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Why Brazil is showing greater interest in Kenya

Brazilian ambassador to Kenya Marcela Maria Nicodemos. Illustration/Joseph Barasa
Brazilian ambassador to Kenya Marcela Maria Nicodemos. Illustration/Joseph Barasa 

The Brazilian national soccer team, also known as the Samba Boys, is immensely popular in Kenya. So is the lively, rhythmical dance after which the football powerhouse is named after.

Brazil’s growing presence in Kenya can be felt in Nairobi’s Fogo Gaucho steak house, which serves Brazilian cuisine, farms in the Rift Valley being ploughed by Agrale tractors and Randon trucks transporting goods from the Mombasa port.

Ranked the world’s seventh wealthiest economy, Brazil’s meteoric rise to a global power has seen it court Africa in search of raw materials and market for its products and technology.

Now, the South American economic giant has trained its sights on Kenya, seeking investment deals in sectors such as agriculture, heavy machinery engineering, construction, auto and healthcare.

The Brazilian ambassador to Kenya Marcela Maria Nicodemos spoke to the Business Daily on her country’s trade, cultural and bilateral relations with Kenya.

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Explain the renewed interest by Brazilian businesses in Kenya?

Trade relations between Brazil and Africa have been close and growing for decades. Kenya is viewed as a hub for businesses that want to access the larger East Africa Community (EAC) market.

It was under former president Lula da Silva that Brazil made a conscious decision to strengthen South-to-South co-operation. Kenya is a natural fit for Brazilian investors looking for opportunities in eastern Africa due to its strategic geographical position. The infrastructure, skilled population and robust ICT sector make Kenya very attractive.

The Kenyan economy is also growing steadily, and many Brazilian companies and investors see opportunities here.

The reality is that most Kenyans know little about Brazil and the potential it offers in terms of trade and investment. How are you dealing with this knowledge gap?

We are tackling that through a multi-pronged approach that includes business-to-business engagement as well as mass interaction in events such as expos.

We have, for instance, held the second Brazil in Eastern Africa Expo this year between July 24 and 26. More than 60 Brazilian companies and institutions exhibited at the trade fair, providing a large display of technology, products and services for various economic sectors.

The volume of enquiries by entrepreneurs seeking to establish bases here in Kenya has been increasing.  Brazilian firms looking to set up base in Kenya include fertiliser maker Casale Group, agricultural equipment makers Fitarelli, Guarany, Metisa, Cadioli Implementos Agrícolas; packaging and baling machinery firm Indumak.

How is trade between Kenya and Brazil performing?

The major Kenyan exports to Brazil are cut flowers, tea and vegetables. Other products are sheep and goat leather, wood carvings, handicraft as well as milk and cream.

The total value of the exports have grown from Sh74.4 million ($878,530) in 2010 to Sh110.2 million ($1.3 million) last year.

Brazil mainly exports aircraft, domestic and industrial appliances, heavy machinery for mining and construction, agricultural equipment and tractors, motor vehicles sugar and aluminium wire to Kenya.

Kenya imported goods worth Sh24.5 billion ($289.2 million) from Brazil last year.

In 2010, the figure was Sh10.2 billion ($121.3 million), which shows a more than two-fold growth over the period.

These numbers show that there is a huge trade imbalance in favour of Brazil and this is largely attributed to the composition of our exports which is mainly machinery and industrial equipment.

Kenya is our largest African market for the Embraer jets which are used by Kenya Airways on domestic and regional routes.

What about tourism? Are any Brazilian tourists visiting Kenya?

It is estimated that the number of Brazilian tourists visiting Kenya is slightly more than 1,500 annually.

The statistics remain grim but the potential is huge. Most of them come for meetings, conferences and exhibitions and most of them always visit tourist sites. I went to Maasai Mara to witness the wildebeest migration, which is one of the seven new wonders of the world. It was an amazing experience and I hope to share my story with fellow Brazilians.

There is a need for more marketing and a number of Brazilian tour operators have made enquiries to begin operations here.

The launch of direct flights three times weekly to Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo by the Ethiopian Airlines has also helped link Nairobi and Brazil. Kenya Airways plans to launch direct flights to Brazil next year and this will assist in promoting tourism between the two nations. We have already signed the agreements.

With the FIFA World Cup and Olympics games due in Brazil in 2014 and 2016 respectively, we also expect more Kenyans to visit Brazil in the coming years. The number of Brazilians living and working in Kenya is slightly less than 500.

What is the state of cultural engagement between Kenya and Brazil?

Brazil shares a lot of cultural similarities with Kenya, a factor that has bolstered trade relations between the two nations.

We plan to restart Portuguese language training here in Kenya.  Previously, we had seconded a language professor to Kenyatta University but the programme was halted to find a better approach to meet the needs of both students and the public who may be interested in learning Portuguese.

There are also football programmes between the two countries. Brazil offers undergraduate and postgraduate scholarships to African students, including Kenyans.

Kenya was among the first African countries to benefit from these programmes.

Since 2001, 72 students from Kenya have benefited from these programmes and the most popular courses are medicine, engineering, business administration and international relations. This year’s Brazilian Cultural Week showed the strong cultural similarities between Brazil and Kenya and participants sampled Brazilian rhythm, dance and music, food and drinks.

What lessons can Kenya learn from Brazil’s recent emergence as an economic power?

Brazil made huge investments in agriculture by facilitating farmers to produce better yields than before.

The government also ensured there was a market for what was produced and with time the entire industry took off big time.

This gave rise to manufacturing of agro-machinery such as tractors and agro-processing industries; creating many jobs. Kenya has vast potential to produce food for both local and foreign markets if proper policies are put in place.

Education also played a big role in Brazil’s economic development. Policies such as school meals programme helped get many children back to school, while providing a market for parents.

A skilled population is necessary to drive technological development.

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