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BRICS Expansion Comes Under Spotlight

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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On July 25 -27, South Africa hosted the 10th BRICS summit (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), an important milestone as it represents a decade of its cooperation, in Johannesburg’s Sandton Convention Center. As Chairman of 2018 BRICS summit, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa hosted the (BRIC) namely Brazilian President Michel Temer, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

It was under the theme “BRICS in Africa: Collaboration for Inclusive Growth and Shared Prosperity in the 4th Industrial Revolution.” All the five BRICS leaders participated in official, private and expanded meetings, and signed documents.

They have primarily expressed high commitment to further strengthening of the full-fledged strategic partnership, secondly recognized the overall emerging tasks, challenges and opportunities, and thirdly most importantly to determine the key priorities of the «Big Five» activities for years ahead.

On both days, July 26 to 27, there several scheduled sessions that involved BRICS leaders and non-BRICS countries invited to the summit. The summit was an expanded-format. In 2013, when South Africa first hosted a BRICS summit, it invited a number of African leaders.

Russia Leads the Way

Russian leader Vladimir Putin made the Group’s position known during his final media conference held at the 2018 BRICS summit in Johannesburg, South Africa.

He said that “BRICS is an organic association of countries that have many things in common: they have many shared interests and common approaches to addressing challenges that are relevant to all of humanity, including Russia. This is one of its key advantages, and today, many countries are showing an interest in BRICS.”

“Concerning the group’s expansion, BRICS Plus and Outreach format have already been created to this effect. For now, we agreed to rely on these formats for expanding our reach and drawing into our orbit countries that share the underlying principles and values of BRICS,” the President said.

While many viewed the existing formats of interaction effective, Putin explained that any questions regarding BRICS enlargement in future would definitely need additional thorough discussions and final consideration.

“But so far, we have no plans to expand BRICS membership, since the existing formats have proven effective. As for discussions of issues we intend to address, these are issues relevant for a vast majority of countries and economies around the world. The sky is the limit for us,” the Russian leader explained.

“They are willing to cooperate with other countries and do not rule out BRICS expansion in the future but they believe that it requires additional analysis. This does not mean that the organization is closed, that its doors are closed. No, it is just that this issue should be properly analysed. Otherwise, the organization is open to anyone,” Putin stressed at the media conference.

Historically, the first meeting of the Group began in St Petersburg in 2005. It was called RIC, which stood for Russia, India and China. Brazil and subsequently South Africa joined later, which is why now it is refered to as BRICS.

Initially, the goals and tasks were very modest, primarily focus on the economy, and the coordination of efforts toward attaining more ambitious goals. As more members joined the Group, it developed into a full-scale organisation with new spheres of activity and broader common interests.

BRICS Expansion Still the hottest question

Understandably, BRICS leaders’ common position on the question of expansion was previously shared this way: BRICS countries represent a major stabilizing factor promoting sound multilateral initiatives in global affairs.

The fact that Pretoria has paid a special attention to Africa-related issues in the work of BRICS, other friends of the five countries from around the world representing authoritative integration associations participated in the 10th summit. This was the practical implementation of the «BRICS plus» initiative approved by the Group leaders during the Xiamen Summit.

Thus, 2018 Johannesburg summit expanded the global reach of the Group and established the outer circle of like-minded countries. In this regard, BRICS has good potential to become a unique platform for linking various integration processes in a flexible way.

Furthermore, BRICS has many current challenges and tasks to manage in the face of global transformation. It is important for BRICS to seek new initiatives, strategies, and policies that can potentially challenge the global order. Experts have expressed different views:

Nandan Unnikrishnan, Research Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, India: There is nothing wrong in trying to expand the BRICS if the new countries meet the criteria of what BRICS represents and their entry adds to the cohesion of the grouping. However, it appears that at this stage of the evolution of BRICS the need of the hour is not expansion, but consolidation. Given developments in the world as well as in each of the BRICS countries, it appears that BRICS needs to catch its breath and regain the momentum that originally infused the grouping.

Secondly, BRICS is quite clear about the Africa’s developmental needs. The question is whether in their current circumstances they have the wherewithall to mobilise the necessary resources to actively propel Africa’s development over and above their bilateral commitments to African countries. All the BRICS countries are facing economic challenges that they need to address urgently. But in the long-run, BRICS is keenly aware of the importance of contributing towards Africa’s development agenda.

Charles Robertson, Chief Economist at Renaissance Capital: The BRICS was just a concept from Goldman’s with little intellectual coherence beyond the fact that 1) all four of the original BRIC countries had a-historically low GDP and were likely to rebound in size, 2) they were populous, 3) there were among them two commodity importers and two commodity exporters among them. South Africa was a late minor addition to the group, to add a “bridgehead to Africa” angle.

So, could it expand – yes. Why? Because the BRICS are under-represented in the global financial architecture. Europe and the US dominate institutions like the IMF and the World Bank, and to some extent the UN, the WTO, the ADB, the IADB, NATO etc.

Russia and others in the BRICS would like to see larger power centres emerge to offer an alternative to that Western dominated construct. That is reasonable enough – providing there are countries with the money to backstop the new institutions, such as China supporting the BRICS bank, and if the countries offer an alternative vision that provides benefits to new members. But, would a broader BRICS + body offer tariff free access to their markets as the EU and the US can? I doubt that. Can they offer financing via a BRICS bank. Perhaps.

Would there be a unified BRICS approach to Africa. I doubt it. I suspect the only unified stance would be one supporting non-interference in domestic affairs – but to be honest, there is little interest in the US or UK to get very involved in Africa either (Libya is one prominent exception), so there is relatively little to oppose.

Professor Georgy Toloraya, Russian National Committee for BRICS Research: “Now, is a very good time to show that BRICS members and relations between them are an alternative to the format existing in the West,” Executive Director of the Russian National Committee for BRICS Research, Georgy Toloraya, told the Kommersant – a Russian daily business newspaper, adding that “BRICS favors order, compliance with agreements and development.” Plans are in store to expand the group, so the leaders of Argentina, Turkey, Indonesia and some African countries invited to the summit.

According to Toloraya, India is currently opposed to expanding BRICS fearing that new members will support China. On the other hand, Moscow argues that “the entrance ticket” to the group is independence and sovereignty, and under no circumstance, potential candidates can be called China’s satellites.

Many Experts interviewed shared the same sentiments. BRICS creation based on the principle of equality so it is very difficult to reach a compromise among so different countries. The number of members cannot be to big anyway as BRICS comprise big emerging economies and regional powers with a certain unique civilizational features.

There are not so many countries like that – they would include Indonesia, Mexico, Turkey, Egypt and Iran… But there are certain political requirements for new members – including recognition of BRICS values and core foreign policy principles. Experts have suggested the creation of “observer status” and “partners for dialogue” platforms within the group.

The BRICS member countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) collectively represent about 26% of the world’s geographic area and are home to 2.88 billion people, about 42% of the world’s population.

Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.

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Africa

South Sudan: Progress on peace agreement ‘limps along’

MD Staff

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Although the transitional government in South Sudan continues to function, with state governors now appointed, among other developments, progress on the 2018 peace agreement “limps along”, the top UN official in the country told a virtual meeting of the Security Council on Wednesday. 

David Shearer, head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), updated ambassadors on the country’s ongoing political and security situations, which are unfolding amid the COVID-19 pandemic and an upturn in inter-communal violence in Jonglei and other states. 

“COVID-19 has slowed implementation of the peace agreement, including meeting key benchmarks, but the pandemic is not entirely to blame”, he said, speaking from the capital, Juba. 

“We are seeing a reversion to ‘business as usual’ where progress on the peace agreement itself limps along.” 

The peace agreement was the latest deal in efforts to end political infighting and violent conflict in South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation. 

The country gained independence from Sudan in 2011 but descended into chaos roughly two-and-a-half years later following an impasse between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy, Riek Machar. 

Progress ‘painfully slow’ 

Today, South Sudan now has five vice presidents who head clusters of ministries where activities are progressing well, according to Mr. Shearer. 

“Elsewhere, however, progress has been painfully slow”, he reported.  “Cabinet meetings occur irregularly, and the South Sudanese want to see the President and vice presidents meeting and working collectively.” 

Meanwhile, there has been “almost no movement” on security sector reform, while the Transitional National Legislative Assembly has yet to be reconstituted, which is delaying progress on the Constitution. 

Mr. Shearer said these continuing delays risk pushing elections out well beyond the timeline prescribed under the agreement, which will only add to the people’s growing disillusionment. 

Inter-communal tensions remain high 

The UN mission chief also briefed on the violence among Nuer, Murle and Dinka communities in Jonglei State over the past six months, which has left 600 people dead and homes torched, with women and children kidnapped. The situation has since calmed though tensions remain high. Mr. Shearer said a recent meeting among senior leaders, organized by UNMISS, was encouraging. 

However, the mission was thwarted in attempts to deploy peacekeepers following attacks launched by the National Salvation Front armed group in areas of Central Equatoria state, which were met by heavy government fire. 

“For the past three weeks, the usual mechanisms through which UNMISS coordinates its movement have seriously deteriorated. COVID-19 can be partly blamed but the influence of hardliners in the security forces is the principal obstacle,” he said. 

Later in the meeting, South Sudanese activist and feminist, Nyachangkuoth Rambang Tai, shared her concerns about the ongoing inter-communal violence and the need for greater women’s participation in governance and peacebuilding.   

She called on the international community to urgently support local civil society organizations, particularly those led by women. 

“Another way to help address the cycle of violence is to ensure transitional justice is made a priority. We cannot except citizens who lost their loved ones, or whose loved ones have been killed, to forgive and move on without healing and accountability.  This is unrealistic and will only encourage conflict,” said Ms. Tai, the Gender and Social Justice Manager with Assistance Missions for Africa. 

Violence impacts humanitarians 

Mr. Shearer outlined how South Sudan is faring in the wake of recent floods affecting some 500,000 citizens.  

On Wednesday, the World Food Programme (WFP) reported that it is reaching vulnerable families with urgently needed assistance. 

Aid workers have been striving to help communities impacted by the flood waters, as well as the violence, and now the pandemic.  Sometimes they pay a heavy price, as Mr. Shearer pointed out. 

 “This year, seven aid workers have tragically lost their lives and another 144 have been evacuated because of sub-national violence”, he said. 

“This meant an upturn in violence stemming from splintering between and within groups. The difference this year is that external political actors are fuelling these local conflicts with military advice and with heavy weapons.” 

Millions in need 

COVID-19 has only added to the ongoing suffering in South Sudan. The UN Humanitarian Coordinator reported that during the annual hunger season a few months back, some 6.5 million people, or more than half the population, faced severe food insecurity.  

“Overall this year, 7.5 million people now need humanitarian assistance –and that’s close to levels in 2017 when we warned of famine”, Mark Lowcock told the Council.  He added that some 1.3 million under-fives are forecasted to be malnourished: the highest figure in four years. 

The UN relief chief urged ambassadors to fund a $1.9 billion response plan to meet the ever-growing needs. 

Changes at POC sites 

With the transitional government in place and a ceasefire holding, the UN Mission in South Sudan is looking at how to better support peace efforts and protect civilians. 

More than 180,000 people are still living in Protection of Civilian (POC) sites at five UNMISS bases across the country, and Mr. Shearer said the conditions which led to their establishment no longer exist. 

As a result, UNMISS has gradually withdrawn its troops and police from “static duties” at the Bor and Wau POC sites, following consultations with the Government and others, including displaced persons. 

“The spike in subnational violence is occurring in remote areas, not near our POC sites. Therefore, we have to deploy our forces to provide protection where there is greatest need,” he said, emphasizing the need for the UN force to be robust,  nimble and proactive. 

Mr. Shearer explained that following the gradual withdrawal of UN peacekeepers, the POC sites will be under the control of the Government.   

He stressed that no one will be pushed out or asked to leave when this transition occurs, while humanitarian services will continue. 

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Africa

Why Young African Scholars Must Engage the Law and Politics of Africa through New Perspectives

Olalekan Moyosore Lalude

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The Year of Africa was a powerful phase, a transitional moment that saw Africa in liberated black and white images. In one, a woman wearing sunglasses and sitting astride a motorcycle scooter communicated freedom and a promise of a bold future.In another, a smiling, young woman in a polka dot dress wore Independence in a sash, followed by a happy crowd. In yet another, a grinning man borne on the shoulders of two other men in a throbbing crowd, carried a placard that read: COMPLETE INDEPENDENCE 1961. It was the year that saw seventeen African states begin a journey of black statehood. Those images were metaphors of liberty in a continent that had been kept away from deciding the course of its own destiny. 1960 was a beginning and the end of the African struggle.

It was the beginning of the African struggle because Africans in the independent states were transitioning from struggling against colonialism to contending against the political realities of their post-independent states. And it was the end, because those Africans didn’t have to contend against colonialism any more. In the true picture of things, it was a transition from the political control of people who sought the wealth of the continent to a struggle with murderous regimes, and the sad realization of the true damage that colonialism had wreaked in the political arrangement of the people.In Nigeria, it was the beginning of the weaponization of ethnicity and of resentful distrust in state politics.

Africa in the 1960s was a dramatic spectacle of violence, new beginnings and the creation of histories that has informed the present. Independence movements aspired towards liberated African states. The consciousness of colonial restraints inspired actions that marked the trajectory of the continent’s destiny. The political history of Africa’s becoming is a timeline of seesaw moments. Dictators have risen and have fallen in the hubris of forgetfulness thatthe powers that saw to their rise could see to their fall. The legal systems, processes, institutions and the politics of Africa were forged in the turbulence of African history.

Today it is easy to say that Africa has made progress in its strides towards social and political evolution, but the past is a mirror of solutions to present problems. This is why it has become imperative for newer approaches to emerge in the study of law and politics in the context of Africa. Founded in 2020 by me, the Carnelian Journal of Law and Politics is Africa’s response to the need for new insights on law and politics in the African context. This new journal gives young African researchers the opportunity to contribute top quality perspectives to the discourse on the law and politics of Africa. This is important as newer voices are needed to give an inter-generational balance to the debate on African law and politics. And this is why the journal has emerged to bridge the scholarly gap.

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Africa

A Tale of Two Sudans

Simon Wolfe

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For the first time in decades, Sudan is on a path to peace and democracy, turning the fall of a dictatorial regime into a reckoning with entrenched societal fissures and the overhaul of the institutions that reinforced them. On the other hand, South Sudan and its unity government, once a darling of western governments and NGOs as a model for religious freedom and democratic potential, continues to struggle to build peace and stability in the absence of any consolidated, legitimate institutions of authority.

It may be time to re-examine what we think we know about the war that split them apart.

Sudan: A Case for Cautious Optimism

Since the 2019 protests and coup that ended the repressive 30-year reign of dictator Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s transitional government is slowly working to undo decades of damage and emerge from isolation.

In recent weeks, Sudan has signed successive peace deals with rebel forces addressing grievances that have long inhibited a permanent resolution to the conflict. The agreements separate religion from the state and establish a commission for religious freedom mandated to protect the country’s Christian minority. They also grant autonomy to the contested regions of Blue Nile and South Kordofan and set Darfur on a path to reunification under its own governor. An August 31 agreement on Darfur also covers power sharing, security, transitional justice, land ownership and the return of internally displaced persons and refugees.

In addition to completing the peace processes mandated in Sudan’s interim constitution, Sudan has also taken steps to reset relations internationally. Though the transitional government has limited power in this area, indications are encouraging for the potential normalisation of Sudan’s relationship with Israel – which would, in turn, support Sudan’s case for removal from the United States’ list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Positive as the outlook appears to be, Sudan has a long, difficult road to recovery ahead. The transitional government has 26 months left to lay the groundwork for a civilian, democratically elected government to take over. In addition to the colossal challenge of rebuilding institutions nearly from scratch, the pandemic and the global commodity market collapse have generated urgent economic woes.

Moreover, anyone with experience on the ground in Sudan will warn against misplaced confidence at this early stage. Connection with the international community – and international markets – has long served as an incentive to end the conflict, but even the most promising of peace agreements has failed to produce sufficient stability for sustained development.

South Sudan: A Grim Reality

If Sudan calls for cautious optimism, South Sudan demands a reckoning with the failure of the international response.

When South Sudan seceded in 2011, observers were optimistic. Those in the international community – both in the omnipresent NGO sector as well as foreign governments (principally the United States) believed that the oppressed Christian South would finally be free from its Islamic subjugators in the North, and the resolution of this religious divide would finally bring peace to the region. Instead, two years after independence, a brutal civil war broke out between President Salva Kiir Mayardit and former First Vice President Riek Machar, displacing significant numbers of people and leaving large swathes of the country reliant on humanitarian aid. Best estimates of numbers killed are upwards of 400,000, which at times has rivaled the war in Syria that received far greater attention.’

So, what happened? How did the Cinderella story of South Sudan’s independence become a nightmare?

The Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), the rebels turned political party who governed the country at independence, were ill-prepared to fulfil the functions of a state, despite the heavy investment and optimism afforded them by their international supporters leading up to 2011. Well before South Sudan split from the north, NGOs and aid groups had provided the overwhelming majority of state services, often with incorrect or incomplete knowledge of where resources were going. Some organisations even unwittingly provided direct financial to support to militias or funded ‘dialogues’ that served primarily as brand rehabilitation for war lords looking to take advantage of a sprawling and largely unregulated aid industry.

Arguably the international humanitarian response formed the economic, social and political foundations for the South Sudanese state that emerged in 2011. The sad irony is that these foundations have been purged by years of corruption and mismanagement since.

This dynamic followed South Sudan beyond independence, creating a cycle of escalating violence enabled by a steady flow in billions of dollars of humanitarian aid. The assumption that the Southern forces represented a unified Christian bloc fighting for religious freedom and human rights was convenient for warlords seeking resources and legitimacy and appealing to the international NGO and donor community – especially to faith-based aid efforts – but it has proved to be devastating for the millions affected by the ongoing conflict.

Ultimately, because the 2005 peace process took the Southern rebel forces’ branding at face value – with the support of the aid industry – it failed to confront the fragmentation and factionalism that had destroyed South Sudan and anticipate that these fissures would continue and undermine state-building efforts today. Though a tragedy for the South Sudanese, lessons from the failure of peacebuilding efforts in South Sudan may prove valuable to its northern neighbour – and Sudan’s transitional government appears to be learning already.

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