Another BRIC in the wall: Brazil stakes its claim in Africa

With its cultural and linguistic ties to Africa, Brazil may have key advantages over fellow BRIC China.

Sabelo Mngoma/AP
BRICS leaders, from left, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Chinese President Xi Jinping, South African President Jacob Zuma, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, and Russian President Vladimir Putin pose for a group picture during the BRICS 2013 Summit in Durban, South Africa, March 27, 2013.

•A version of this post ran on the blog Africa in Transition. The views expressed are the author's own.

Brazil is negotiating an agreement with Mozambique to finance the construction of a dam to provide drinking water for the city of Maputo, according to local news sources. It is expected to cost $500 million and the Bank of Brazil has funded an environmental impact study for the project.

With a population approaching two million and growing rapidly, Maputo needs an assured water supply. A successful agreement between Brazil and Mozambique means that construction on the dam could start as early as 2014. 

The dam – known as Moamba Major – highlights Brazil’s expanded engagement in Africa. In November 2012, British think tank Chatham House published a highly useful briefing paper on Brazil’s growing role on the continent. It highlights Brazil’s African economic interests – notably, its trade with Africa has increased from $4.2 billion to $27.6 billion over the past decade. Africa is potentially an important export market for Brazilian manufactured goods.

But as the Chatham House briefer highlights, Brazil sees African engagement as more than economic. It is a key to Brazil’s recognition as a major world power, and close south-south relations focused on Africa could help build international support for a permanent UN Security Council seat for Brazil. Brazil seeks a partnership for development with an important political dimension rather than solely an economic relationship.

Brazil is one of the BRICS countries, joining Russia, India, China, and South Africa in the club of major emerging economies.

But Brazil’s expanding role in Africa is overshadowed in the international media by China and India’s larger role. (So, too, is the role of South Africa.) But, Brazil’s approach to Africa appears to be the more broadly based, with important political and developmental aspects, as well as economic. And there are important cultural ties between Brazil and the Lusophone Africa states such as Angola and Mozambique.

Brazil also has the diaspora’s largest population of African origin. Thus far, the Brazilians appear to have avoided the cultural and other mistakes of the Chinese. The Brazilian relationship with Africa may prove deeper and longer lasting than that of its higher-profile rivals among the BRICS.

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