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Zim–Brazil relations: Possibilities of a Look South Policy

As the global economic, financial and political balance of power shifts from the West to the East, it is becoming increasingly evident that we are living through the tail end of half a millennium of Western supremacy. Consequently, Zimbabwe must be commended for presciently adopting a Look East policy over a decade ago. However, the nation must now also look to strengthen ties with the fastest developing nation not found in the East, namely Brazil.


The Look East policy has been beneficial but in many ways, Brazil outclasses the other BRICs in the East. Unlike China, it is a democracy. Unlike Russia, it exports a great deal more than arms and oil. Unlike India, it has no insurgents, no hostile neighbours or internal ethnic or religious conflict.


From an economic speck at the outset of the 19th century, the US by 1914 had grown into the world’s largest economy and leading exporter. This dominance continued and grew for almost a century and a few years ago, the US, with only five percent of the world’s population, accounted for approximately a quarter of the world’s economic output. The US was responsible for nearly half of global military expenditure and crucially had the most extensive cultural and educational soft power.


However, as it stands, the American Empire is falling rapidly. Much like the Roman Empire, America’s Empire is decaying from within rather than from despicable terrorists or barbarians at the gates. The three interconnected forces that destroy empires – lack of money, military over-reach and the catastrophic loss of self-confidence that stems from the other two – have coalesced with astonishing speed since the Twin Towers tragically fell.


How did we get here, when all’s been well but did not end well?When George Walker Bush was elected President by five of the nine Supreme Court judges, he inherited a nation swimming in money and basking in its post-Cold War hegemony. A mere two Presidential terms later, despite the residual economic boom and surplus President Clinton left him, he doubled the budget deficit by spending trillions on discredited wars and billions more on tax breaks for the rich. He inherited a swaggering empire at the zenith of its military, financial and indeed cultural might, and bequeathed to President Obama a rattled country in precipitous decline. As a result, President Obama’s cards were marked in advance and he now speaks with diminishing authority at high stakes international tables. He sounds increasingly like the the eloquent voice of an empire in decline.


Obama’s wise refusal to dominate a questionable Nato campaign and the President’s choice to ”lead from behind” confirms something unthinkable only a decade ago. The President of the United States of America is no longer the leader of the free world, but a fellow-traveller in a free world without a leader at all.


Watching America’s unipolar moment end is rather like watching a drunken giant begin to loose its footing. A sobering reckoning of some sort seems inevitable; and it is difficult to see how the U.S. can regain its footing.


Five hundred years ago, what had given the West the edge over the Rest were five key features: the capitalist enterprise, the scientific method, global imperialism, the ‘Protestant’ ethic of work and finally, the consumer society and capital accumulation as ends in themselves. Brazil has clearly replicated the first and the second and may be in the process of adopting others with some alterations (consumption and the work ethic). Only the third – imperialism – shows little sign of emerging in Brazil towards Africa.


In-fact, quite the contrary, Brazil does a great deal of good in Africa: Brazil’s relations with Africa date from the beginning of seventeenth century, when many merchants and entrepreneurs of West African origin returned to the continent and established regular shipping lines and commerce flourished from Bahia. Prior to 1980 Brazil was instrumental in pushing for Zimbabwean Independence at the UN and helped establish the African Development Bank.


More recently, whilst in office from 2003 to 2010, former President Lula da Silva presided over an era of unprecedented political and economic engagement between Brazil and Africa. In that time Brazil has doubled its number of embassies on the continent to 34, tripled its exports to over $9.5bn in 2010 and quadrupled trade with Africa.


Unlike the West’s well known multinational corporational and imperialist approach to Africa and unlike China’s economic and resource extractive model, Brazil emphasises ”South-South” cooperation in which social, political and cultural concerns are as important as economic concerns. As much as 50 percent of Brazil’s population traces its heritage to Africa, and some parts of the country bear closer resemblance to sub-Saharan Africa than mainland Latin America. Brazil is the second-largest black country in the world after Nigeria, with 76 million Afro-Brazilians out of a total population of 190 million. ”Brazil would not be what it is today without the participation of millions of Africans who helped build our country. Whoever comes after me has the moral, political and ethical obligation to do much more,” said President da Silva in his last address on the continent.


Zimbabwe must now engage the new administration and recognise and expand mutually beneficial areas of political, economic and social cooperation between the two nations.


Firstly, on the political front, Brasilia’s associations with the Second Chimurenga, and subsequent cordial political relations, have resulted in the crucial formation of an ideological alliance with an increasingly influential member of the international community and a probable permanent member of the UN Security Council. Virtually everyone agrees that the Security Council’s permanent, veto-wielding membership reflects a bygone age, when what mattered was who won the second world war. As and when Brasilia takes its rightful permanent seat on the UN Security council the people of Zimbabwe will have another invaluable ally in the fight against illegal sanctions.


Secondly, Brazil has a great deal to offer Zimbabwe on the economic front and indeed vice versa. Brazil is the world’s fifth-largest country by population and eighth-largest economy in real terms and is forecast to become the world’s fifth-largest economy within a decade, overtaking Britain and France.


Going forward Zimbabwe must take a leaf out of Brazil’s book, which over the past decade has conquered inflation, opened a protected economy to the world and begun to tackle its social problems. Poverty and inequality are falling steadily. Brazilian companies, traditionally inward-looking family-owned affairs, are going to the stockmarket to raise funds, in many cases to finance expansion abroad.


On the mining front this expansion will be mutually beneficial for both Brazil and Zimbabwe. The former would benefit from gaining access to the richest nation on earth on a natural resources per capita basis, the fastest growing mining sector globally and low cost labour. Zimbabwe in turn would benefit from the exploration orientated, expertise and capital at the disposal of some of Brazil’s global mining houses. Besides, making Zimbabwe’s traditional mining partners in the West compete against a range of emerging market players for resources and influence can only augur well for Zimbabwe’s geopolitical standing.


On the Agricultural front Zimbabwe can benefit from Brazil’s expertise in agricultural research and development of agricultural equipment and development, especially in procurement of machinery and implements for mechanisation, coffee production, and technology transfer as well as joint venture partnerships in the production of farming equipment.


Finally, Brazil can play a pivotal role in Zimbabwe solving her current energy crisis and achieving energy independence by supporting Harare’s push to embrace ethanol use. Ethanol is a clean-burning motor fuel that is produced from renewable sources such as sugar cane. Ethanol can be blended with petrol or diesel, effectively allowing Zimbabwe to ”grow” some of its own fuel.


The production and use of ethanol would benefit the economy by achieving energy independence, rural development and job creation and also combating climate change. It would also benefit the economy on all levels – local, provincial, and national. From the metropolitan areas where drivers would fill up with a domestically produced fuel, to the local communities where the crops are grown and processed.


There is no better example of how to achieve energy independence globally than Brazil and at the height of its ethanol-fuel programme, three-quarters of all new cars sold in the country ran on pure ethanol. Infact, Brazil is the world’s most efficient ethanol producer, and wants to create a global market in the green fuel. But it cannot do so if it is the world’s only real provider. Spreading ethanol technology to nations like Zimbabwe creates new suppliers, boosts the chances of a global market and generates business for Brazilian firms. Hence, Brazil’s support for the US$600 million ethanol plant in Chisumbanje, championed by ARDA, which is a monumental development for Zimbabwe’s energy sector. Be it energy, mining, agriculture, politics or poverty alleviation policies Harare stands to benefit a great deal from increasing engagement with Brasilia.


Pivoting to look east was prescient. Re-engaging the West is necessary, but strengthening South-South ties with Brazil is pivotal.


By Gari Chengu






4 thoughts on “Zim–Brazil relations: Possibilities of a Look South Policy

  1. Dear Garikai,

    Thank you for writing quite an informative and well laid out article on Zim-Brazil relations. I found it quite interesting and have a few points I’d like to hash out with you. First of, I’d like to say I am a science student and as such, I am not well boned up on economics/politics/history but I am working on that. As a result of the current economic crisis, (and being Zimbabwean of course) I have found myself increasingly interested in learning more about why Africa is poor and remains poor yet other countries seem to be thriving. The thing that strikes me is that, Africa is definitely not the only continent in the developing world but it is seemingly the only continent where, excepting South Africa, no part of any country within the continet can say considerable parts of the country have world-class infrastructure, technology, education, tourism and/or resources. The vast majority of all African countries is nothing but dust and poverty yet the likes of India, for example, have highly educated individuals and house the HQ of some of the worlds most profitable companies. I do not understand why this is so and am looking to find tangible reasons for the lack of any world leading infrastrcture/institutions in Africa. To this end, I have watched the news, read one or two books about secrecy jurisdictions and socialism, read a few articles, like yours, about international trade, relations etc.

    One thing that struck me about your article is that, you say a lot of pocitive things about how Zimbabwe can change or move towards becoming a strong economy once again. You do not, however, explicity state how this change can be brought about and it’s sustainability in the current state of turmoil that Zimbabwe is in. You mention that:

    Going forward, Zimbabwe must take a leaf out of Brazil’s book, which over the past decade has conquered inflation, opened a protected economy to the world and begun to tackle its social problems. Poverty and inequality are falling steadily. Brazilian companies, traditionally inward-looking family-owned affairs, are going to the stock market to raise funds, in many cases to finance expansion abroad.

    How can this be achieved in Zimbabwe? At present, the education system in Zimbabwe is rapidly declining from having been the best in Africa to potentially becoming one of the poorest and most corrupt education systems. Without education for all, how can we expect the above things you mention to be achieved? The current government, including Tsvangirai’s party, are ruling the masses by using blind and idiotic promises. Zimbabweans need to be educated about basic human rights. I feel that we need to push forward with the issue of education for the masses. I have come to realise now, at the age of 23, that when I was in high school in Zimbabwe there was an evident lack of teaching of the economics/politics/history of Africa in relation to the western world. I learnt about the IMF, WHO, UN and all other acronyms in seventh garde and never met those topics again in my high school years. Granted, I chose the science route however, I did history in the first two years of high school. At that stage, we only learnt about stone/bronze/iron ages and the volution of man. Fundamental issues such as Zimbabwe’s economy or that of other African countries was not to be heard of.

    I believe that educating the masses is a vitally important issue that needs to be addressed in Zimbabwe. Without education, people aimlessly and hopelessly wander the streets, breaking street lights, thinking that they are making the government pay not realising that without that street light, some woman can get robbed/raped/abused by scoundrels and also not realising that it is their money, through taxes, that will be used to repair that street light if it is repaired. Educating people about western world systems can make them realise how far behind Africa is. I believe that Africa is probably like what western Europe/North America was like two centuries ago. We are not poor because we do not have the infrastructure or are cursed by evil spirits. No. We are poor because we are abused by countries that are continually moving forward through R&D, something taht is significantly lacking in Africa were it not for being the guinea-pigs that the western europeans use to test their latest drug treatments/therapies. We need to get people to understand how the world works, that a government is elected by the people to work FOR the people and can be removed by the people if they fail to do their job. Poverty and inequality cannot fall without people knowing and understanding why they are poor and how they came to be so in the first place. We need to change ourselves internally before looking outside for solutions to basic problems such as human rights. Once freedom of speech is attined, it give people the chance to debate on political and economical issue without fear of “long arm – short arm”. Continually questioning people keeps us honest. We need to be able to watch the Zim parliament debate laws/issues etc and be able to contribute to that withouht fear of prosecution. Of course no government is honest to it’s people but once issues can be discussed openly, the government can be held accountable and forced to rectify it’s mistakes, people would feel that they can contribute to the governing of their country and hence bring out intelligent minds, forward thinkers, people we can rely on to bring us to the international meetings of world economies, not as beggars but as valuable colleagues and investors!!

    You also mention that Zimbabwe can become self-reliant in energy production by use of ethanol. is this sustainable in the long run? With better fuel/energy production might come population increase and therefore higher consumption and need for living space. Ethanol needs to be “grown” and refined thereafter. Do we have enough land to provide the energy that a developing country and hopefully someday, an emerging economy needs? Ethanol might only be a short term solution to a long term problem. Therefore we need to look to more sustainable resources like hydrogen and whatever else is out there. We would also need to train people in manufacturing and production of these fuels, another investment in education.

    I also have another concern with regards to looking to Brazil. As I am not knowledgeable about the countries economy, I will only speak from small observations I have made. HSBC Global Asset Management is one of the world’s largest managers of Brazilian equities. HSBC is also one of the worlds largest propagators of poverty in Africa through capitalist tendancies that John Maynard Keynes warned against in the mid 20th century. So if Brazil has tight links with such a bank, can they really be trusted? The financial industry along with the rats that support tham namely the IMF, OECD, World Bank, plays a undeniably crucial role in keeping Africa poor. Our tax treaties with the countries that pay the keep for these rats, keep us poor. We need a revolution in Africa. We need to stand (united) up against these rats. Yes, we have our venal governments but if we could educate our fellow countrymen about these issues and stop idiotic tribalism fuelled hate, we can begin to make a change. We need to stop the flight of capital out of our own countries. Nigeria is one of the biggest suppliers of oil but the profits gained from that trade do not benefit the masses. They only make 1% of the population rich and that is the same in Angola. the west coast of Africa is immensly rich in oil. If we could harness the profits made from that, I am certain we could wipe out our current debts. All we need is a revolution of educated people. the majority of Africans are poor and uneducated. We need to find a way to educate ourselves and bring Africa to the forefront.

    All I am asking is for someone to write an article on how education about economics/politics/history can be achieved in Africa. can we change the syllabus? Can we, as the diaspora, invest in educating Zimbabweans who are not able to educate themselves? I hear Oprah gave a certain Terrerai Trent, 1.5mill USD to build a school in Zimbabwe. Who are the investors in this endeavour? Many children are continually turned away from school as a result of lack of fees but ministers continue to fly around the world, send their children to private schools outside Zimbabwe, drive merc’s. Is this a fair system? Can we achieve what you are talking about in your article on such a foundation? If Zimbabwe were to prosper on such a foundation, the profits would not be felt by the people who need it the most. the profits would be absorbed by the ministers and their cronies in government. We need to make people aware of this, givem them the chance to fight for their rights, elect the government if a fair and just way so that we can achieve a country where freedom of speech, education and prosperity is everyone’s right and entitlement.

    Apologies for any spelling and grammatical mistakes.

    Posted by Emilia | August 3, 2011, 12:04 pm
    • Emilia, thank you for your reasoned contribution.

      As I read your disenchantment at the lack of world class institutions across the continent, the necessity of greater knowledge regarding Zimbabwe’s economic geopolitical position vis-a-vis the nations and global institutions that are largely to blame for our economic position, and your desire to establish means of turning these two phenomena on their head, three words spring to mind – education, education and education.

      Our parents’ generation aspired to become lawyers, doctors, teachers, and engineers – persons of standing in society. Given their constraints these were indeed noble goals, but we must ensure that our children are educated to aspire to run law firms, set up medical practices, create engineering firms from scratch and build schools; become owners rather than CEOs. Ergo, change makers and not economic chattels. This brand of Social Entrepreneurship is what has driven many economies towards their pinnacle: the exploration that drove the British Empire during the 19th Century, the free-wheeling and albeit flawed enterprising capitalism that has driven the American Empire during the 20th Century and of late the entrepreneurship that has created many multinational companies from scratch and driven growth in Brazil and India that will come to define this century.

      I will certainly turn my attention to education in the coming weeks and will email you an advance copy prior to publication – All the best

      Posted by garikaichengu | August 3, 2011, 10:18 pm
    • I have worked on the problem of universal education for fifteen years, here is my answear to it.

      4 every 1—– http://www.system-one-4-every-1.co.uk/index.html

      John Nicholson


      Posted by John Nicholson | August 5, 2011, 9:55 pm
  2. Interesting piece Sir. However America is not going anywhere anytime soon. The soft power that you mention in your piece – cultural, educational and scientific – is very crucial in sustaining hegemony. China can and will overtake the US in about 10 years time, so the pundits say, but I do not have a sense of any Chinese soft power. On a GDP per capita basis, the US is still distant miles ahead of China. Also bear in mind that China still needs to open up its political system. The Western model of intertwined economic prosperity and individual liberty is a tried and tested model and China is sitting on a slow-ticking time bomb. I know your piece was not on China.

    Posted by Simba | August 3, 2011, 12:21 pm

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email me on garikai.chengu@gmail.com

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