South Africa is set to make its mark on BRICS history
South Africa, no stranger to international media attention, is in the limelight again. As the host of this year’s 2023 BRICS summit, it will see on its soil the first in-person gathering of key Global South leaders in four years and another BRICS summit in Africa in five years amid world fragmentation, intense major-power competition, as well as a conflict on Europe’s doorstep that preoccupies the North and ripples through the South.
The Johannesburg summit is conspicuous on several counts. If you only so much as glance at Western media headlines, you will be struck by their angst—“The BRICS are better off disbanding than expanding”, “BRICS raging against the dollar is an exercise in futility”.
Writing these off as jealousy is easy. But taking a deeper look at their contention can help South Africa in its effort to deliver a successful summit.
The first argument advanced by Western commentators is that BRICS is disunited. This indicates a fear of its collective weight. Launched in 2009, BRICS brings together some of the biggest emerging markets and developing countries (EMDCs). Together, they are 23 per cent of global GDP and 42 per cent of the world’s population. By 2030, they are projected to contribute over 50 per cent to global output.
And many more from the developing world are looking for an entry ticket. According to South Africa, over 40 nations have expressed interest in joining the economic bloc, and 22 of them have already submitted formal applications.
South Africa’s proactive role in advancing the process will be important. Admitting the right candidates—those with economic and geopolitical representativeness—will enhance the BRICS’ role as the premier platform for EMDCs to pursue economic cooperation and speak up for their legitimate rights and interests.
Developing nations have a history of uniting into a force the West cannot underestimate. In 1955, they met in Indonesia’s Bandung to denounce imperialism and colonialism. In 1961, they coalesced in Belgrade as the Non-aligned Movement to call for more democracy in international relations. In 1964, they came together in Geneva as the Group of 77 to push for a new global economic order that is fair for developing countries.
Now, a historic moment has come for BRICS, and South Africa will be remembered as the place where a key milestone is reached and the future course of BRICS cooperation shaped.
The second point Western elites make is that BRICS will not be able to realise its goal of shaping a fairer order for development. On a more concrete level, its talk of de-dollarisation attracts the most derision. Western commentary points to the dollar’s dominance and its skewing effect on development processes as a reality developing countries have to live with.
As with all international groupings, members of the BRICS may not see eye to eye on every issue. But South Africa can encourage a focus of attention on their shared goal, which is development.
The country is right to focus the theme of its chairmanship on Africa. This continent best captures the bottlenecks of global development: the needs are many and urgent, genuine help from rich nations is under-delivered, what little comes by from them tends to have political strings attached, and a global economic governance structure dominated by the West is preventing meaningful progress in developing countries.
South Africa has the chance to re-energise the global dialogue on how to address these impediments, bringing in topics such as de-dollarisation. True, even a layman knows moving away from the dollar will not be easy. But the greenback has been abusing its outsized influence on economies around the world. Its weaponisation is becoming the new norm, pushing many to think about possible alternatives.
All in all, the Johannesburg summit is not just another gathering for the Global South. And what better place to have it than in South Africa, the rainbow nation priding itself on a glorious history of fighting injustices?
Yi Fan is a Beijing-based international affairs commentator and a contributor to The Independent Online, Pretoria News, Cape Times, The Reporter (Ethiopia), IPP Media (Tazania) and Jakarta Post (Indonesia).