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BRICS: Global aims or a new scramble for Africa?

August 24, 2023 at 2:29 pm

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa (L) makes a speech during the 15th BRICS summit in Johannesburg, South Africa on August 22, 2023. [BRICS / Handout – Anadolu Agency]

The possible expansion of BRICS was a focal point in discussions about the bloc’s latest summit in Johannesburg, Anadolu Agency reports.

From at least 20, to as high as 40, various reports had different figures for the number of countries from all parts of the world vying to join the ranks of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

The culmination of the incessant speculations came on Thursday, when the host, South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, announced that BRICS was officially inviting six countries to join the bloc: Saudi Arabia, Iran, UAE, Argentina, Egypt and Ethiopia.

BRICS has long been touted as a potential game-changer that could usher in a new global order, one based on fairer, more equitable distribution of power and multilateralism.

That same message was reiterated at this year’s summit by all leaders, and the inclusion of the six new members lends more credence to the bloc’s stated aim.

READ: BRICS agrees on group expansion mechanisms

However, analysts believe the road to actual change remains littered with immense challenges.

“The world wants a new order, but it is not going to come without pain, tears and resistance from those who were dominant in the previous order,” Lesiba Teffo, a political analyst in South Africa, told Anadolu.

He said the BRICS group aims to form a global order that is not centred on the dollar, the US and the wider West.

In Teffo’s assessment, the current global climate makes that goal more achievable, particularly given the scale of interest in membership from countries around the world.

“It goes to show that BRICS is growing in its importance, its stature and also in its influence in the world,” he said.

Pushback from West

Teffo stressed that anything to do with BRICS, particularly its expansion, will be resisted by Western powers that have dominated the world for centuries.

“Let’s not pretend that the West is not going to do its best to make it difficult, or even impossible, for BRICS to succeed,” he said.

As an example, Teffo cited Russian President, Vladimir Putin’s absence from the Johannesburg summit, where he was represented by Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov.

Putin, who spoke at the summit via video link, did not travel to South Africa because of a warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) over alleged war crimes in Ukraine.

South Africa is an ICC signatory and would have been expected to arrest Putin, something it was reluctant to do, as President Ramaphosa said it would risk a war with Russia.

Teffo said the furore over Putin’s potential attendance was fuelled by many Western countries that are not even ICC signatories, referring primarily to the US.

READ: Can BRICS challenge the Western order?

The West was pressuring South Africa to arrest Putin if he set foot in the country and this was aimed at creating divisions within the bloc, he explained.

‘New scramble for Africa’

Despite all the hype and attention, it remains highly unlikely that BRICS could actually create any sort of new world order, according to Ahmed Jazbhay, a politics professor at the University of South Africa.

“In my opinion, BRICS is merely asking for a new world order so that it can get a seat at the table,” he told Anadolu.

“Whether it will be equitable, fair and just for all countries in the world, or whether it will loosen the shackles of neo-colonialism is, in my view, unlikely.”

He said BRICS and its plans could also be seen as “a new scramble for Africa”.

Many of the countries challenging America’s global dominance, such as China and Russia, are focused on African countries, he explained.

For Jazbhay, BRICS is not the “anti-imperialist grouping that it claims to be”.

“It’s merely requesting a seat at the table and a more equitable redistribution of the present world order, basically repackaged,” he reiterated.

He said African nations must be “wary of these prospective suitors and opt for neutrality,” stressing that they should not expect justice and equality “from countries like Russia, India and China that are run by autocrats.”

READ: BRICS expansion hopefuls seek to rebalance world order