Lights out for Brazil as a security actor in Africa?

Current convulsions in Brazil

The impact of changing political cycles on long-term governmental planning and execution is often difficult to assess right up front. In the case of Brazil, however, the current convulsions at the higher echelons of power – including a haunting combination of economic recession, all-encompassing corruption scandals, and a discredited political elite – are beginning to take their toll on previous policies and strategies, that had been meticulously laid out in the years prior. Even though detailed evaluations are still hard to come by, some not-so subtle changes are already taking place in key sub-areas. This may very well include Brazil’s security and defence overtures towards Africa.

Brazil’s security and defence efforts in Africa

To be clear, amidst overall transatlantic relations, defence issues do not rank particularly high as a top priority in terms of public perceptions. They were nonetheless met with significant developments throughout the last decade. Indeed, defence attaché posts were opened, military procurement deals were signed, training programs were agreed upon, and joint exercises were planned. For all purposes, Brazil sought to present itself as a security actor that ought to be reckoned with in African affairs. Fast forward a couple of years, however, and the outlook is far bleaker than anticipated.

The latest evidence of a declining trend can be found in the reported volte-face with the long gestating donation of Brazilian military aircraft to Mozambique. The crux behind the latest decision was apparently tied to an operational ‘change of heart’ by the Brazilian Air Force, who decided it was not willing let go of the initial spare military hardware after all. Connections with foreseeable cutbacks in the national re-equipment programs due to the present political and economic climate can be, of course, easily made. But other previously announced initiatives are also finding it difficult to get off the ground.

The embryonic structure of Brazil’s Naval Mission to São Tomé and Príncipe, for instance, which was inaugurated in 2015, has yet to achieve full mission status, largely due to budgetary constraints. On the other hand, the single largest deal for Brazilian naval industry in recent years – a seven ship contract with Angola’s Navy – seemingly broke down in January, in part because of the lack of logistical capacity on Brazil’s side to handle such large order at this point.

The consequences of a capability-expectations gap

The short-term consequences of this downturn are unmistakably reputational as expectations were raised and promises of technical support were made with regard to several African partners. But perhaps more importantly, they also signal a gradual reshape of a previously extensive outwards defence policy towards the continent.

This, in turn, may reflect a potentially deeper curtail of the wider agenda for the South Atlantic, that substantiated the bulk of the developments in the defence domain in the first place. That said, any definitive dismissal of Brazilian prospects in the long run would also be premature, as the successful endurance of Brazil’s naval operation in Namibia since 1994 onwards has come to show.

But for the time being, when faced with a reduced priority amidst new foreign policy guidelines coupled with an evident political will to disengage with the legacy of former governments, it is difficult to escape a perception of an overall retrenchment in Africa in tandem with the decline of Brazil’s credibility as a transatlantic security actor.

Photo by Rob Schleiffert / CC BY

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Pedro Seabra

Researcher at CEI-IUL. Ph.D. in Comparative Politics (2016, ICS-UL); M.A. in Political Science and IR (2011, FCSH-Nova); Undergraduate studies in Law (2008, Univ. Porto).

Leave a Reply