Prestige Diplomacy, Southern Solidarity or Soft Imperialism? Lula’s Brazil-Africa Relations

Seminar date: 
16 April 2009
Speaker(s): Paulo Visentini

Paulo Visentini is Professor of International Relations at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre, Brazil and is Head of the Brazil-South Africa Studies Centre (UFRGS). He has a PhD from the University of São Paulo and was a post-doc at the London School of Economics.

Discussant: Linda van de Kamp (African Studies Centre)

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Brazil has a huge population of people of African descent and had strong links with the other side of the South Atlantic Ocean from the 16th century until the mid 19th century when relations were severed with the end of the slave trade and the start of European colonialism. From 1961 until the late 1990s, relations were intermittent but since the arrival of the Lula government in 2003, Brazil has initiated a strong, coherent and long-term policy towards Africa and given Africa a privileged place in its diplomatic relations. A strategic vision and a coherent perspective form the basis of the new Brazil-Africa relations and have become the principal focus of the so-called South-South cooperation.

Remarkable bilateral and multilateral relations have been developed in the areas of trade, investments, oil, mining, infrastructure, health, science and technology, diplomacy and security, and the rights of those of African descent living in Brazil are being enhanced. There is a noticeable growth in the number and influence of Brazilian Pentecostal (evangelical) churches and Brazilian television in Africa, as well as an increase in African migration to Brazil and in the drugs trade.

For many, relations with Africa prove the solidarity dimension of the social programme of President Lula, while others consider them only as prestige diplomacy and a waste of time and money. Finally, some regard these relations as business diplomacy or a 'soft imperialism' that only differs from the Chinese presence in Africa in form and intensity.

This seminar will analyze the political and economically strategic dimensions, problems and perspectives as well as the global and domestic factors that are guiding this process of 'South-South Cooperation'.