Viewpoint

August 25, 2023

Africa and the opportunities of BRICS

BRICS to admit Iran, Saudi Arabia, four others as new members

This handout photograph, taken and released by the Russian Foreign Ministry on August 22, 2023, shows (L-R) Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, China’s President Xi Jinping, South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov pose for a group photo during the BRICS Business Forum in Johannesburg. (Photo by Handout / RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE – MANDATORY CREDIT “AFP PHOTO / RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY” – NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS – DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS – RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE – MANDATORY CREDIT “AFP PHOTO / RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY” – NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS – DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS /

By CHARLES ONUNAIJU

NEARLY  a decade and half, the BRICS platform has become a consequential and formidable multilateral international mechanism, shaping the emerging trend of inclusive global governance. Since after its first summit in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg in 2009, the mechanism has phenomenally grown in consolidating its internal consultative frame work and has extended its outreach activities through the “BRICS plus” effects.

Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa are heavy weights in their own respective rights but seized the opportunity and moment of their outstanding performances as significant emerging economies to evolve, shape and consolidate on international mechanism not only to enhance cooperation among themselves but sought to invest the trend of globalisation with the practice of multilateralism and opening new vista for inclusive and participatory global governance.

The opportunities of broad economic and financial inclusion, featuring market access, investments and a trend, away from a dominant single international currency offers countries in Africa, a crucial entry point to the global economy with robust prospects of integration to the international value chain. The trend of evolving an inclusive international financial architecture featuring diverse payment systems, to range from barter exchanges to the use of multiple currencies offer African countries a way out of the persistent conundrum of being tied to a settlement arrangement through a single dominant currency, they have no decision at all of its trajectories.

The early optimism about the BRICS, when they were just modelled as the emerging and hopeful economies of the 21st century has proved self-fulfilling. Just about a year ago, BRICS countries over took the G7, advanced Western capitalist economies in the global GDP contribution to the world economy, accounting for 1/3 of worldwide economic activities.The economies of the various countries in Africa have largely been constrained by the traditional structure of the global economy in which they are mostly limited to the market share of commodities.

This nature of the global economy has imposed a structural constraint, in which the economies of African countries became largely mono-cultural and dominated by single or a set of commodities without the benefit of the multiplying effects of value addition. This has considerably constrained industrial capacity in the region and stalled any meaningful efforts in economic diversification. BRICS membership or out-reach of Africa would not be a magic wand to wave off, decades of structural distortion and disarticulation of economies in the region fostered by the unequal relationship and exchange with the global North, but would provide the impetus and enable the conducive facility to shake off the structural gridlock that has mostly shackled these countries despite their best efforts. The openness and inclusiveness of the BRICS framework would provide the objective conditions for African countries to recalibrate and retool their economic outlook to benefit from the reciprocal economic intercourse that is at the heart of the BRICS dynamics. 

BRICS promise of inclusion and to enhance broader cooperation mechanism is not a fluke. At the 14th BRICS Summit, held by video link last year and chaired by the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, he urged his colleagues to “uphold openness and inclusiveness and pool collective wisdom and strength”, and added that BRICS countries gather not in a closed circle but a big family of mutual support and a partnership for win-win cooperation”. He noted that over the past five years, the BRICS has organised a variety of BRICS PLUS events which serve as a platform for cooperation among emerging markets and developing countries and set a prime example of South-South cooperation.

African countries, who have had extensive and pragmatic cooperation with China in both bilateral relations and the multilateral framework of the Forum on China-Africa cooperation, FOCAC, and the Belt and Road Initiative, BRI, have experiences of practical and tangible outcomes which have considerably supported their economic transformation. With the BRICS mechanism either through outright membership or more concerted outreach, they would have no doubts at all about the BRICS transformative impacts. 

The Ukraine conflict, which is Europe’s most fratricidal war since the end of World War II has rudely awakened African countries to mortal dangers of geo-political alliances and bloc confrontation. During the cold war, African countries insulated themselves from the ideological and military confrontation through the Non-Aligned Movement. The Non-Aligned Movement has significantly declined due to the thaw in the ideological and even prospective, military conflict between the then USSR-led Warsaw pact treaty and the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO.

The conflict in Ukraine and the Washington/Brussels led efforts to compel African countries to line behind their proxy war with Russia have exerted imaginative thinking in several quarters in Africa about a prospective and genuine multilateral international framework that is neither an Alliance, Bloc nor an exclusive club. The BRICS mechanism fits the bill. Even though a party to conflict in Ukraine, Moscow is not known to have exerted any pressure among her BRICS partners to back her. Countries in the BRICS including China, Brazil, India and South Africa have demonstrated a long standing commitment to peaceful, diplomatic and negotiated settlement of the conflict.

China has issued a 12-point plan for negotiated settlement of the conflict in Ukraine. Washington and its NATO not only denounced the plan but rather stepped up their supply of lethal weapons to the war theatre in an obvious futile geopolitical fantasy to defeat Russia, a nuclear armed state. African countries who have to stave off pressures from the Washington-led NATO, to stay off the conflict, view the BRICS as the reincarnation of the Non-Aligned Movement, NAM, a historical framework of positive neutrality which many countries in the global South, including African countries, used to insulate themselves from the dangerous vagaries of the cold war confrontation.

With the NATO exclusive club, desperate to bifurcate the world into allies and enemies, African countries would reach to their historic wisdom to stay away from the rampaging Western alliance. The BRICS would function for most of African countries not only as an international economic framework but a geopolitical shield from the excesses of the hawkish US-led NATO Alliance. The BRICS 15th Summit in South Africa would be a watershed for African countries in particular and the global South in general. Already South Africa, the Chair of the Summit, has already invited all the 53 African countries and numerous other countries from the global South.

While African countries would seek to shield themselves from undue geopolitical pressure through BRICS as a credible multilateral framework, it(BRICS) will seek to end the dominance of the US dollar as the sole international currency for settlement. As the United States, unilaterally, tinkers with her currency with applications of flexible interest rate regimes to manage its own economy as she has sovereign right to do, countries in Africa whose external debts are mostly denominated in dollars suffer sudden explosion in their debt burden, thereby forcing more structural disarticulations to their respective economies.

Africa free trade area, the world largest trade zone, will be both spurred by the BRICS engagement, and also a unique opportunity for the BRICS mechanism. The free trade area will offer Africa the scope of an economy of scale to rationalise and optimise resources allocation, and would generate the momentum for the BRICS to rationalise their out ward investment to a huge market with potential for investment returns. Africa and the BRICS have complementarity in opportunity costs and even risk sharing. All these prospects are not going to be freely on offer, given that the global North, and especially the US-led Western alliance long used to “rule-based international order” drawn and set exclusively by them, will not watch gleefully why its well-crafted global dominance unravels.

A genuinely global multilateral platform would up-end several framework of “rules-based international order” elaborately crafted and sustained by the West. Despite that the contemporary trend and historical process validate and support multilateralism, there should be no illusion that it can be secured without a struggle. BRICS stands on the threshold of history but must push and exert itself to the utmost, to book a place in history.