SAO PAULO (AFP) – President Dilma Rousseff is expected to follow her predecessor in boosting Brazil’s ties with Africa, a resource-rich continent seen as the last frontier for world capitalism, analysts say.
Last month, Rousseff made her first trip to the African continent since taking office in January, visiting South Africa, Mozambique and oil-rich Angola.
And later this month, she plans to send a team from the export promotion agency APEX to the same three countries, including Brazilian entrepreneurs, to discuss investment and trade opportunities, officials said.
Rousseff has so far focused on her domestic agenda, battling corruption and trying to reduce the yawning gap between the rich and poor in this huge country of more than 190 million people.
On the foreign policy front, Brazil gives priority to relations with its Latin American neighbors, particularly fellow members of the Mercosur trading bloc: Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, plus Venezuela, now in the process of joining.
But experts said Brazil is mulling a long-term strategic partnership with Africa as part of its bid to become the world’s fifth biggest power by 2022, when it marks the bicentennial of its independence from Portugal.
With more than half of its population being of African descent, the country is well positioned to compete for a share of Africa’s vast mineral riches and consumer markets, along China, the United States, France or Britain.
Total trade between Brazil and Africa jumped from $4.2 billion in 2000 to more than $20 billion as of September, with exports worth $8.7 billion — mainly manufactured goods — and imports worth $11.6 billion — mostly commodities like crude oil, according to official figures.
Rousseff’s predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was the first Brazilian president to recognize the importance of projecting influence in Africa.
He visited the continent at least 10 times during his 2003-2010 tenure and reminded his hosts that Brazil has the world’s second-largest black population after Nigeria.
“I think that Dilma (Rousseff) will continue the same policy but not with the same intensity as Lula. She won’t get involved as much,” Pio Penna Filho, a leading Africa expert at the University of Brasilia, told AFP.
He said Lula had faced some criticism for not giving more importance to human rights in his dealings with Africans.
But diplomats say Brazil, unlike China, shares Western commitments to human rights and good governance. Rousseff is expected to give more importance to such values and to act in a “more multilateral way,” said Penna.
He identified Angola, Nigeria and South Africa as countries that could become strategic partners of Brazil in the years to come.
South Africa is a fellow member of both the BRICS group of emerging nations (Brazil, Russia, India, Russia and South Africa) and IBSA, a grouping of the southern hemisphere’s three emerging democracies (India, Brazil and South Africa).
A fellow Portuguese-speaking nation, Angola shares close cultural ties with Brazil. Many black Brazilians are descendants of Angolan slave shipped across the Atlantic.
Over the past six years, Brasilia has extended over $3 billion in credit lines to Angola, most of which has been spent on post-civil war reconstruction projects such as roads, dams and bridges.
In Africa’s top oil producer Nigeria, Brazil’s state-owned oil company Petrobras has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the coal, oil and natural gas and alternative energy sectors.
Petrobras, a world leader in deep water drilling technology, said it is also present in Angola, Benin, Libya, Namibia, Nigeria and Tanzania.
Other top Brazilian firms active on the continent include construction firm Odebrecht in Angola and mining giant Vale, which opened a new $1.7 billion coal mine in Mozambique in May and is reportedly planning to invest up to $20 billion in Africa over the next five years.
Brazil is also providing aid, notably in the health sector, to other Portuguese-speaking African countries: Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and Sao Tome and Principe.
The South American powerhouse has implemented a successful “Zero Hunger” strategy for reducing poverty and food insecurity. Its school meals program reaches about 45 million children per year.