In a press conference on July 19th, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva expressed his desire for Brazil to restore its “good, fruitful” relations with Africa. He further announced plans for future visits to African countries, showcasing his proactive approach toward fostering collaborations between the two regions.
The complicated relationship between Brazil and African countries is rooted in the dark period of the slave trade, where approximately 5.5 million slaves were forcefully relocated to work in Brazil’s sugarcane industry, leaving a deep African cultural imprint on Brazil. To this day, racism and paternalism plague Brazilian society. While Black people make up only 4.7% of executives in Brazil’s top 500 companies, they account for 75% of murder victims and 75% of those killed by police. In addition, the average Black Brazilian earned only 57% of a white Brazilian’s salary during the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite these shocking statistics and numerous historical attempts to “whiten” the country, several Brazilian politicians have denied accusations of systemic racism, accusing social justice groups of bringing unnecessary tensions into the country.
When President Lula first stepped into office in 2003, he was determined to combat racism. He asserted that “Brazilian society was built on the work, the sweat and the blood of Africans,” revealing his moral obligation to rekindle the relationship and strengthen cooperation. During his first two terms, he visited 23 African countries, generating a sevenfold increase in trade within only a decade. Unfortunately, such progress was lost under subsequent presidents such as Michel Termer and Jair Bolsonaro. Termer attempted to close 11 of Brazil’s 37 embassies in Africa, and Bolsonaro’s administration was plagued with racist and xenophobic policies. He even compared a quilombo – a rural community established by those who escaped slavery – to cattle, claiming that “They do nothing! They are not even good for procreation”.
Many leaders have thus applauded Lula’s third return to the presidency in 2023, with U.S. President Joe Biden celebrating Brazil’s “fair and credible” elections and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador tweeting: “Lula won. The people of Brazil are blessed. There will be equality and humanity.” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Argentina President Alberto Fernandez, and many others similarly celebrated the election results. With Lula back in office, people anticipate a return to democracy.
With his symbolic inauguration, highly diverse government, and anti-racism laws, the current president seems eager to return to the progress made during his first two terms. In his pursuit to strengthen multilateralism and cooperation in the Global South, he also aims to improve political ties between Brazil and African countries. With Brazil importing numerous raw materials and exporting manufactured products to Africa, it is clear that the two powers could profit from a mutually beneficial relationship. To satisfy these trade goals, the German Marshall Fund of the United States recommends increasing the number of shipping routes and improving facilities such as ports and airports in both regions.
All of President Lula’s efforts to promote justice and equality are admirable, but how can we ensure that his legacy outlives his presidential term? How can Brazil establish itself as a stable trading partner if its next president happens to resemble Bolsonaro? Will Lula’s efforts toward social justice then be in vain? These are questions faced by governments across the world who desire to implement long-lasting change that will last beyond their term and brace thorough changes in political parties. While there cannot be a single answer to this dilemma, some possible solutions may include integrating policies into the existing framework, addressing potential opposition, or engaging in grassroots advocacy to ensure that the public will hold future politicians accountable for keeping said law. While these tactics cannot guarantee the long-term survival of Lula’s progress, they can help garner public support and incentivize the public to vote for a future candidate with similar ideals.
Lula has announced from the very beginning of his presidency that he desires to foster close ties with Africa, and he has worked hard during his first few months to achieve this goal. By implementing strategic measures to preserve his legacy, Brazil can continue to build a stable partnership with African nations, fostering mutual growth and cooperation for generations to come.
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