By Jeffrey Moyo
The three-day BRICS Summit from 22-24 August 2023 in South Africa has raised hopes across the African continent that a new deal for development aid to Africa could be taking shape that will be more fair and equitable. For decades, critics have pointed out that Africa has been paying more to the West than it gets in terms of development loans.
After initial skepticism when it was formed in 2009, the BRICS, which includes Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, is now seen as a counterweight to Western powers’ dominance of world institutions. It has gathered added importance following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and Western financial sanctions against Russia that have negatively impacted what is now known as the ‘Global South’ that is seen to be represented by BRICS.
“The objective, irreversible process of de-dollarization of our economic ties is gaining momentum,” Russian President Vladimir Putin, absent from the Johannesburg summit, said in a pre-recorded statement.
However, discussions concerning a common BRICS currency were not on the Summit’s agenda. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, backed by Brazil’s President Lula da Silva, had voiced support for a common currency among BRICS nations.
“Advancing the African agenda is a strategic priority for South Africa during its Chairship of BRICS,” President Cyril Ramaphosa told the Open Plenary on 23 August.
According to Dilma Rousseff, the Brazilian President of the BRICS bank—the New Development Bank (NDB)—the BRICS countries are “good partners” for Africa. Rousseff said this in a speech at the BRICS summit in Johannesburg, adding that the NDB would finance physical and digital infrastructure projects in Africa —that could help to achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs).
At the South Africa BRICS summit, two African countries—Egypt and Ethiopia—were given the nod to join the bloc starting January next year, along with four other countries: Argentina, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
A perennial foe of Western countries due to criticism of its human rights record, Zimbabwe has also sought to join the BRICS bloc. Its Vice President Constantino Chiwenga represented the Southern African nation at the summit.
“As a country, Zimbabwe perceives how BRICS represents a formidable alliance that fosters a multipolar and inclusive world order. Joining this alliance will provide Zimbabwe with a unique opportunity to collaborate with like-minded nations and harness the benefits of collective strength,” Chiwenga said at the summit.
Chiwenga added that Zimbabwe applauds BRICS’ establishment of the NDB and the proposal to use local currencies between member states in the bloc and other countries in the south.
As such, he said at the BRICS summit, “Like other countries in the south, Zimbabwe hopes to benefit from the New Development Bank as an alternative source of funding for developmental projects.”
Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema expressed hope that the bloc would be a game changer for African countries, particularly his own.
“We in Zambia see this as a real opportunity to address challenges we have kept on talking about for a long time and on many platforms. We need to reform the global world order in particular to address the inequalities associated with critical ingredients to development such as capital,” Hichilema said.
Participants in the summit discussed that interest rates should be relatively low for the loans obtained from BRICS’ NDB to place Africa on a better footing.
Debt Justice, formerly the Jubilee Debt Campaign (that campaigned for writing off African debts leading up to the year 2000)—had pointed out to G7 members before their summit last year that private Western banks charge a much higher rate of interest than bilateral loans such as from China—owe 35% of African debts.
African states expressed the desire for lending rates of NDB to be more affordable. “Lessons have been learned from the manner international institutions are structured, and we hope for a more democratic dispensation,” said Botswana’s Vice President Slumber Tsogwane in an interview with his country’s Daily News after attending the BRICS summit. Tsogwane represented his country’s President, Mokgweetsi Masisi.
But even as they attended the bloc’s summit, other African countries like Namibia chose to be cautious before they could join the bloc.
“We are just hearing that BRICS opened doors for new membership, so we need to find out the procedures before declaring anything. It’s something to consider if it will bring benefits to our local economy,” Namibia’s International Relations Minister, Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah told reporters before the meeting kicked off in neighbouring South Africa.
Yet Mozambique, like its Zimbabwean neighbour, expressed enthusiasm about the BRICS bloc. Filipe Nyuse, the Mozambican President, attended the summit.
“By joining these dialogues, Mozambique does so with the conviction that the BRICS can constitute yet another outstanding way to share interests and efforts through concrete actions, providing mutual benefits in an environment of complementarity and solidarity that characterizes the Global South in various matters of structuring interests of our States,” Nyuse told the BRICS summit.
In an interview with Xinhua news agency, Carlos Watson, a representative of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) in China, remarked that cooperation among BRICS countries and others is crucial for “a better outcome” in achieving the SDGs agenda by 2030.
“In the agriculture sector, this cooperation between and among countries of the Global South can act as a key delivery modality to catalyse agricultural development, food and nutrition security, rural development and poverty reduction,” he said.
China also supports developing countries to achieve their development goals per the UNSGDs.
Renowned lecturer at South Africa’s Tshwane University, Dr Ricky Munyaradzi Mukonza, applauded BRICS’s embrace of African countries.
“BRICS is good news for Africa because it provides a better home for their interests. This is particularly so when one looks at the continent’s economic interests as an organization that is meant to serve south-south relations,” Mukonza told IDN.
An academic at the University of Malawi’s Department of Political and Administrative Studies, Gift Sambo, said hopes are higher among African nations if they join BRICS.
“The high expectations among African countries on BRICS are understandable. There is a strong perception in the region that the possibility of striking fair trade deals is higher with BRICS than the terms associated with the Washington consensus. This is reinforced by the fact that the giant of African economies, South Africa, is a key member of the grouping,” Sambo told IDN.
Said Sambo, “it is expected that the region’s strong attachment with the BRICS is going to enhance Africa’s bargaining power in the global political economy.”
A Zimbabwean political analyst, Gibson Nyikadzino, also weighed in.
“The world political system is being reshaped and reorganized to counter the western dominant political, social and economic order and allow countries in the semi-periphery and periphery to amalgamate around goals of economic justice and equality,” Nyikadzino told IDN.
He added, “BRICS is giving an alternative to Africa about the potential that exists in South-South cooperation and economic possibilities to counter the dominant G7 and Western unilateral approach to the conduct of global affairs.”
According to analysts like Nyikadzino, “in BRICS, the numbers relating to economic activity, output and cooperation are good for Africa because of fair win-win cooperation being advocated by the bloc.”