For many Brazilians Africa is a mystery, and for many Africans Brazil is still a legend. Of all the continents, Africa still has great potentialities for Brazil, either from an economic point of view, but also educational and social. The connection is very strong, we have cultural ties more than rooted, and we should not lose that, even in times of economic crisis.
For years I have developed educational projects in Angola and Mozambique, and I could see up close how much we still need to know the Portuguese spoken Africa with depth. I have a feeling that Brazil is seen as a “cousin” that worked, even considering all economic and political problems that we are suffering right now.
In General, Brazil needs to observe more closely Angola and Mozambique, not to mention potentialities in Sao Tome and Principe, and not only by large companies such as Vale, or construction companies, I believe that African countries have opportunities for medium and small entrepreneurs in many sectors, mainly in Education and Health.
The Brazil just won a work that explains exactly the nuances of business and opportunity of the country with Africa, particularly Mozambique. The journalist, Amanda Rossi, presents to the public the significant Brazilian work “Mozambique – Brazil is here“. The work, newly launched by Editora Record, is a true investigative treaty on Brazil’s business in Mozambique. In great detail, and well-founded through documents, reports, interviews and observations in loco, Amanda Rossi describes Mozambique as we really should know. Between the years 2010 and 2013 Amanda Rossi toured the country and obtained several stories that helped building this true manual on Brazil’s business in Mozambique.
The EXAME Blog Brazil in the World spoke with Amanda Rossi and the experiences she gained with the development of the work.
“Amanda Rossi is a journalist. Graduated at USP, she works on TV Globo, where he was producer of Jornal Nacional and the Special Reports Center on the water crisis. Before, she joined Estadão Dados, data journalism center of the newspaper O Estado de São Paulo. She stayed seven months in Mozambique, between 2010 and 2013, where she made reports on Africa for Estadão, Editora Abril, Carta Capital and Le Monde Diplomatique. She started in journalism in 2006, at Terra Magazine. A native of Uberlândia (MG), she has lived in São Paulo for ten years”.
BRAZIL in the WORLD: How did the idea for the book came up?
Amanda Rossi: When I came to Mozambique for the first time, in 2010, it caught my attention the large number of Brazilian projects and businesses. At the time, it was very little known about what the Brazil was doing in Africa. There was news about the travels of Lula, the opening of embassies, the increasing of foreign trade, but it was not known the real face of our presence on the continent. How did Africans see the arrival of Brazil? What were the companies doing? Did they receive support from the Government? How was the implementation and what were the results of the projects of the Brazilian Government to help in the development of Africa? those were questions still unanswered. I started investigating the matter and put it in the center of my reports. Over time, the presence of Brazil was only increasing. So, I decided to go further and write the book.
BRAZIL in the WORLD: What were the biggest challenges you faced in Mozambique for the production of the book?
Amanda Rossi: A challenge was driving by land. There are very few official bus lines in Mozambique. To go from city to city, there are basically two options: rent a car or catch a “chapa”, as are called the precarious vans that make collective transport. I almost always opted for the chapa, to stay in touch with real life in Mozambique. The chapa does not have time to get out. You get in the van and wait until it is filled – with passengers, bags and even chickens and goats. There’s a code of ethics that cannot be broken: once inside, you can’t go out to trade van, it has to be tight to make volume and speed up the process of leaving. There is also no arrival time. The paths are unpredictable. Another challenge is to make appointments and to approach the interviewee. To have an intermediary help is essential. Many people are wary about reporters and their purpose. To be a foreign white woman increases the degree of difficulty. In rural areas, where few speak Portuguese (the official language of Mozambique) we must strive even more to build trusts. Intonation, pauses, the moment and the place of the look and the way of gesturing are very important. To obtain official data and information I didn’t have difficulties. It’s easier to know how much tax Vale paid in Mozambique than in Brazil, for example.
BRAZIL in the WORLD: You present a series of data and facts concerning Africa and Mozambique with the direct performance of former President Lula. How do you evaluate the performance of the former President on the African continent?
Amanda Rossi: Lula was the leader of the rapprochement between Brazil and Africa. Before him, the more striking Brazilian presence were the soapoperas. With him, Brazil landed leading political agreements, cooperation projects and business, many businesses. Lula wanted to stimulate a new geopolitics, in which the South (emerging and developing countries) had more strength. The main way to do that, he believed, was increasing South-South economic relations. So, Lula led business missions to Africa. He participated in dialogues between Brazilian and African Governments. Created lines of funding to support who wanted to go to Africa. He was a traveling salesman. In the interview I did with the former President, he said he was “proud” when Brazilian companies became multinationals and questioned the serving of a Government as to promote business in the country. I asked him why he was quoting entrepreneurs. Lula replied that they were the main agents, who made things happen, and that it was necessary to awaken their interest. The contradiction is that companies that Brazil supported not necessarily followed the line of solidarity that the Government preached in Africa. Today, there are already protests against the Brazilian presence. In addition to encouraging business, Lula had another important role in Africa: he tried to enable projects to assist African development. Among them, an Aids medicine factory of Fiocruz and experimental fields of Embrapa. After leaving the Planalto, Lula still has strengthened the agenda to combat hunger in Africa. However, money lacked for these initiatives and, today, the greatest legacy of Brazil in Africa really are the businesses.
BRAZIL in the WORLD: Do you believe that the Brazilian companies really want to leave a legacy in Mozambique or they all are by the simple logic of profit?
Amanda Rossi: the Mozambican writer Mia Couto said something very interesting in the interview he granted to the book: “some of the forces which today lead Brazil are the same wherever, in Brazil or in the United States, in China or anywhere else. They are forces lead by global languages of profit”. I tend to agree with him. Brazilian companies don’t operate on a different logic of the other companies in the world. They want to profit, they are there to make money. At the beginning, they shared the Government’s speech Lula that Brazil would be different, more sympathetic, a “brother people”. In fact, there are some social projects and employ more Africans than chinese companies. But, as the Brazilian initiatives were gaining body, they did not show structural differences. I will give you two examples. Coal mining of Vale in Mozambique, which is the biggest deal of Brazil in Africa, pay very low taxes and keep pressing the Government to pay even less. It removed hundreds of families and offered them poor houses. Odebrecht builded the second largest airport in Mozambique, with credit from BNDES, in a region targeted by the economic interests of Brazil. Detail: one of the 10 airports in the country is less than 200 km from there. Only half of the local population have piped water and one fourth has electricity.
BRAZIL in the WORLD: Your job is a “big investigation into the Brazilian business in Africa”. How do you evaluate the Brazilian business on the African continent?
Amanda Rossi: Brazilian companies installed in Africa appealed much to the Brazilian Government to do business. First, they demanded political support. Then, financing. In the case of contractors, the Brazilian public banks loans are vital, because African countries rarely have cash to pay directly through the works. In Lula Governments, businesses have been able to count on such assistance. But, with Rousseff, they had less room to negotiate. So, they say that they miss Lula. Until now, the main Brazilian investments in Africa are in mining and construction. This investment matrix is an “old model”, according to an important Director of a African economic body. What he means is that Brazil is not being different, as proposed when it started to get closer to Africa.
BRAZIL in the WORLD: what is your perception of the Mozambican people in relation to Brazilian companies and the Brazilians?
Amanda Rossi: a portion of the Mozambican people is disappointed with the Brazilian performance. Especially those who have been directly impacted by Brazil’s business, as families removed by Vale and the peasants who are fearful that the same happens with them after the arrival of Brazilian agribusiness. In addition to chicken producers, who have had losses due to imports of frozen chicken from Brazil. They also resent those who get involved with help projects from Brazil, whose budgets – which were already low – were cut during the Government of Dilma. However, there are Mozambicans who retain hope in Brazil. One of the chapters of the book shows it. In it, I tell the story of a group of peasants whose land would have been illegally occupied by European plantation. Even trapped by the international exploration, they were eager for the arrival of Brazilian agricultural projects. They had confidence that “the Brazilian brothers” would do differently and would support the Mozambican people. I pressed everything I could, but nothing seemed to shake their faith in Brazil.
BRAZIL in the WORLD: after your 405 pages, what is the greatest learning you won with Mozambique?
Amanda Rossi: Mozambique taught me a lot about the new african moment. Africa is seeing its democracy consolidate and its economy grow, battling little by little to reverse the stereotype of continent plagued by wars, dictatorships, famines and epidemics. This African movement is arousing the appetite of many global actors. Beyond Europe and the United States, which were already in Africa, China arrived with force. Today, this is the biggest economic partner on the African continent. Mozambique still showed me a new facet of my own country. Brazil also was among the voracious interested in Africa.
Seeing all this, I got back from Africa with a conviction. For decades, the international community said Africans what they had to do to solve their problems. Joseph Ki-Zerbo, the greatest historian of Africa, said Africans were classified as extras, to highlight the role of protagonists. Mia Couto seamed that the difficulty of Africans to think themselves as subjects of history comes mainly from having others to design the legacy of their own identity. So, I believe they are Africans who need to guide their own ways.
Regardless of who provides the hand (and the pocket): European, American, Chinese or even us, Brazilians.
BRAZIL in the WORLD: To you FRELIMO and RENAMO still have unresolved past raids and wounds? The probability of some conflict is remote in your opinion?
Amanda Rossi: the probability of conflicts is high. During 2013, about forty people died and 80 other were injured due to the resumption of clashes between Renamo and Frelimo. It was a surprise. The country had just completed 20 years before of peace, it was not imagined that the war could start again after so long. At the Centre of these new shocks, it was the economic growth of Mozambique – generated mainly by mining. Renamo felt left out in the distribution of dividends and threatened to divide the country in half. The South, with the capital Maputo, would be with Frelimo. The Centre and the North, where is the new economic axis of the country – the coal exploited by Vale, the agribusiness that is important to Brazilians and unexplored gas reserves – under its command. Renamo has even announced the blockade of the rail line used by Vale to drain coal. Today, the conflicts have ceased again, but the tension remains.
BRAZIL in the WORLD: How do you evaluate the pardons of Brazilian Government debts to several African countries? Even to veiled dictatorships?
Amanda Rossi: the debts of African countries with Brazil were incurred during our military dictatorship, which offered credit for the purchase of industrial products of the “economic miracle”. At first, it worked. The balance of trade with Africa exploded. But the military regime gave no importance to the guarantees that African countries could offer in return. Result: they didn’t have how to pay. In other words, they are debts of almost 40 years, with interest and fix corrections. For nations still very poor, who need to make a huge effort to develop, these debts represent a weight. To Brazil, it makes no difference. There is no expectation that the African countries will do a housecleaning of so old debts, when they have more urgent cleaning to do now. And we have to remember that forgiveness is not exclusively Brazilian. Europe, Japan, IMF, the World Bank also forgive African debt.
On the other hand, it is worth noting that Brazil has a motivation beyond solidarity: make new business. We can only lend to countries that have the name clean. And the loans are important for the expansion of Brazilian companies in Africa. Then, the debt relief is the primary fuel for new business. So, what I think it is critical is not forgiveness of debts too old, but what are the loans that are we going to do going forward. This time, Brazil is more aware of the guarantees, not to stimulate future debts? Which countries will receive new funding from Brazil? And which companies will benefit? You can require that they have commitment to human rights and to the development of African countries? This is the debate that we have to do now, in my opinion.
BRAZIL in the WORLD: most of the companies mentioned in the book, somehow, appear in the process of “Lava Jato” Operation. Including situations involving their investments in Africa. How you analyze this situation?
Amanda Rossi: the “Lava Jato” operation has an educational role. Going forward, the companies that have relations with the State – particularly contractors – will need to behave differently. After all, the society and Brazilian institutions no longer accept certain irregularities. Until then, the business of these companies will be affected. It impacts Brazil’s relations with Africa, because many of the contractors charged by Lava Jato have important business on the African continent. With the health of the companies not going well, their international performances may decrease. In addition, many of the works of Brazilian construction companies in Africa depends on loans from BNDES. Now, of course, it will be much harder to get those resources. But I’m an optimist and I think the result in the long run can be healthy. Brazilian companies are likely to have more ethical practices in other countries. And Brazil can be more rigorous in loans, requiring more of the companies that it supports abroad.
BRAZIL in the WORLD: what are your next projects?