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Aided by cultural similarities and mutual interests, Brazil has in fact been forging strong ties with African countries for decades.
Brazil was colonized by Portugal, as were several African states, and their common Lusophone (Portuguese-speaking) identity has helped to bind the South American nation with Angola, Mozambique, Guinea Bissau, Cape Verde and Sao Tome and Principe. Shared socio-cultural characteristics, in turn, have served as a foundation for good relations between Brazil and these African nations in other areas. Brazilian businesses and their Lusophone African counterparts have easy access to and reference points for one another, and Brazilians benefit from visa-free travel to Lusophone African countries.
If Lusophone Africa is the starting point for Brazil's strategy on the continent, the large southern African nation of Angola is its epicenter. In 1975, Brazil surprised many political leaders by becoming the first country in the world to recognize Angola's independence.
Brazil's strategic interest in the South Atlantic — the geographic portion of the Atlantic Ocean south of the equator — compelled Brazilian diplomats to accept realpolitik and embrace a pragmatic relationship with Angola that continues to this day. In 2015, Brazil signed investment agreements with Angola and Mozambique that allowed Brazilian companies to open offices there. These companies then used the nations as hubs.
Brazil has also made use of Lusophone Africa in its broader African strategy, particularly when it comes to the South Atlantic, where a wealth of oil and other valuable minerals have long captured the country's attention.
For years, Brazilian policymakers have understood the strategic value of the countries along the Western-facing African coast, and they have recently begun ramping up a diplomatic charm offensive designed to push Brazil's relations with Africa beyond cultural ties and southern solidarity.
Greater representation on the African continent signals that Brazil is interested in a serious long-term commitment there, which has allowed Brazilian businesses to thrive. From 2000 to 2013, trade between Brazil and Africa went from $4.2 billion to $28.4 billion; African countries primarily provided oil to Brazil, while Brazil provided infrastructure development, agricultural products and defense equipment and training in return. Brazil's food exports to Africa, in particular, grew by a whopping 57 percent and represent over 50 percent of the trade between Brazil and Africa this year so far.
Of course, the relationship between Brazil and the African continent is not a one-way street. Economically, countries like Angola have benefited from their relationships with Brazil. After all, Brazilian multinational companies have created thousands of jobs in local markets.
Though these relationships aren't given the global attention that, say, China's African overtures are, Brazil has maintained strong and productive ties with African states for decades in hopes of tapping into the many benefits such connections can provide.