Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the veteran Brazilian left winger, has dramatically returned to power after a bitterly-fought presidential election victory over rival Jair Bolsonaro.
During Lula's two terms in office, from 2003 until 2010, he visited 27 African countries and exports from Brazil to sub-Saharan Africa increased by 25% per year. Trade relations with Lusophone Angola and Mozambique and Anglophone Nigeria and South Africa were deepened.
However, since then, Brazil-Africa trade has lost much of its lustre. In 2019, Brazilian trade with sub-Saharan Africa reached its lowest value in 15 years, accounting for $3.67bn in exports and $2.35bn in imports. Although the decline happened before Bolsonaro took office – mostly under the short presidencies of Dilma Rousseff and Michel Temer – the trend has been exacerbated under Bolsanaro.
“Bolsanaro did not even visit Africa,” says João Bosco Monte, president of the Brazil Africa Institute. “It gives a symbolic idea that he did not consider the continent as part of his political and economic agenda.”
Lula's return therefore offers significant opportunities. “Under Lula, the Brazilian foreign agenda will reconsider the African continent as a priority,” says Kamilla Raquel Rizzi, associate professor at the Federal University of Pampa in Brazil. "Naturally, this will stimulate foreign trade between Brazil and Africa, using public policies, a concession of credit, and more appetite within the private sector.”
Lula also says he will prioritise protection of the Amazon rainforest – a crucial move for climate change-hit Africa as Cop27 begins this week.
Therefore a major priority will be diversifying links beyond Brazilian purchases of African oil – a recent analysis shows that there is potential for Brazil to boost exports of transportation, machinery and electronics to the continent. Brazil could also share knowledge on its transformational agricultural policies, and revitalise diplomacy through the BRICS and other "global south" forums.
After years of drift, Brazil and Africa could be on the cusp of an exciting era.