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Brazil's Lula aims to bolster geopolitical ties with Africa

Astrid Prange de Oliveira | Nilson Brandão
February 15, 2024

In trips to Egypt and Ethiopia ahead of an African Union summit, Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will seek to deepen economic and geopolitical ties with Africa.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva speaks during a ministerial meeting
Brazil's president hopes to increase trade with African nationsImage: EVARISTO SA/AFP

"Good relations with Africa are fundamental for Brazil's international standing. They are a triumph," said Gelson Fonseca, who heads the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Center of Diplomatic History and Documentation (CHDD), in an interview with DW.

He said that many countries on the African continent were seeing strong economic growth, adding that "their geopolitical importance is increasing, that is why it is important for Brazil to deepen its relations with Africa."

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, commonly known as Lula, already visited Angola in August 2023. Now, he is traveling to Egypt and Ethiopia. On February 17, he will attend the African Union (AU) summit in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa as a guest of honor.

A BrasAfrica store is seen in Angola
Brazilian agribusiness BrasAfrica also operates in AngolaImage: José Adalberto/DW

Egypt and Ethiopia, which both hold strategic importance for Brazil, joined the BRICS group earlier this year. Originally comprised of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, the group has taken on new member states.

"Lula's visit to Egypt and Ethiopia makes sense. It can help once again to revalorize the importance of diplomatic relations between Brazil and Africa," Maurício Santoro, an expert in international relations at the University of Rio de Janeiro, told DW. But he warned against being too optimistic. "There was a military coup in Egypt and there is civil war in Ethiopia. In view of these conflictual situations, one should not expect too much of Brazil."

Guest of honor

For many people on the African continent, Brazil has positive connotations. Unlike the former colonial powers of Britain, Franceand Germany .

The former Portuguese colony is the country with the largest Black population outside of Africa. And it shares with many African countries the traumatic legacy of having endured slavery.

Now the ninth largest economy in the world, Brazil has become a role model for many other states, both in economic and societal terms. 

Lula can, therefore, expect a warm welcome at the AU summit in Addis Ababa on February 17 and 18.

A room with posters of African leaders
The African Union celebrated its 60th anniversary in May 2023Image: Solomon Muchie/DW

However, despite warm relations and shared historical experience, Brazil's economic and political influence on the African continent is waning,  

Declining trade volume

Unlike China and Russia, which have deepened ties with African countries over the past 10 years, Brazil's economic significance has declined. Between 2013 and 2023, Brazil's trade volume with Africa fell from $28 billion (€26 billion) to $21 billion (€19.5 billion).

By comparison, Brazilian foreign trade with China amounted to $157 billion (€146 billion) in 2023, according to the Brazilian Ministry of Trade. And imports and exports between Germany and Brazil totaled around $19 billion (€17.7 billion).

Brazil's President Lula shakes Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi's hand
Lula met Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi last month — the two countries maintain extensive business ties Image: Lucio Tavora/Xinhua/picture alliance

There are many reasons why Brazil has moved away from Africa. They include the ongoing economic crisis in Brazil and the fallout from the so-called Lava Jato, or car wash, corruption scandal. Brazilian construction companies were accused of corrupt practices and having enriched themselves with large-scale projects in African countries.

Also, Brazil's former president, Jair Bolsonaro, showed little interest in the African continent.

Lula to put African interests on G20 agenda

Lula wants to initiate a turnaround and restrengthen ties with African at the AU summit in Addis Ababa. Both the AU and the European Union are members of the G20 group, which brings together the most important industrialized and emerging countries in the world. And this year, Brazil holds the G20 presidency.

"In September 2023, with Brazil's support, the AU joined the G20," First Secretary of the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Flavio Luis Pazeto told the Agencia Brasil news agency. He added that Brazil would ensure that "issues that are in Africa's interests are put on the G20 agenda." Among these are the global fight against hunger and poverty.

Brazil has achieved considerable progress in tackling both. Social welfare programs launched in the 1990s and strengthened during Lula's first two terms in office — from 2003 to 2010 — helped to significantly reduce poverty in the country.

Brazil: Financial advice in the favelas

Hunger and poverty on the rise again

According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), around 44 million out of the country's 182 million people - — about a quarter of the population — suffered from hunger in 2003. By 2009, that number had fallen to around 11 million, around 6% of the population.

Since 2016, however, the situation has been deteriorating steadily. In 2022, 33 million Brazilians, or 16% of the population, were suffering from hunger.

The number of people affected by hunger and poverty is growing worldwide and jumped from 585 million in 2016 to 735 million in 2022. Last year, the figure rose to over 800 million.

This article was translated from German.