Brazil: showing Africa some love

It’s turning out to be one good week for Brazil-Africa relations.

The latest sign of the ever cosier relationship came on Tuesday from Brazil’s budget airline Gol, which said it had received the go-ahead from regulators for three weekly flights to Nigeria.

If Gol went ahead with the route, it would be the first Brazilian airline with its own flights to Africa. The company said it would use its standard fleet of 737 NG jets, but was keen to make clear that no decision had yet been made.

This from Gol:

When, and if, the company decides to go ahead it will make the due announcement to the market.

The news comes only a few days after President Dilma Rousseff’s visit to the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa to mark the African Union’s 50th anniversary. She brought with her the good news that Brazil’s government was planning to cancel or restructure about $900m of debt owed by African countries.

Government officials also announced over the weekend that Brazil’s development bank BNDES was in talks to offer up to $1bn to fund railway construction in Ethiopia.

Brazil and Africa’s relationship has been somewhat rocky over the years. After establishing relatively good ties in the 1970s, they drifted apart in the 1980s and 1990s as Brazil lurched from one economic crisis to the next. It was only in the last decade, under former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, that Brazil began to take the continent seriously and vice-versa. While Lula was keen to strengthen south-south relations as a way to shift influence away from established powers such as the US, African countries also offered great opportunities for Brazilian companies.

However, Gol’s interest in expanding to Africa may be a little more complicated.

The airline started off as a low-cost domestic carrier with occasional flights to Buenos Aires, but Brazil’s highly competitive market has forced it to look elsewhere for new revenue streams. When Gol announced a new flight route to Miami last year, many considered the move ambitious but understandable. If there’s one thing Brazilians love more than carnival, it’s shopping in Miami. However, it is hard to see Brazilians flocking to Nigeria any time soon.

The most logical conclusion is that Gol would use the country as a hub, suggesting it may be looking at creating further partnerships with other airlines.

While Brazil’s government has been pursuing a long-term relationship with Africa, Gol may only want a one-night layover at most.

Related reading:
Brazil’s ‘rainbow’ diplomacy a double-edged, FT
West plays catch-up on Africa contracts, FT
Brazil accelerates investment in Africa, FT (2010)
Brics in Africa: adding it up, beyondbrics (2010)