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One largely unknown area of Brazilian development cooperation is provision of electronic voting machines and training. This cooperation reveals a key part of Brazilian promotion of democracy and human rights abroad through state capacity building and reinforcing institutions

Brazil´s South-South cooperation with Africa has been growing rapidly over the past decade, with bilateral and multilateral ties intensifying and diversifying. In addition to economic cooperation—many Brazilian multinationals like Vale, Petrobras and Odebrecht are active in several countries in Africa—the Brazilian government has a vast array of development cooperation programs, especially in social policy-related fields such as public health, agriculture, and capacity-building. While these programs are accompanied by a discourse that stresses Brazil´s contribution to the well-being of African populations, meeting demands that are voiced by partner governments and institutions, Brazil seldom mentions the promotion of democracy as an explicit goal of its relations with Africa.

However, there is one little-explored niche of Brazilian development cooperation that deals more directly with democracy, and which is in fact inspired by the peculiarities of Brazil´s own experience with redemocratization in the 1980s. More specifically, Brazil has been promoting abroad, including in Africa, the electronic voting system and equipment that it implemented on a national level in the 1990s as a way to expand participation in voting by handicapped and illiterate citizens during elections. Far from being a merely technological cooperation program, these initiatives help to disseminate an electoral system that claims as its hallmarks reliability and universal access.

Brazil has helped several African countries with their electronic voting systems, with Brazil’s Superior Electoral Court (SEC)—which manages Brazilian elections— assuming a central role in such partnerships. Through cooperation missions typically coordinated through the Brazilian Cooperation Agency (ABC), experts been sent to Angola, Mozambique, South Africa, Tunisia and Guinea-Bissau. During a recent workshop in Cape Town, for instance, a SEC voting expert presented the electronic voting system to representatives from South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Madagascar [1]. According to SEC, by contributing to the improvement of foreign electoral systems, Brazil’s Electoral Justice helps other countries to enable the exercise of citizenship, which is a relevant part of the fundamental rights. [2]

Cooperation with Africa on electronic voting has also taken place though events and training sessions held in Brazil. For example, in November 2012, SEC hosted officials from Sudan’s Parliament and the Sudanese ambassador to Brazil, as well as a Tunisian minister. The group visited the SEC’s Museum and the plenary where sessions are held, and they were familiarized with the operations of the Brazilian electronic voting system. This mission built upon earlier, related cooperation initiatives. In the case of Sudan, in 2010 the Brazilian Bar Association and the Sudanese Bar Association had signed an agreement [3] to promote the protection of human rights, the protection of lawyer’s rights, and professional exchanges between lawyers of the two countries, including capacity-building activities. Through this agreement, the two associations agreed to collaborate to guarantee respect for human rights legislation both domestically and internationally. Article 1, for instance, stipulates that both parties will "demand, through effective administration and public campaign, that national legislation and international instruments for safeguarding human rights be observed, denouncing and rejecting any acts that hurt the rights of humans and humanity. " [4]

In September 2012, a delegation of Sudanese lawyers that had been selected by the Sudanese Bar Association visited Brazil to get to know how the Brazilian legal system works. They visited the Brazilian Bar Association (OAB) headquarters and superior courts in Brasilia and interned in private practice firms in Salvador and Maceió. In May 2013, the Sudanese ambassador to Brazil visited OAB to finalize plans for a mission of Brazilian lawyers to familiarize themselves with Sudan's legal system. [5]

The promotion of Brazilian electronic voting is also carried out through multilateral channels. On October 3, 2011, authorities of electoral courts from Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, São Tomé and Príncipe, East Timor, and Portugal signed the “Carta de Brasília”, which reaffirmed the states' common "commitment to democracy and their confidence in the free, just democratic process based on the norms established through their legal systems and universally accepted human rights." Through the agreement, those countries also expressed their intent to improve the management and administration of their electoral systems for the "strengthening of legally instituted democratic institutions" through cooperation programs covering civic education, capacity building for judges and electoral officials, media coverage for elections, electoral legislation, guaranteeing accountability of political parties, and electronic voting. [6]"

In September 2012, the SEC hosted authorities, most of them judges, from Portuguese speaking countries, including Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, São Tomé and Príncipe, and East Timor. These representatives were also informed about Brazil's electronic voting system. According to SEC, several African nations have already sent visiting delegations to learn how to operate the electronic voting system: among them, South Africa, Benin, Congo, Ivory Coast, Namibia, Nigeria, and Kenya. The exact impact of these exchanges is difficult to measure, since the technology that is promoted is not always adopted by the cooperation partners, sometimes due to lack of resources or insufficient confidence in the integrity of the system. Nonetheless, through these exchanges of experience, technology and know-how Brazil helps to spur discussions of procedural aspects of electoral democracy.

It is noteworthy that, on the Brazilian side, Brazil’s Superior Electoral Court has emerged as preeminent actor in electronic voting cooperation. Although cooperation programs are coordinated through the Brazilian Cooperation Agency, which is part of the Ministry of External Relations, the SEC has developed significant expertise and there is a potential for additional cooperative initiatives.

The examples of recent cooperation listed above provide an account of contemporary Brazilian development cooperation. The provision of electronic voting machines and training to operate this equipment illustrates the technical nature of Brazilian cooperation. However, there is also a political element at play. This cooperation reveals a key part of the Brazilian discourse on, and approach to, the promotion of democracy and human rights abroad through state capacity building and reinforcing institutions. In the African context, this approach is especially relevant in the case of Guinea-Bissau, where Brazil chairs the Guinea-Bissau configuration at the UN Peacebuilding Commission. In addition to supporting the state there, Brazilian officials have been active in condemning democratic ruptures in the country in recent years, freezing cooperation projects until the return to democratic normality. At the same time, the examples above illustrate new developments regarding cooperation, for example, the involvement of the Brazilian Bar Association reveals that civil society organizations are now increasingly developing international agendas of their own, not always in accordance with the interests of Brazilian state actors.

While most research on Brazilian cooperation in Africa has focused on agriculture, public health, and military cooperation, more analysis is needed of its voting cooperation—including on the extent to which the Brazilian voting system is adopted—in order to build a fuller picture of Brazil’s relevance to African politics.

* Adriana Erthal Abdenur (PhD Princeton University, BA Harvard University) is a professor of International Relations at the Pontifical Catholic University in Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio) and the General Coordinator of the BRICS Policy Center.

** Danilo Marcondes de Souza Neto is a PhD candidate at the Department of Politics and International Studies (POLIS) at the University of Cambridge, UK. He was formerly a lecturer at PUC-Rio and an educational adviser at the Fulbright Commission’s office in Rio de Janeiro. Contact email:

[3] For the full text of the agreement see:
[4] accessed on 1 August 2012).

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