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Brazil on a Soft Power Trip to Africa

July was a difficult month for Brazil: a major corruption scandal bolstered the case for supporters of the rule of law and transparency. This was a small bit of good news amid otherwise discouraging economic signs and a round of massive deficit spending that may be storing up trouble for the future.

The trying times at home haven’t stopped Brazil from projecting its influence abroad, however—especially in Africa. The NYT reports:

“There’s the growing sense that Africa is Brazil’s frontier,” said Jerry Dávila, a historian at the University of Illinois who has written extensively about Brazil’s inroads across the South Atlantic Ocean. “Brazil is in the privileged position of finally reaching the institutional capacity to do this.”

Brazil’s forays into Africa are similar to the ambitions of other rising powers, like Turkey, which has established its sway in the Arab world, and India’s promotion of its culture across Asia.

The prominence given to Africa also reflects Brazil’s shift from aid recipient to provider.

Obviously, Brazil isn’t currently a rival to the US, China or the Europeans in Africa, but so what?  Its African excursions look likely to do more good than Cuban or Venezuelan efforts, and Portuguese-speaking Brazil has special links with countries like Mozambique and Angola.

Africa needs all the aid and all the investment it can get.  And South-South aid is particularly welcome. The world is growing up, and growing numbers of countries formerly considered “developing countries” and aid recipients now have the know how and the money to help others make the leap.

For the US, Brazil’s new global role is something to applaud. Brazil’s commitment to democracy and human rights has already made a positive contribution in South America, and it can do even more good in Africa.

Let’s just hope the Brazilians keep the economic motor running at home; success is the source of Brazil’s soft power in Africa, and if inflation and stagnation undermine the Brazilian model at home, there won’t be much money or credibility left for ventures abroad.

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