Brazil's Lula heads to Africa
Brasilia - Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Saturday kicks off a tour of six African countries as Brazil seeks to boost its influence on the continent.
Lula will first head to Cape Verde, among the nine Portuguese-speaking countries or regions. He will participate in a Brazil-ECOWAS summit with the Economic Community of West African States that groups 15 countries.
He will then travel to Equatorial Guinea, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia and South Africa, where he will watch the World Cup final on July 11, even though the Brazilian team was eliminated Friday.
"Since President Lula came to power in 2003, the government has made Africa a priority, and backed this with action," his spokesperson Marcelo Baumbach said.
Lula has repeatedly stressed that Brazil - one of the last countries to abolish slavery in 1888 - is the second-largest black country in the world after Nigeria, with 76 million Afro-Brazilians out of a total population of 190 million.
The closer ties with Africa are part of the "South-South" co-operation backed by Brazil, but the South American country remains a minor player in Africa compared to China, which has turned to the continent's richness in raw materials to fuel its own spectacular growth.
Brazil "wants to partner with African countries in many development projects. It also wants to reach agreements to cooperate, invest and finance agriculture, infrastructure and renewable projects," Baumbach said.
As with his previous visits, Lula will be accompanied by a large delegation of business executives.
The tour will be Lula's fifth to Africa, where he has already visited 20 countries. It will also be his last because the constitution bars him from a third term, despite his sky-high 80% popularity ratings.
At each stop, Lula is scheduled to meet with government leaders and hold a bilateral seminar with entrepreneurs.
Commercial exchanges between Brazil and African countries have nearly tripled during Lula's tenure: from $6.15bn (including $2.68bn in Brazilian exports) seven years ago to $17.15bn (including $8.69bn of Brazilian exports) in late 2009, official figures show.
Brazil is especially keen on securing an expanded presence for its national oil company Petrobras in Africa and on obtaining contracts for major infrastructure projects in which Brazilian firms are very competitive.
An agricultural aid programme, including helping develop biofuels using cane sugar, is also in the works.
Lula has announced plans to establish the first Afro-Brazilian university in Brazil, intended to train the next generation of Africa specialists.