The extension of an invitation to Ethiopia alongside Argentina, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to join the BRICS bloc of emerging economies as full members from January 1 next year has pleasantly surprised the majority of Ethiopians. Although the bloc said in the Johannesburg II declaration it adopted on the final day of its annual summit on Thursday that the new entrants were selected after “BRICS countries reached consensus on the guiding principles, standards, criteria and procedures of the BRICS expansion process”, it did not elaborate on what these were. Formed initially in 2009 by Brazil, Russia, India and China and later joined by South Africa in 2010, the bloc has been saying for some time now that it is on a quest to forge a stronger alliance of developing nations who can better put the interests of the Global South on the world’s agenda. The addition of new members has been billed as an initiative aimed at expanding its reach and influence. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) acknowledged Ethiopia’s entry into the block as a great moment for the nation and underscored that it stands ready to cooperate with all for an inclusive and prosperous global order. BRICS’ decision to welcome Ethiopia has several ramifications that we will be taking a cursory look at here.
The acceptance of Ethiopia from the more than 40 countries that had expressed interest in joining BRICS and the 23 that had formally applied to join is a feather in the cap for the administration of PM Abiy, confounding numerous analysts’ prediction that Ethiopia’s candidature as a member of the grouping was unlikely to receive a positive response. There are distinct political and economic advantages Ethiopia may derive from BRICS membership. On the political front, it can enhance Ethiopia’s geostrategic importance by giving it a stronger influence in global affairs as part of a group that seeks to act as a countervailing power to the West. It also dissuade the West from attaching human rights governance conditions to new loans, aid or debt relief it offers the country.
In the economic sphere, Ethiopia will have access to a larger market and more investment opportunities from the BRICS countries, which account for about 40 percent of the world’s population and a quarter of the global GDP. It will also be able to draw on the funding availed by the BRICS New Development Bank (NDB), which provides financing for infrastructure and sustainable development projects in the member countries and other developing nations. Moreover, membership can give the nation greater leverage in its negotiation with the likes of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank due to the fact that the western powers which dominate them might refrain from arm-twisting it and pushing it irretrievably into the pro-Beijing camp. In addition, it will be able to trade more easily with other BRICS countries using local currencies, enabling it to reduce its dependence on the U.S. dollar for international trade.
Needless to say becoming a BRICS member does not mean that everything will be a bed of roses for Ethiopia; it has potential downsides as well. For one this will force it to do a juggling act in terms of balancing its interests and commitments with the BRICS countries and other and international partners, particularly the United States and the European Union. Ethiopia may also be faced with the prospect of adopting tricky positions vis-à-vis the divergent views and agendas of the BRICS countries on such issues as human rights, democracy, security, and trade. Furthermore, it could be pushed into adjusting some of its policies and regulations to meet the standards and expectations of the BRICS countries, which may not always align with its national interests and priorities.
Ethiopia’s membership in BRICS is a historic opportunity for the country to boost its development and integration into the global economy. However, it also entails some challenges and trade-offs that require careful analysis and management. Ethiopia will have to adopt a pragmatic and flexible approach to maximize the benefits and minimize the costs of joining BRICS. This said, there are a number of things it needs to take care of first if it is to reap the dividends of the grouping’s membership. First and foremost, it’s of critical importance to ensure the prevalence of peace and stability. Second, the government must do everything within its power to uphold the pillars of the rule of law, namely accountability and access to justice, as well as to display transparency in the conduct of its affairs. BRICS membership will count for nothing if Ethiopians fail to tend to this homework with the solemnity and commitment it requires.