/ 28 November 2006

Africa and South America dance to same tune

The nations of Africa and South America, whose leaders gather at a summit in Nigeria this week, are identifying areas of common ground after their shared histories of colonialism.

Talk of South-South cooperation will dominate proceedings at the talks in Nigeria at a time when Latin American powerhouses such as Brazil and Venezuela are striving for a greater presence on a continent once carved up by Europe.

“The 19th century was the era of Latin American liberation … The 20th century was the era of Africa’s liberation,” Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez said on a recent trip to Gambia. “We can approach the 21st century together.”

If Chávez’s fiercely anti-US stance has cost Venezuela friends in north and parts of south America, it does not seem to have done it much damage in Africa.

Since January 2005, when it created the post of deputy foreign minister with responsibility for African affairs, Venezuela has nearly doubled its number of embassies on the continent from eight to 14.

“We now have diplomatic relations with 49 countries. We are only missing Botswana, Burundi, Madagascar, Malawi and Mauritania,” said Reinaldo José Bolivar, the man entrusted with overseeing the diplomatic push into Africa.

“Now there are five countries with whom we don’t have relations. A year ago it was 30,” added the deputy foreign minister.

José Bolivar, speaking last week on a visit to South Africa, said that increased South-South links could serve as a major source of stability.

“Africa looks towards America, America looks towards Africa … The countries of the South are looking at one another so we can progress together,” he added.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva struck a similar theme in September when he hosted his South African counterpart Thabo Mbeki at a three-way summit which also featured Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

“For decades we were geared toward strong ties with countries of the North and we almost forgot the South-South relations,” he said.

The Brazilian president has made five trips to the continent since coming to power in 2002.

Bilateral trade between Brazil and Africa has doubled since 2003, reaching $12,6-billion in 2005, with Brazilian companies particularly entrenching themselves in the oil and mining sectors.

The state-owned Petrobras company, for example, signed an exploration agreement with Guinea-Bissau in August.

The same firm is looking to exploit new off-shore oilfields in Angola, where Brazilian exports, particularly in industrial equipment, have passed the $600-million mark since January. That figure compares to less than $200-million at the end of Angola’s civil war in 2002.

Meanwhile the Companhia Vale do Rio Doce (CVRD) is interested in accessing manganese reserves in Gabon and coal mines in the Moatize province of Mozambique, paralysed since the end of the civil war in 1992.

Brazil is also to finance the construction in Mozambique of a factory for the manufacture of antiretroviral drugs for the fight against HIV/Aids. A viability study is due to be presented in December in Maputo.

Like Brazil, Mozambique and Angola are both former Portuguese colonies. Argentina is also stretching its legs in Africa. It opened an embassy last year in the Angolan capital Luanda.

Argentinian beef and wine are widely available in Angola where the latest dance craze is the tango.

The increase in trade across the South Atlantic is one that has been largely welcomed in Africa.

Mbeki, who is among those attending the summit in Abuja on Thursday and Friday, is also a firm advocate of the South-South axis which he plans to build on during South Africa’s upcoming stint on the UN Security Council.

“Both have endured the system of colonialism which was characterised by exploitation, slavery and abuse,” said a statement confirming his participation.

South Africa’s deputy foreign minister Aziz Pahad, who will accompany Mbeki, said the summit “provides a good opportunity for both continents to reach a clear understanding of areas of common interest … to foster a stronger strategic partnership on a South-South axis”. – AFP