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

Argentina Discovers Africa

BUENOS AIRES, Apr 16 2012 (IPS) - Under the banner of South-South cooperation, Argentina is seeking to consolidate its ties with Africa, starting with countries that are enjoying dynamic economic growth, such as Angola and Mozambique.

“Since 2005, we have been trying to forge stronger ties with Africa, where there are countries posting significant economic growth,” Diego Boriosi, the head of the Argentine Horizontal Cooperation Fund (FO-AR), told IPS.

The FO-AR operates under the Foreign Ministry’s office for international cooperation. In March, Boriosi accompanied Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman on his trip to Angola and Mozambique, ahead of President Cristina Fernández’s visit to Angola, scheduled for May.

Timerman, who was received by the presidents of both southern African countries, stressed that the first official visit by an Argentine foreign minister to either nation reflected “a change in paradigm, and a new approach to the world.”

Boriosi explained that, due to historical reasons, until a few years ago, the countries of Africa had much stronger relations with their former colonial rulers (France, Britain and Portugal) than with other countries. But now, he said, they are more willing to forge ties with Latin America.

And the interest is mutual. In an interview with IPS, international relations expert Javier Surasky, a professor at the National University of La Plata, pointed out that Brazil has already launched “a successful process of strengthening relations with Portuguese-speaking Africa.”

That strategy was given a major boost by former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011), who made 10 trips to Africa, visiting over 20 countries. And he maintained his role in relations with Africa even after handing over the reins to his successor, Dilma Rousseff.

These new ties played a key role in the designation of the first Latin American to head the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO): José Graziano da Silva of Brazil, who upon assuming the post early this year, promised to put a priority on fighting hunger in Africa.

Brazil’s aim is “to lead the Portuguese-speaking world – which it has already managed to do, pushing aside Portugal,” remarked Surasky, a specialist on South-South cooperation.

Boriosi said Argentina “shares the interest” in closer relations with Africa. But he clarified that the links it is seeking “are not as intense as what Brazil has achieved, due to cultural reasons.”

The idea is to make Argentina a player in international cooperation “at a global level,” he added.

Traditionally, South-South cooperation in Argentina has involved other countries in this region. And while that continues to be the central focus, the policy of mutual aid has now expanded to include Africa and Southeast Asia, Boriosi said.

New projects are taking shape in China, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Indonesia, in areas as diverse as agriculture, trade, strengthening governance and human rights.

In this new scenario, the sporadic aid projects carried out in Africa in the 1980s and 1990s have begun to take on growing importance, and, above all, are now accompanied by an interest in cross-cultural understanding and a closer relationship in general.

The Foreign Ministry “is generating the opportunity for ties, marking the agenda, sowing the seed,” Boriosi said.

Later, if necessary, “a new boost is given” to the relationship, with a trip like the one headed by the foreign minister.

The visit to Angola was largely focused on trade. Timerman was accompanied by some 300 representatives of the business community, and areas of cooperation in economic development were identified.

In the case of Mozambique, technical bodies from Argentina that can provide advice and assistance to their counterparts in the southern African country, such as the National Institute of Agricultural Technology, also reached out.

In addition, other ministries, with or without financial support from the FO-AR, are consolidating their own ties. For example, the Defence Ministry has made contacts with South Africa, and the Agriculture Ministry with South Africa and Kenya.

Boriosi said Argentina’s development aid is also targeting countries in the Maghreb region of North Africa, and Nigeria, where work is under way with the World Health Organisation, in technical training for campaigns against poliomyelitis.

Surasky said “the closer ties with Africa form part of an Argentine foreign policy that seeks to strengthen relations with other countries of the (developing) South, a position that last year enabled it to hold the presidency of the Group of 77,” currently made up of 130 members, including China.

South-South cooperation was one of the cornerstones of the action programme that Argentina presented to win the rotating presidency of the G-77, which since 1964 has represented the interests of the developing world in United Nations forums.

Argentina’s focus on Africa and Asia arises from “the government’s interest in consolidating power, from the South,” Surasky said.

“No less important is that it is a reaction to Brazil’s foreign policy,” he added.

The expert also mentioned the need to expand markets in the face of the retraction of industrialised countries, because of the global economic crisis. “The markets of the wealthier countries in Africa are extremely attractive to some Argentine companies,” he said.

Nevertheless, Surasky expressed scepticism with respect to what will happen in the long term. “Although Argentina today clearly plans to seek closer ties with Africa, my doubt is what will happen in time with a foreign policy that, in recent decades, has been characterised by discontinuity.”

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