Africa, Development & Aid, Headlines, IBSA, Latin America & the Caribbean

BRAZIL-AFRICA: Teaching Diplomacy

Fabíola Ortiz

RIO DE JANEIRO, Sep 22 2011 (IPS) - African countries are increasingly taking up Brazil’s offer of training in the art of diplomacy, seeing it as a partner that could help them set up or improve their own foreign service institutes.

“Each request is analysed separately to assess the viability of offering support and cooperation in that field to the interested country,” Georges Lamazière, director general of the Rio Branco Institute, in charge of selecting and training Brazilian diplomats, told IPS.

“Every year we offer scholarships to 15 foreign students to go to Brasilia, most of whom come from Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa,” said Lamazière.

Another recent initiative is the Course for African Diplomats offered by the foreign ministry’s Alexandre de Gusmão Foundation.

The second edition of the course, running Sep. 12-23 in Rio de Janeiro, is currently attended by delegates from 12 African countries: Angola, Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

According to the foreign ministry, the aim is to bolster South-South cooperation and the exchange of experiences in the course, where lectures are given by experts from Brazil as well as the different African nations.

Isabel Patrícia Ribeiro, third secretary of bilateral cooperation in the Africa department of Angola’s foreign ministry, told IPS “It is always good to seek experience in diplomacy for our country. Today Brazil and Angola are cooperating in different fields, like education, civil construction and post-war infrastructure.”

The young diplomat, the only representative of Angola – and of Portuguese-speaking Africa – in the course, lived in Brazil for eight years, where she earned a graduate degree in international relations. In her view, there are no barriers to bilateral cooperation, nor is Brazil acting in an imperialist fashion.

“A country that has gone through wars needs partners; I don’t see it as an invasion. Angola has to show openness in order to develop,” she added, referring to Angola’s 1961-1974 war of independence from Portugal and 1975-2002 civil war.

Bernard Kaporo Legoti, a member of the Brazil department in South Africa’s foreign ministry, said the course offered by Brazil was, ironically, a good place to meet diplomats from different parts of Africa and learn about the situations in their countries, which vary widely.

“This is now the opportunity to be closer and sit down and talk about other issues that we consider debatable to enhance our relations as Africans,” Legoti added.

Furthermore, he said, Brazil and South Africa – as members of the IBSA forum, along with India – could gain a deeper mutual understanding of the challenges facing South Africa in areas like the economy, health and agriculture.

“We are having problems with HIV/AIDS, maybe Brazil will share how to get out information to improve” the distribution of medicines, he said.

“We also know that Brazil has done a lot of initiatives to reduce poverty,” which he said his country could learn from as well.

With regard to the three IBSA nations, he said “I see cordial relations; it is a balanced relationship…There is no hegemony.”

Brazil has the second largest black population of any country in the world, after Nigeria, with half of the population of 192 million considering themselves “black” or “brown” in the census.

And Brazil has relations with every country in Africa, where it has 37 embassies.

Nineteen of the embassies have been opened in the last eight years, during the two terms of former left-wing President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011), whose government put a new priority on relations with that region.

“No Brazilian president had ever made so many trips to Africa as Lula: he visited more than 25 countries,” the head of the Brazilian foreign ministry’s Africa department, Nedilson Ricardo Jorge, told IPS. “Those high-level visits opened doors.”

And in that same period, 28 African leaders visited Brazil.

These ties involve cooperation marked by reciprocity, “in accordance with the demands and needs of the country that is receiving it,” instead of the “uni-directional” nature of the flow of North-South aid, he said.

“South-South cooperation also brings fruits for Brazil and is based on solidarity and mutual interest. The technical areas in which Brazil is making the most progress are the ones in which there is cooperation with other countries,” he said.

“We have visions that differ greatly from those of certain countries on how to help others develop. We do not believe it is by means of military operations, sanctions, embargoes or other kinds of pressure. It is by means of integration, not isolation,” Jorge said.

Brazil itself has recently tackled or overcome problems similar to those faced today by the nations of Africa. “There is a more natural dialogue; that is one important difference. The fact that we do not use military force has a major influence,” he said.

And Africa is offering promising opportunities.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), of the 10 countries set to show the highest average annual GDP growth rates from here to 2015, seven are in Africa: Ethiopia (8.1 percent), Mozambique (7.7 percent), Tanzania (7.2), Democratic Republic of the Congo (7.0), Ghana (7.0), Zambia (6.9) and Nigeria (6.8 percent).

However, there are still obstacles standing in the way of Brazil’s insertion in Africa, Jorge said.

The main hurdle is limited connectivity, “the air and sea connections. Without more air routes, we are really reaching the limits of expansion” of exchange and trade, he said.

More than 70 percent of international flights out of Africa go to Europe, while a mere 0.4 percent go to Brazil.

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