As we near the 20-22 August 2023 BRICS Summit to be held in Johannesburg, I reflected on the onslaught launched by countries of the north in recent months – particularly the pressure on South Africa to rethink its relationship with Russia – a BRICS member state. So this took me back to classical literature to the opening line of The Communist Manifesto, written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in 1848: “A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of communism”. This phrase was meant to symbolise the growing influence and potential impact of communism on the political and social landscape of Europe during that time. So adapting this iconic opening line to “a spectre is haunting countries of the north – the spectre of BRICS,” I am drawing an analogy between the emergence of the BRICS alliance and the revolutionary spirit that communism embodied.
In this context, the statement makes it obvious that the rise of the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) is causing a certain unease or apprehension among countries traditionally associated with economic and political power, often referred to as “countries of the north.” These established powers may view the BRICS alliance as a potential disruptor to the global status quo, similar to how communism was perceived as a challenge to the existing order in the 19th century.
Let me go further in unpacking this phrase in the following succinct ways:
Shift in Global Power Dynamics: The BRICS alliance has indeed brought about a shift in the global economic landscape. With their significant economic growth, vast populations, and expanding influence, BRICS nations are challenging the dominance of Western economies. This shift represents a departure from the traditional power structure where countries in the northern hemisphere have held sway.
Economic and Political Implications: The “spectre” of BRICS implies a certain level of uncertainty and unpredictability. Just as communism was seen as a radical and transformative ideology, the growing influence of the BRICS countries may lead to changes in economic and political dynamics that countries of the north are unaccustomed to dealing with.
Competition and Cooperation: The emergence of BRICS nations as economic powerhouses has introduced both competitive and cooperative elements to the global stage. Countries of the north may perceive competition for resources, markets, and influence, as well as the need to cooperate and collaborate with BRICS countries to address global challenges.
Geopolitical Realignment: The rise of BRICS has led to new alignments and partnerships, which may reshape international alliances and agreements. Traditional powers may feel the need to reassess their strategies and diplomatic relationships in light of the changing geopolitical landscape.
Economic and Social Ideals: Just as communism sought to challenge established economic and social hierarchies, the BRICS alliance represents a diverse set of countries with differing economic models and social systems. This can lead to debates about the merits and drawbacks of various development approaches.
Perceived Threats: Just as communism was perceived as a threat to established social and economic structures, the growing economic power and influence of BRICS nations may be seen as challenging the dominance of countries of the north. This perception of a looming “spectre” can lead to reactions ranging from protectionism to diplomatic negotiations.
My adaptation of the Marc-Engels’ phrase hopes to draw your attention to the transformative potential of the BRICS alliance on the global stage. While the comparison to communism is not direct, it underscores the idea that the emergence of BRICS represents a significant shift in international relations, economics, and politics, prompting countries of the north to consider and adapt to this evolving landscape.
Yes, countries of the north have to be haunted by this geopolitical shift. But they should take solace in two policy principles which are eloquently expressed as South Africa’s foreign policy objectives: The consolidation of the North-South relations; and the deepening of South-South cooperation.
What do these two critical objectives mean? Consolidating North-South relations stands as a cornerstone of a forward-looking foreign policy that prioritises collaboration, understanding, and mutual benefit between developed countries in the northern hemisphere and their counterparts in the global south. This principle acknowledges the historical imbalances that have shaped the world’s geopolitical landscape, with developed nations often holding advantages in economic power, technological prowess, and political influence.
To consolidate North-South relations, foreign policy must strive to bridge these gaps by fostering partnerships that are built on equity, respect, and the sharing of knowledge and resources. This involves addressing issues such as trade imbalances, technological transfer, development aid, and climate adaptation support in a manner that ensures sustainable growth for both sides. By recognising the interconnectedness of today’s global challenges, such as climate change, pandemics, and economic inequality, and approaching them with a spirit of cooperation, nations can work collectively to create a more inclusive and prosperous world for all.
And deepening South-South cooperation represents a progressive foreign policy approach that recognises the valuable resources, experiences, and expertise residing within the countries of the global south. This principle entails nurturing partnerships among these nations to address shared challenges, exchange best practices, and collectively advance their socioeconomic development. By fostering cooperation among countries with similar developmental backgrounds, foreign policy can leverage the diversity and resilience of the global south to tackle issues such as poverty alleviation, sustainable agriculture, healthcare access, and technology adoption.
Deepening South-South cooperation is based on the premise that no single nation possesses all the answers, but by pooling resources, knowledge, and innovative solutions, countries can navigate the complexities of modern global issues more effectively. By embracing this principle, foreign policy can tap into the strengths of the global south, paving the way for more balanced and inclusive development that benefits not only individual nations but the entire international community.
Since in South Africa we’re celebrating the Women’s Month, let’s look at how women in Africa could access opportunities accruing from BRICS to pave the way for their economic empowerment. This message in the Publisher’s Comment is further smokies by Busi Mabuza in an article in this weekend’s edition. We look at women across the continent as the theme for the BRICS Summit is: “BRICS and Africa: Partnership for Mutually Accelerated Growth, Sustainable Development and Inclusive Multilateralism”.
In recent years, the BRICS alliance has emerged as a powerful force in the global economic landscape. While its impact on the world stage is evident, it’s essential to delve deeper into how this collaboration can be a catalyst for positive change in Africa, particularly for its women. The opportunities flowing from BRICS have the potential to uplift and empower women across the continent, fostering economic growth, gender equality, and sustainable development.
African women have long been the backbone of their communities, playing critical roles in agriculture, education, healthcare, and entrepreneurship. However, systemic barriers, including limited access to education, financial resources, and opportunities for economic participation, have impeded their full potential. This is where the BRICS partnership can make a substantial and lasting difference.
Firstly, the BRICS nations possess vast resources and diverse expertise that can be harnessed to bolster women’s education and skills development. Collaborative initiatives, such as scholarships, exchange programs, and vocational training, can bridge educational gaps and equip African women with the tools they need to excel in various sectors. By fostering knowledge-sharing and academic partnerships, BRICS countries can assist African nations in enhancing the quality of their educational institutions and expanding opportunities for women in fields often dominated by their male counterparts.
Secondly, economic empowerment is a cornerstone of gender equality. The BRICS alliance can facilitate investment in women-owned businesses and startups, providing much-needed access to capital and markets. This support not only spurs economic growth but also challenges traditional gender roles, fostering a more inclusive and equitable society. Microfinance programs, mentorship initiatives, and business incubators can play a crucial role in nurturing the entrepreneurial spirit of African women, enabling them to contribute to their economies in meaningful ways.
Moreover, technology transfer and knowledge sharing from BRICS countries can play a pivotal role in improving healthcare and agricultural practices in Africa. By leveraging advancements in medical research and sustainable farming techniques, African women can contribute to healthier communities and increased food security. Collaborative projects aimed at developing affordable and accessible healthcare solutions, as well as sustainable farming practices suitable for African climates, can enhance the quality of life for women and their families.
However, realising the potential benefits of BRICS for African women requires a concerted effort from both policymakers and civil society. Governments must prioritise gender-responsive policies that address issues like land rights, access to finance, and legal protections against gender-based violence. Civil society organisations can act as intermediaries, ensuring that the benefits of BRICS initiatives reach the most marginalised women in rural and underserved areas. Inclusivity must be at the heart of all initiatives to ensure that no woman is left behind.
It’s important to recognise that while the BRICS partnership offers opportunities, it’s not a panacea. Challenges such as corruption, political instability, and infrastructural deficits still persist in some African nations and could undermine the positive impacts of BRICS initiatives. Therefore, a holistic approach that combines economic empowerment with governance reforms is crucial for sustained progress.
In conclusion, the BRICS alliance presents a promising avenue for advancing the rights and opportunities of African women. By focusing on education, economic empowerment, technology transfer, and inclusive policies, BRICS can contribute to breaking down barriers that have hindered women’s progress for too long. As we celebrate the strides made so far, let us also remain steadfast in our commitment to harnessing the full potential of BRICS for the empowerment of women across the African continent. The journey ahead is challenging, but the rewards for both Africa and the BRICS nations are immeasurable.
Saul Molobi (FCIM)
Publisher & Group Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
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