Marco Farani Photo: ABC

Marco Farani - Director of the Brazilian Agency for Cooperation

By Lanre Akinola | Published:  25 August, 2011

“You cannot stay completely silent if you see that your neighbour needs your help. The real motivation is the fact that we can and should help other countries in areas where they think we can help”

The first decade of the 21st century has done much to reshape Africa’s external relationships. Long dominated by the West, the seemingly unstoppable ascent of major emerging markets, led by the likes of China, India and Brazil, is fundamentally transforming the continent’s economic and political partnerships.

Along with its counterparts, Brazil has fast established itself as a major trading partner with the region, while political engagement has deepened significantly in recent years. Under former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who led the country from 2003-2010, trade with Africa has soared from less than $5bn to more than $20bn in 2010. Brazil has also opened 17 new embassies on the continent, and President Lula himself visited 23 African countries on close to a dozen official visits.

Under the banner of “South-South Cooperation”, the use of soft power has been a defining aspect of engagement with the continent. The approach stresses political solidarity, shared experience and cultural heritage as the building blocks of the country’s Africa policy, ahead of more commercially oriented objectives. At the heart of this “South-South” approach is knowledge sharing in the form of technical cooperation under the auspices of the Brazilian Agency for Cooperation (ABC). In the often hard-nosed world of international affairs, prioritising political solidarity over strategic interest may seem unusual, but Marco Farani, the agency’s head, insists Brazilian foreign policy in Africa is best understood through this prism.

“It will be a natural consequence that this will have benefits for Brazil, but this is not the real motivation. The motivation is real solidarity. You cannot stay completely silent if you see that your neighbour needs your help. The real motivation is the fact that we can and should help other countries in areas where they think we can help.”

It is a sentiment that featured heavily in political rhetoric around Brazil’s relationship with Africa during the Lula era, with repeated statements affirming Brazil’s responsibility to share its new found prosperity with less fortunate neighbours in the southern hemisphere. With close to 50 percent of Brazilians tracing their heritage back to Africa, solidarity-based cooperation between the two is a natural model for engagement with Africa, argues Mr Farani.

This is not to say that Brazil does not have any commercial interests in the region. Brazilian companies are actively expanding their operations in Africa. State-controlled Petrobras, and iron ore giant Vale, both have growing portfolios on the continent, with plans to invest billions in the development of projects in the next few years. Other major Brazilian companies vying for business include construction company Odebrecht, as well as aerospace firm Embraer.

Mr Farani has no illusions about the commercial incentives for closer ties with a fast growing region such as sub-Saharan Africa, but is adamant that this is not a driver of Brazil’s approach. “Of course Brazilian investment is growing a lot in Africa, and of course it will open opportunities for Brazilian companies… But, and this is very important, it is not done with that specific purpose.

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