What is Brazil doing in Africa?
China's role in Africa is now widely scrutinized (the best book on the matter is probably Brautigam's Gift of the Dragon). India's presence in Africa is still a fringe topic, but a growing group of analysts have begun to study India's presence systematically (Mawdsley's and McCann's India in Africa is highly recommendable). Brazil's presence on the African continent is now becoming the object of a growing number of observers across the world. In 2012, The Economist reported on the emergence of a "new Atlantic alliance" and wondered whether Brazil was turning into the new China in Africa.
Trade between Brazil and Africa has grown from US$4.2 billion to US$27.6 billion over the last decade, and the number of Brazil's embassies in Africa grew to 37 over the same period (although many of them are mico-embassies). Naturally, such developments do not go unnoticed for long. Brazil's presence in Africa is increasingly moving into the international spotlight. Christina Stolte, a researcher at the GIGA Institute of Global and Area Studies in Hamburg, has written a detailed policy paper that provides a useful analysis of Brazilian trade and investment in Africa.
Yet the title of the paper reveals a Western-centric bias, as it implies that BRICS countries' motives in Africa are somehow less noble than those of established powers. "Is Brazil just ‘another emerging power in the continent’, disguising its economic interests by offering aid projects to its partner countries?" Stolte asks - yet it is far from clear whether China's or India's impact in Africa is any more harmful than France's or Britain's. South African readers are likely to take some offense, given that South Africa has long played a leadership role on the African continent, for example by negotiating the shift from ‘non-intervention’ to ‘non-indifference’ in Africa during the 1990s and 2000s. In countries such as Nigeria, Chinese investments are far more diversified than those of European countries, which heavily focus on natural resources.
Although the demonization of China's role in Africa is a distraction in the paper, Stolte rightly notes that Brazil's and China's approach in Africa differs considerably - Brazilian firms, for example, seek to employ more local staff, while several large Chinese projects bring their own workers to Africa, which reduces the potential for a skills-transfer. The author is also right to argue that cultural factors may help Brazil's repuation in Africa. While cultural factors may matter on some level, it must also be noted that many African visitors to Brazil are shocked to see how much race remains a powerful socioecononomic marker in Brazil.
Despite these shortcomings, the paper contains lots of well-researched data that is instrumental to gain a clearer picture of Brazil's activities on the African continent - a series of maps help the reader understand where Brazil's presence is strongest, and which regions it has yet to reach. She also nicely summarizes the way Brazilian policy makers have used institutions such as the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa) to further cooperation with Africa.
Stolte argues that "by underpinning its quest for a ‘new multilateralism of the South’ with cooperation projects in Africa, Brazil has gained credibility among developing nations and an international voice as a speaker on their behalf" - yet it is unclear in how far this strategy will protect Brazilian companies from problems their Chinese or Western counterparts have experienced at times. After all, both the West and China have undertaken considerable efforts to improve their reputation in Africa - not always with the success they had hoped for.