressing Mercosur, the customs union of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, to complete talks on freer trade with both the Southern African Customs Union and the Southern African Development Community.Such initiatives, noted President Mbeki during his Brazilian counterpart's visit, are in the spirit of the continent's economic framework, the New Partnership for Africa's Development. “We count on Brazil,” Mr. Mbeki said, “as an important partner in the process of the renewal of the African continent.” 

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