The recent BRICS Summit in South Africa established a foundation for the group to play a growing role in shaping the emerging multipolar world order. African countries have been arguing and agitating for a transformation of the multilateral system to reflect the realities of the twenty-first century. The same is true in many parts of the world, which helps to explain why 42 countries officially expressed an interest in joining the BRICS grouping. So what were the key points to take away from the Summit, and does it mean for the West?
South Africa’s chairing of the BRICS Summit, and the decision to expand its membership during the Johannesburg convening, to include Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates (UAE) – which includes major members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) – was a foreign policy victory for President Cyril Ramaphosa. The same is true of Ramaphosa’s ability to persuade President Vladimir Putin to stay away from the meeting due to his indictment for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The newly expanded BRICS formation will have a GDP greater than that of the G7 countries, will be home to half of the world’s population, and will control 43% of the share of oil production. In this sense, it promises to be a geopolitical and geoeconomic powerhouse which, through its New Development Bank, can provide lines of credit to its members as well as to other non-members from the Global South.
This progressive emergence of BRICS is a direct consequence of the intransigence and inertia of the West, which has failed to genuinely pursue the reform of the multilateral system because the status quo is beneficial to its societies. The extractive relationship that former European colonial powers have had with African countries, notably France’s continuing manipulative and extractive relationship with fourteen West and Central African countries, is now facing a backlash evident in the recent military coups in Gabon and Niger. The IMF, World Bank and WTO maintained this colonial paternalistic, hegemonic, and unequal relationship with the Global South in terms of the harsh conditionalities and heavy interest rates on debt which subjected countries to the “debt trap” from which many African countries are struggling to extract themselves.
Against this backdrop, BRICS is viewed by many countries from the Global South as an initial soothing ointment for the bacterial infection that is the world’s broken geopolitical system. So if BRICS is growing and will foster a truly multipolar world order, how should the West respond? The West should seek to engage with BRICS through dialogue, rather than pursue disruptive and efforts to sabotage the block much needed change. In September 2022, President Biden stated that the UN Security Council should be reformed to include the permanent presence of African countries on the UN Security Council. One year on it is evident that this was empty rhetoric. A similar situation is true with regards to International Financial Institutions, the intransigence of which has blown wind into BRICS sails and led to the expansion of the grouping.
The only effective response to BRICS is therefore the fundamental transformation of the global economic system.
Prof. Tim Murithi (@tmurithi12) is Head of Peacebuilding Interventions, Institution for Justice and Reconciliation, Cape Town, and Professor of African Studies, University of Free State and Stellenbosch University, in South Africa.