Heads of state and government from 66 countries in Africa and South America are meeting in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea's capital, with the goal of improving cooperation. Analysts warn against excessive expectations.
There was great euphoria nearly four years ago at the last Africa-South America summit which took place in Venezuela. Media outlets carried images of then Libyan president Moammar Gadhafi arm in arm with Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez and Brazil's Lula da Silva.
This was intended to be a model for successful South-South cooperation and the beginning of broader ties between Africa and South America. But the optimism that greeted the first two summits held in 2006 and 2009 respectively now seems to have faded.
Libya's charismatic ex-president Gadhafi is dead, Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez is seriously ill and Brazil's Lula da Silva is no longer in office. The follow-up summit which was scheduled for May last year was postponed by the Brazilian side. South-South cooperation has seen little progress in the last three years.
Diplomatic sources say the implementation of the planned projects is still far away and the delegations seem to have got bogged down in organizational issues, such as the exact structure and funding of a permanent council.
Shortly before the start of this year's summit, participants were still arguing about the agenda of the high-level meeting.
"The summit is primarily political, it is about the idea of South-South cooperation. There are some good examples, such as Brazil's commitment to Africa," Alex Vines from the renowned London-based Chatham House think-tank told DW. "But other South American countries seem to have different agendas. Venezuela, a socialist republic, is more interested in the ideology of South-South cooperation," Vines added. In other words, Venezuela is seeking allies against the US and Europe. For Vines, Brazil is the only country that has been driving forward its strategy for Africa over the past decade.
Behind the so-called South-South cooperation is the idea that developing countries that are themselves still in the development phase should contribute through investment and trade to the economic development of poorer countries.
Brazil sees its connection to Africa as particularly important due to its historical ties with the continent. As a result of the slave trade, the proportion of Brazilian citizens with African ancestry is very high in the largest South American country.
Brazil has developed strategies to fight AIDS and poverty at home. Now it's making its solutions available to Africans.
"Especially in the battle against AIDS, there is an exchange of know-how," Markus Fraundorfer, an expert on Brazil from the GIGA Institute in Hamburg, told DW. "Brazil's national AIDS program has an excellent international reputation and is considered a model by many international organizations," he added. Two years ago, Brazil built a laboratory in Mozambique that produces AIDS drugs not only for Mozambicans but also for other sub-Saharan countries.
Other side of the coin
But Brazil's South-South cooperation with Africa has not been without controversy. South America's biggest economy has faced accusations of human rights abuses and criticism from environmental organizations. They say Brazil has its own economic interests, and Brazilian companies see Africa as a promising consumer market, especially in view of the fact that the African middle class has been steadily rising thanks to the robust economic growth witnessed in recent years. In addition, they need raw materials and manufactured goods.
Brazil granted loans to the authoritarian government of Angola for the construction of a large dam. The work was carried out by Brazilian construction company Odebrecht. Apart from that, Brazilian biofuel producers are establishing sugar cane plantations in Africa.
They need new production sites and markets, often with negative consequences for the people of Africa. "The big losers are small-scale farmers and micro-businesses run by families," says political analyst Markus Fraundorfer. "These big companies with their industrial plants have pushed local farmers to the brink and deprived them of their livelihood." In Frauendorfer's view, this is precisely why Brazil has come under sharp criticism. "They enter with the noble objective of combating poverty and hunger in Africa, but at the same time, their massive thirst for ethanol is leading to hunger and poverty in these countries."
The Brazil-Africa initiative also has another dimension.
Like Germany, the South American country is applying for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. The 54 African nations in the UN General Assembly can play an influential role here.
The main aim of the summit will be for both sides to find a common position and strategy for future cooperation, says Alex Vines. But he warns against having too many expectations. "We must not forget that Africa is a continent with 54 countries, many more than in South America, but there is not that kind of homogeneity found in South and Central America. At a broad level there may be some consensus but it's difficult beyond that to reach a coherent decision so I see this as a long term process.".