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Lula committed to advancing African solidarity at summit

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Picture: Ricardo Stuckert via Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva/Facebook – Brazil President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva addresses the African Union Summit in Ethiopia. Lula, who is leader of the Workers’ Party in Brazil, is popular in the developing world for being able to halve child malnutrition, slash poverty by a third through the Bolsa Família programme and heavily invest in infrastructure through the Growth Acceleration Programme in Brazil.

By Wesley Seale

“One of the most important trips I’ve taken” is how Brazilian president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, recently described his visit to Africa.

Lula, who is leader of the Workers’ Party at home, remains a popular figure in the developing world given that under his leadership Brazil was able to halve child malnutrition, slashed poverty by a third through the Bolsa Família programme and heavily invested in infrastructure through the Growth Acceleration Programme.

Two-and-a-half months into his G20 presidency, the Brazilian president came to Africa to visit Egypt, where the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was discussed; and Ethiopia, attending the African Union Summit.

Addressing African leaders, Lula was quite vociferous in his condemnation of Israel and compared what the Netanyahu regime was doing to Palestinians to that which Hitler did to the Jews in Europe.

As Africans, we can safely say that Africa has always been close to Lula’s heart and this visit, his first foreign visit as the G20 president, illustrates that, again for Lula, Africa lies at the heart of his G20 agenda for this year.

On his return to Brazil, G20 foreign ministers descended on Rio de Janeiro for a two-day meeting and our Minister of International Relations and Co-operation, Naledi Pandor, was in attendance.

The meeting for finance ministers followed the foreign ministers’ meeting.

Interestingly, for those of us studying the development of the BRICS Plus countries, an IBSA (India Brazil and South Africa) meeting was also arranged while Pandor was in Brazil.

Many commentators understood the three-party forum, India-Brazil-South Africa, to have folded once BRICS was established. The first time the forum met again, after South Africa’s 2010 inclusion in BRICS, was in 2018 under the Ramaphosa presidency.

In addition, Brazil’s presidency of the G20 succeeds fellow IBSA/BRICS Plus member, India, whose leadership of the group of most industrialised economies of the world and the AU, focused on ensuring that emphasis was placed on a human-centric approach to development.

While the theme for this year’s G20 and the summit in November has not been finalised, an item that the Brazilians have been pushing for has been the reform of the United Nations.

Again, this may be a hint for the regrouping of IBSA because these BRICS Plus partners have not found the issue of UN reform resonating with the Chinese and Russian partners in particular. For example, the Global Times had to rely on a 2019 quote from the Chinese ambassador to the UN, Zhang Jun, when he said that “with a collective rise of developing countries being the defining feature, China supports reasonable and necessary reform of the Security Council to meet the needs of the times”.

However, no real development and push has been coming from Beijing for UN reform.

Keeping in mind that the G20 accounts for between 80 percent to 85 percent of global GDP and 75 percent of international trade, Brazilian foreign minister Mauro Vieira, highlighted that “Brazil’s presidency of the G20 focuses on three main priorities: the fight against hunger, poverty and inequality; sustainable development in its economic, social and environmental dimensions; and the reform of global governance.”

And it is this expertise in tackling inequality and reducing poverty, especially witnessed under the first Lula administration in Brazil, that makes Brazilian leadership of the G20 and the global economy critical at this stage in history.

In her blog, Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, writes that in the face of weak global growth, rising inflation as well as reducing debt, “it is fitting that G20 finance ministers and central governors will meet … at Sao Paulo’s Biennale Pavilion, designed by famed architect Oscar Niemeyer. With its flowing lines and striking façade, it is a monument to the boldness of modern Brazil”.

Critically, the IMF, under Georgieva’s leadership, was tasked by the G20 in 2020 to co-ordinate the Common Framework on Debt which sought to restructure the debt repayment process especially after many developing countries defaulted during and after the Covid-19 pandemic.

The framework though has been a failure and again tensions may rise in the BRICS Plus group as many commentators point to China as the cause for the framework’s failure. During last year’s G20 presidency, India certainly applied pressure on its BRICS Plus ally and hopefully Brazil will follow suit.

The question of debt has been an albatross around the necks of developing countries and the stimulation of their economies. For example, Eric LeCompte, executive director of Jubilee USA Network, a network working on the amnesty of Third World debt, points out that “debt payments in developing countries are equal to what many of these countries spend on health, education, social programs and climate issues combined”.

The World Bank has suggested that debt payments would rise by approximately 10 percent in 2023-24.

Lula’s remarks on Israel must be an indicator to the international community that he is prepared to stand up against the developed world, especially given his role as president of the G20.

South Africa, and the Continent of Africa, which suffers from large sums of public debt and have been pushing for UN reform will therefore find an ally in Brazil in not only taking up the issues of international justice when it comes to Palestine, but even items that developing economies such as China and Russia would steer away from; issues such as UN reform and debt.

Dr Wesley Seale holds a PhD in international relations. Seale’s PhD dissertation is on BRICS.