ON JUNE 6th Angola’s president, José Eduardo dos Santos, gave his first major interview in 22 years. In it, Mr dos Santos said that the statesman he most admires is Brazil’s former president, Lula da Silva, because of his work to forge a more inclusive society. An unexpected role model, perhaps, for the president of a country in which a vast gap between rich and poor has increased over his 33-year rule. Yet it was, after all, a Brazilian, João Santana—mastermind of Lula’s re-election in 2005—who led Mr dos Santos’s own re-election campaign in 2012. His party, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, was never really likely to lose (as it happens, it won 72% of the vote), but the export of Brazilian political communications skills added a new layer to the construction and extractives expertise that Mr dos Santos made central to the reconstruction of Angola. Brazil and Angola boast a “great friendship”, he said.On Portugal he was more tempered. The Portuguese are welcome in Angola, he insisted; noting, however, that Angolan investors were not always so well received in Lisbon. Maybe, he wondered, this was down to nostalgia for the past? A self-assured pique from a president who knows that Angola in 2013 needs Portugal less than its former colonial master needs Angola. Ever since he made headlines offering to help Portugal cope with crisis in 2011—and his daughter’s acquisition of Banco Português de Negócios paved the way for Portugal’s IMF bail-out—the power dynamic has shifted. Some Portuguese have found that hard to swallow. In turn, Mr dos Santos finds it hard to swallow Portuguese moralising. Prosecutors in Lisbon, Portugal’s capital, recently announced an investigation into the Angolan attorney-general, João Maria de Sousa, for fraud and graft. The investigation is routine—Portuguese banks are allegedly involved—but the political implications are big.
Lectures are conspicuously absent in Brazil’s engagement with Africa. Just this month, Brazil announced it would cancel $900 million of African debt, the latest in a series of diplomatic overtures that have characterised the country’s Africa strategy since Lula’s first term in 2003. In May Brazil’s foreign minister, António Patriota, announced his support for the inclusion of Spanish-speaking Equatorial Guinea in the Community of Portuguese Language Speaking Countries (CPLP). Meanwhile Gol, Brazil’s low-cost airline, announced that it would press ahead with plans to establish three weekly flights to Nigeria; and Ethiopia’s foreign ministry revealed that the Brazilian development bank was in talks to fund a $1billion railway construction project in the country.
As president, Lula positioned Brazil as a “natural” partner to Africa. Now, President Dilma Rousseff talks of a “special relationship” between equals, born of a desire to be “free of colonial hells”. The rhetoric works well for both parties. Brazil wants to be recognised as a leader of the developing world; its long-standing ambition to secure a seat at the UN Security Council retains domestic support. In turn, Brazil has technical expertise in agriculture, mining, and construction—priority sectors in many African countries. Brazilian companies looking to secure credit lines from the Brazilian development bank for projects in Africa will be pleased that the continent is back in Brazil’s debt good books.
But it is not clear how the branding will fare as Brazil’s big conglomerates continue to expand in Africa. This year, Brazilian miners were embarrassed by tense community relations in Mozambique and Guinea. As Brazil stretches its commercial limbs, its rhetoric might wear thin.