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Zim–Brazil relations: Possibilities of a Look South Policy

11 years ago | 3751 Views
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 to Zimbabwe, although in many ways, Brazil outclasses the other BRICs in the East. There are fundamental differences to note: Brazil is a democracy and exports a great deal more than arms and oil. Unlike other countries in its bloc, 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 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 stock market 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. In fact, 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.


The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.

Garikai Chengu is a research scholar at Harvard University's Faculty of Arts and Sciences,
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