If Brics Could Work …

Dr Khanyisile Litchfield-Tshabalala

As per World Commission on Environment and Development, sustainable development is defined as, “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” (United Nations, 1987). Basically, sustainable development is a short-term solution to how we plan our indefinite progress in the future without causing damage to the environment, so as to guarantee a safe habitat for the next generations – who will continue to develop their economies, societies, and care for the environment with a similar ideal in mind. In essence, it satisfies our needs without sabotaging the opportunities of others (IYNF, 2018).

According to the United Nations (2017) Brazil, India, China, Russia and South Africa (SA) jointly represent just over 3 billion people, a total of 42% of the global population. As the most recent member, having joined in December 2010, SA contributes only 1,8% to the total BRICS population. She however boasts some strengths though. For instance, SA happens to belong to a sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) region with a rising population trend. Such a trend will continue between now and 2050, by which time, forecast estimates that it will double. SA’s population itself, is no different, it is booming; and two positive indicators arise out of this:

  • A real human resource advantage for SSA, if harnessed efficiently and effectively;
  • a further indicator that while the working-age population is in decline in almost the world over, SSA is safe from this scourge, provided the condition above is met.

Nonetheless, a new report (IOL, 2018) says African nations are failing to match the young population explosion with an equal marathon of newly created jobs, despite the economic growth of some member-states. Bisseker (2018) has the same warning for SA. Despite an increase in life expectancy informed amongst others, by a decrease in the number of AIDS-related deaths and a general improvement in mortality rates, the economy is not growing at the same pace. The required 1.5% a year to maintain per-capita income levels, is far from being reached. Instead, the economy only grew by 0.8% in 2018 (Mail & Guardian, 2018) and (Carvalho, 2019). This means job creation sits at half the expected number. So, huge investment is required to carry this through.

This speaks to the challenge of sustainable planning and development. The IYNF (2018) cites some of the current challenges of sustainable development as: the shortage of funding against the development plan, government investment in long-term sustainable technology versus immediate spending, lack of sustainable development planning effort at a municipal level, as well as corruption. Meanwhile the biannual 2018 Africa Sustainable Development Report (TRALAC, 2018) reveals gaps in water, sanitation and urban planning; with access to safe water in SSA sitting only at 23.7%, compared to the global figure of 71%. All of this has a bearing on health and productivity. Thus, the call on Afrikan Governments to prioritise investment in these – amalgamating urban planning into national development plans.

To this effect, Parker (2018) talks about the benefit of cooperation between the private, public sector, and civil society, to deliver sustainable development goals; as no sector can achieve progress on its own. Herein comes the importance of the New Development Bank (NDB). Cyril Prinsloo (in Africa Portal, 2017) says that the NDB could potentially impact SA in a life-altering way, by providing scarce additional finance and global partnerships, for infrastructure investment. The resulting demand for goods and services would subsequently create jobs.

At this juncture, it is opportune to reflect on existing BRICS agreements and policies. BRICS leaders are avowed to the full implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement and SDGs, and / which sworn to a common principle and departure, though acknowledging differentiated responsibilities capabilities. Commonality departure includes bolstering cooperation on:

  • Sustainable Agriculture, incorporating trade and investment initiatives,
  • Green Energy, affordable to all,
  • Food security and Nutrition,
  • Climate Change,
  • Technology and Innovation,
  • Information and Communication Technology – ICT. (Kosolapova, 2017)

However, not everyone is convinced though. Criticism levelled against the bank by academics and CSOs (civic society organisations) is that it is not as new as it claims. Also, the bank cannot be analysed outside of its umbrella ambit – the BRICS states themselves. Amongst a myriad of concerns, the overriding ones can be grouped as:

  • Weak bank-CSO engagement partnership, which carries a potential for social conflict ad community estrangement.
  • Tendency by the bank to selectively engage ‘friendly’ CSOs, disregarding the total spectrum covering critics too.
  • Internal threats to democracy in all the member-states, e.g.:
  • Increasing state control and repression of alternative voices and dissent,
  • Environmental degradation and climate change,
  • Compromised workers’ rights,
  • Resurgent stratified and ruthless patriarchy resulting in a scourge of gender-based violence and homophobia,
  • Stubborn and resistant structural racism and caste discrimination,
  • Endemic social inequality and poverty, resulting in sporadic internal violence as witnessed in protests, xenophobic attacks and statutory violence against civilians.
  • Historical reality has shown that multilateral development banks (MDBs) have not always been conducting green business in the communities where development projects are based. As such, they have contributed to climate change. It remains to be seen if the NDB will do its business differently, despite having signed off on the Paris Climate Action Agreement. It is to be remembered that the Paris Agreement is not a completely legally binding piece of statute, but rather a voluntary, consensus-building, a nationally determined-targets and loose agreement, thanks to Obama and China. Depending on which of the fence one sits, blame is either apportioned to China or Obama’s US, with the foundation being the 2009 Copenhagen Accord. The latter meeting broke down around industrialised country-emission targets, previously set at 80% by 2050. The year 2020 climax for restraining temperatures to 2 degree celcius by decreasing global emissions, was also replaced with a rather vague deadline of ‘as soon as possible’; and so was the global 50% cut by 2050 expunged.

Therefore, it does seem that for BRICS to work, major internal structural transformation within member countries is required. Currently, it remains a wonder how Brazil can sit in BRICS with a ‘straight face’, committing to sustainable development, while supporting a US-backed coup against Venezuela – a fellow South American state. It is a wonder how the same member states like Russia, send troops in defence of Venezuela, while Brazil is used as a forward-base against Venezuela, should the US decide to invade. Still on the subject of major internal structural transformation within member states, there is concern with internet suppression and accessibility, including suppression of the right of association and freedom of expression, in some of the countries.

Then there is a need to totally move away from post-World War 2 (WW2) development agenda example, championed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) – the Bretton Woods Institutions. Such an agenda sought to rebuild Europe, establish western imperialist hegemony and maintain neo-colonialism in former colonies, especially Afrika. The fundamental strategy was to pressurise developing and poor countries to privatise their economies in exchange for loans; thereby surrendering to the ruthless exploitation by western transnational corporations (TNCs) – to gain a foothold on the raw materials, while forces low tariffs, and allowing these TNCs to flood the respective countries with foreign goods.

The whole process was set up to be operated mafia-style, allowing TNCs unquestioned latitude in land grabs, zero community consultation, gender bias, price collusion, misinvoicing, profit shifting, gross underpayment of workers in the vassal market states, and many other economic violations. It was a recipe for poverty and by the time countries woke up, debt and conditionalities were strangulating them. Moreover, the international bodies set-up and dominated by western government, supposedly for world governance and order, often acted in collusion with western governments and the Bretton Woods Institutions. As a result, for years after WW2, countries of the South endured western hegemony, with disastrous political and socio-economic consequences.

Consequently, the NDB cannot fall prey to such practices, if it indeed wants to be viewed in a ‘new’ way. For example, an NDB infrastructure project in India, called the Major District Road Construction Project, implemented by the Madya Pradesh Road Development Cooperation (MPRDC) was found, amongst other violations, to be gender insensitive, discriminatory and blind by Programme on Women’s Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (PWESCR) and BFW (BRICS Feminist Watch). This includes women representation in community consultation meetings. Priti Darooka, Founder and Executive Director of PWESCR, presented the findings to a CSO-NDB delegation on 2 April 2019 in Cape Town, during a side meeting within the greater 4th Annual Meeting. The NDB delegation was led by Mr. Vladimir Kazbekov, Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer.

Accordingly, if BRICS members states committed to sustainable transformation, namely, real peace, social security, human rights and development, within and without; then maybe BRICS would work. If BRICS could work …

 Then the NDB could be a viable ‘new’ development bank, accessible not just to national governments, but located in local communities too; open, transparent, committed to social justice, partnerships and fair financing.

Thus, posing a viable alternative to traditional western MDBs, like the IMF and WB.

It would alleviate the frequency of unilateral decisions that reduce countries to stone age; like the preconceived, premeditated invasion of Iraq based on international lie. A decision that led to the maiming of her women and children, their bombing in the security and comfort of their homes, and radicalisation of her men. Then maybe Libya wouldn’t be the lion’s den that she has become, a place of slaughter bloodshed – while her oil flows undisturbed.

And Syria’s landscape wouldn’t be this rubble of dust and pain.

Palestinians would find respite, a moment to catch a much needed breadth of fresh air, to think straight after 70 years of enduring systemic Apartheid, coupled with race cleansing.

Afrika would at last, find an external partner that is not more interested in raping and her virgin natural resources, than in the life of her children.

Then maybe Afrikan Americans wouldn’t be reduced to an everyday survival mode, hunted down as prey by US cops while the international community watches on.

If BRICS could work, Venezuelans would enjoy the right to fight for a just society amongst themselves, without external interference, just like Americans are doing with their anti-Trump struggle.

Then no opposition leader would be encouraged to take a short-cut to democratic elections, by manipulating protests to self-proclaim themselves the new leader.

If The Xiamen Declaration – an outcome of the 9th BRICS Summit, 3-5 September 2017, is brought to life in an unconditional and unprecedented commitment by member-states, especially the ones with economic muscle; then maybe the dawn of an alternative world shall herald.

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