Brazil: Sizing up Africa's new suitor
Alyxandra Gomes Nunes and Ama Biney
2013-07-25, Issue 640
The newsletter has received contributions from thinkers and activists from various countries, both from the continent and its Diaspora. They include: Mozambique, Ghana, the United States, Brazil, Burkina Faso and South Africa. The edition covers issues ranging from the historical relations between freed Brazilian women and men returning to the region of the Gulf of Benin, to architecture inherited from Brazil brought to Africa and, most recently, the economic interests of Brazil as the seventh world power forgiving the debts of some African countries, as announced by President Dilma Rousseff, in celebration of the 50th anniversary summit of the African Union in Addis Ababa in May 2013.
The articles analyze these aforementioned relationships. However, a critical issue that should not be left out of the analysis of the readers is the fundamental question of the resolution of racial conflict in Brazil. Although this special issue of Pambazuka News is not on race relations, but about relationships between Brazil and Africa, the line of race permeates any discussion of the leadership of Brazil as an emerging power. Racism continues to impact the lives of Afro-Brazilians in covert and overt ways despite portrayal of the country as a racial paradise, which Brazil certainly is not.
The reflection by PATRICK BOND points out the correlation between the actions of the recent Free Fare Movement in Brazil, which have drawn much attention from the national and international media, with protests in South Africa at the time of the 2010 World Cup. In South Africa protests for better living standards and for improvements in service delivery continue with no abatement in sight. More critically, the people of South Africa suffer the consequences of having built stadiums that are true white elephants. Will Brazil’s hosting of the World Cup and Olympics end up the same way as in South Africa, or can a mobilization of progressive social and political forces in Brazil avert this colossal danger?
The authors ADRIANA ERTHAL ABDENUR and DANILO MARCONDES DE SOUZA NETO point out that Brazil has made great efforts in the promotion of electronic voting and judicial cooperation in Africa, however, we would argue that the Brazilian government under President Dilma Rouseff also needs to listen and act on the demands of Brazilian protesters if it is genuinely a responsive democracy. BOAVENTAURA DE SOUSA SANTOS COIMBRA reflects on the recent protests by social movements in Brazil and contends that an immense opportunity exists for progressive forces to strengthen democracy in Brazil. Perhaps progressive social justice movements in Africa can learn from the unfolding social protest movements in Brazil.
Whilst ODOMARO MUBANGIZI argues that ‘Strategic areas that both Africa and Brazil need to invest in include: industrialization; tourism; agriculture; infrastructure development especially power, roads, air travel; human resource development and South-South cooperation’ – it appears that implicit in much of this South-South cooperation is a committment to neoliberal economic policies where profits come first and the people last.
GARIKAI CHENGU stresses in his article that Zimbabwe stands to benefit a great deal from increasing engagement with Brasilia in energy, mining, agriculture, or poverty alleviation policies. However, if we look at Mozambique as BOBBY PEEK addresses in his article, there is what he describes as ‘neo-colonial exploitation underway’ by the BRICS – which of course includes Brazil. The author is of the opinion that civil society organisations engaged with social justice issues must ‘recognise that what the BRICS is doing is nothing more than what the North has been doing to the South; but as we resist these practices from the North, we must be bold enough to resist these practices from our fellow countries in the South.’
Similarly the article by FRIENDS OF THE EARTH raises a red flag about the performance of the Brazilian corporation in Mozambique, Vale do Rio Doce, or Vale, which was privatized in 1997 amidst much public protest and corruption. Vale maintains close ties with the Brazilian government and is booming in Mozambique where the Moatize project engages in the extraction of coal for export. However, the local people of the Chipanga community have been relocated. They have also faced poor housing and workers have been employed on short term contracts with few rights. Alongside this the livelihoods of 8,000 fishermen has also been adversely affected and there is environmental damage which show little for Vale’s green credentials. Are we about to see a new colonialism from Brazil to the South, that is, in parts of Africa?
JULIUS OKOTH realizes that the ‘Bolsa Familia’ program in Brazil can be an example to be followed by African governments concerned with equitable income redistribution. However, the author points out that an alliance with Brazil should not be done with eyes closed, as there are also interests of Brazilian corporations in expanding on the mainland.
Finally, historical pieces by ALINTA SARA, MAE-LING LOKKO, TREVOR HALL, MARCO ZOPPI remind us about the need for a retroactive look at interrelationships between Brazil and Africa, particularly on the material heritage of Afro-Brazilian returnees to West Africa and the Africanization of Brazil itself with the coming of the enslaved to the other side of the ocean. Strong cultural links that Afro-Brazilians have maintained as a consequence of enslavement are also examined in some of these articles.
Only time will tell how Africa engages with her new suitor, Brazil. Also, time will reveal the extent to which this new suitor or partner is seeking genuine solidarity and economic cooperation that reproduces neoliberal exploitative relations or seeks to transform such relations in a new economic model of society that places ownership of production in the hands of ordinary people.
In addition to this much needed new economic model, it is necessary that Afro-Brazilians and continental Africans cross continents in a similar way that many African Americans and African Caribbeans continue to visit Africa and vice versa. Language (that is, the colonially inherited languages of Brazil and Africa) should not inhibit such physical exchange of people to people interaction in the form of school and university exchange programmes, trade union collaboration between unions in Africa and those in Brazil, as well as exchanges between farmers’ organisations on both sides of the Atlantic, in addition to tourist visits. All the aforementioned should be integral to forging genuine South to South relationships that are people orientated towards greater cultural understanding and social and economic justice.
*Alyxandra Gomes Nunes is Editor of the Portuguese edition of Pambazuka News.
*Ama Biney (Dr) is Acting Editor in Chief of Pambazuka News
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