Does BRICS mean well for Africa?


On July 25-27 the presidents of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa met for the 10th annual BRICS summit in South Africa. The summit touched on development, inclusivity and mutual prosperity in the context of technology-driven industrialisation and growth.

The summit produced over 102 resolutions. Key highlights were about a proposed fairer international order, sustainable development and inclusive growth, strengthening the three-pillar-driven cooperation economy, peace, security and people-to-people exchanges. From the composition of BRICS, one would think that out of 54 African countries only South Africa is well-off economically. That the rest of the continent is too far behind to reach the level of economic growth South Africa has achieved in the last 10 years. But what are the key challenges BRICS poses for Africa?

There is need to amend the resolution on sustainable development and inclusive growth. While China means well for Africa, its East Asian model of development may not be of much help. China has grown from being an exporter of raw materials to a top importer. How would BRICS help Africa catch up when the policy is to export raw materials to China, Russia and Brazil?

Debra Brautigam, writing in the East African on July 28, observed that for more than half a century after Independence, Africa has been caught in the raw materials trap. Exporting raw materials destroys Africa’s industrial foundation. In Kenya, for instance, Industrial Area is slowly dying, its warehouses have been turned into dumping stores for second-hand goods.

Kenya’s manufacturing base in the 1950s is long gone. In 2017 Kenya imported fuel worth Sh176 billion, while Tullow Oil is harvesting oil for export. Angola exports crude oil and imports almost 80 per cent of refined fuel. Ghana exports its cocoa to Switzerland, then imports chocolates for the local market. This practice of destroying African industries by exporting raw materials and importing the same as refined goods needs to change. Rwanda seems to stand alone in protecting what she can produce and refine locally.

The BRICS agreed that strengthening cooperation in economy, peace, security is paramount in building relations with Africa. However, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute indicated while global military spending decreased by 0.4 per cent in 2014, Africa’s spending on armaments increased by $50 billion annually. Oil-rich countries such as Algeria, Angola and Nigeria stand out. The DR Congo is Africa’s poorest nation, despite having 1,100 types of minerals and being rich in coltan, cobalt, diamonds and gold. It spent 88 per cent of its budget on munitions.

Jason Hickel, reporting for the Guardian on January 17 last year, published data from the US-based Global Financial Integrity (GFI) indicating that in 2012 developing countries received $1.3 trillion in aid and investment but $3.3 trillion flowed back to the donor.

The corruption case against former President Zuma shows that since 1997 South Africa spends more than $4.5 billion on arms annually. This model of development — security taking precedence over the war on poverty — creates a spiral cycle of underdevelopment.

As George Orwell remarked, “All tyrannies rule by fraud or force, but once the fraud is exposed, they must rely exclusively on force.” How are we sure that any cooperation with BRICS will not cost Africa the chance of ever catching up with development?

Professor of Social Transformation at Tangaza University

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