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CommentaryBRICS beyond geopolitics: Africa's alternative partnership?

BRICS beyond geopolitics: Africa’s alternative partnership?

The possibility of BRICS becoming an alternative development partner for Africa raises intriguing and thought-provoking questions. Comprised of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, the alliance of emerging economies recently held a summit in South Africa, during which six new members – Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates – were inducted into the bloc.

With South Africa hosting the 2023 summit, it has reported that nearly 40 nations have expressed interest in joining this alternative multipolar structure. The current 11 members of BRICS boast interesting statistics that characterize the emerging bloc: covering 34.5 percent of the Earth’s landmass, accounting for over 45 percent of the world’s population (3.6 billion), contributing to 30 percent of global GDP, or over USD 30 trillion. There is a clear correlation between the population, economic strength, and military might of these countries.

While the BRICS countries collectively represent a group of nations with robust economies and rapid economic expansion, it is important to note that not all member states are in the same phase of accelerated growth and development; some are experiencing stagnation.

In recent years, BRICS member countries have been increasingly active in Africa, with significant growth in trade and investment flows. This article aims to critically analyze the expansion of BRICS, the reasons behind the interest of these nations, and other pertinent factors that deserve attention.

The discourse surrounding the role and significance of BRICS in international politics is increasingly contentious. This debate encompasses the concept of de-dollarization, which challenges the Bretton Woods monetary system and serves as a counterbalance to the G7 for the Global South.

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However, it is important to shift the focus of this discussion from purely economic relevance to analyzing BRICS as a political instrument. The unidentified institutional capacity of BRICS, specifically “BRICS +,” needs to be examined to understand its impact on the African continent, as it is expected to operate independently of member nations’ capabilities.

Regardless, there are several reasons why BRICS could serve as a valuable development partner for Africa. First and foremost, BRICS countries possess significant resources in terms of capital, technology, and expertise, which they can offer to Africa. Their support can contribute to the development of Africa’s infrastructure, manufacturing sector, agricultural sector, and other pressing development needs.

Second, BRICS countries are more likely to consider Africa’s development needs compared to traditional partners like the US and Europe. They are less inclined to impose conditionalities on development assistance and are more respectful of Africa’s sovereignty. This means they are less interventionist in the internal political and economic affairs of African countries.

The BRICS-Africa partnership may encounter certain challenges. History has shown us that international relations are driven by self-interest, and each bloc, including BRICS, operates based on the national interests of its member nations. One challenge lies in the fact that BRICS countries have different interests in Africa compared to traditional Western or European relationships in past and ongoing economic and political affairs.

It’s important to recognize that BRICS is not a charitable organization; each member nation pursues its own national interests, and there are no free lunches, as one might expect. For instance, China primarily seeks natural resources and market opportunities, while India focuses more on trade and investment. Russia, on the other hand, may prioritize strengthening its military presence and engaging in arms deals.

The question arises as to how different the approach of BRICS can be compared to that of the West. Can BRICS member countries assist Africa in value addition to its mineral commodities before they are exported? Are they willing to invest in agriculture for food security and sustainability? Moreover, trade facilitation among African countries and beyond are crucial issues that need thorough examination.

There will likely be competition among BRICS countries to access markets and gain political influence, which could potentially harm Africa. Unless African countries critically analyze their interests versus those of non-African member states within BRICS, Africa’s representation in the bloc could be adversely affected.

Another challenge lies in the lack of transparency regarding the activities of BRICS countries in Africa. This lack of transparency makes it difficult for African countries to hold countries accountable for their actions.

In general, BRICS has the potential to be a valuable development partner for Africa, provided there is a robust organizational monitoring and evaluation structure in place. It is crucial to address the inevitable difficulties that may arise in order to ensure the success of this collaboration.

If these obstacles can be overcome, BRICS could assist Africa in achieving its development objectives.

This calls for an optimistic outlook, as it aims to convey unwavering confidence in the potential of the BRICS-Africa partnership to succeed in the future. The relationship is still in its early stages, and it is difficult to predict its trajectory. However, the optimistic outlook also signifies the potential for high-level collaboration among BRICS nations, which could lead to the flourishing of the alliance.

The question “could it be Africa’s alternative development partner?” deserves further discussion. Before making a judgment on the feasibility of BRICS-Africa cooperation, it is important to consider the numerous opportunities for advancement as well as the obstacles that may impede progress.

The expansion of BRICS can bring about several potential advantages. Firstly, the inclusion of new members from diverse regions can bring a wider range of perspectives and expertise to the table, enriching discussions and strategies. The addition of new members with substantial growth potential can also enhance the collective economic strength and influence of the group in international economic affairs.

The inclusion of new members from different regions can contribute to a more balanced decision-making process within BRICS. The pooling of resources can also facilitate cooperative development projects, investments, and initiatives across various industries.

However, there are also potential impediments associated with the expansion of BRICS. New members with divergent national interests can make it challenging to align on shared objectives and strategies, as competing agendas may arise. The complexity of coordination can slow down the decision-making process and make it more difficult to reach consensus.

Cultural, political, and economic differences among member countries can also contribute to misunderstandings and disagreements within the bloc. Significant disparities in economic levels among members may also lead to imbalances within the group, potentially reducing the effectiveness of cooperation.

Geopolitical concerns can alter the geopolitical dynamics both within and beyond the group, potentially giving rise to rivalries or tension among member countries. Finally, the expansion of BRICS may require structural adaptations, such as modifications to the existing organizational structure and decision-making processes, to accommodate the increased number of members and ensure effective functioning.

The expansion of BRICS would indeed require careful deliberation and negotiation among current and potential new members. It is important to consider the evolving global environment and political landscape, as new variables may influence the dynamics and outcomes of such an expansion.

Regarding the latest information on BRICS and its potential expansion, it is viewed more as a political issue rather than purely economic. It is worth noting that this perspective does not discount the possibility of a significant impact on the petrodollar financial system.

The expansion presents both challenges and opportunities that become evident upon closer examination. A thorough analysis may be necessary after a certain period of existence. The expansion of the block beyond geopolitical considerations holds the potential to play a crucial role as a political and economic counterweight to what is often referred to as Western hegemony.

One potential outcome is the pursuit of de-dollarization, which aims to bring about economic balance and fairness for countries in the global south.

On the political front, BRICS+ could serve as an alternative to the G7, challenging unfair economic embargoes and Western isolationist policies.


The representation of Africa within BRICS currently includes South Africa, Egypt, and Ethiopia, with a notable absence of Western African countries. The exclusion of Nigeria, which has the largest economy on the continent, from both political and economic perspectives is puzzling. Nigeria’s inclusion could have significantly expanded the impact of BRICS in various ways.

Egypt’s representation in BRICS is not surprising, considering its economic strength as one of Africa’s key economic powerhouses. Egypt’s economy encompasses a wide range of industries, including agriculture, textiles, petroleum, and tourism. Its strategic location further enhances its significance on the continent, and its membership in the block is likely influenced by the strong economic ties it shares with both Russia and India.

On the other hand, the inclusion of Ethiopia in the bloc does not necessarily reflect its economic dominance, political influence, or diplomatic prowess. Instead, it can be seen as a symbolic act driven primarily by China, with little involvement from other BRICS members.

Ethiopia’s membership reflects its historical significance in the anti-colonial fight of the 1800s, its role as a founding member of the United Nations, and its contributions to other international forums. Its inclusion also takes into account its potential role in the geopolitics of the Horn of Africa and its population dividend. The importance of a country’s significance goes beyond its current leadership, as highlighted by former Brazilian President Lula da Silva, emphasizing the representation of the Global South and its population.

The expansion of BRICS poses a formidable challenge to Western dominance, as it represents key emerging economies with diverse assets. China has long advocated for expansion as part of its strategy to challenge Western hegemony, a strategy shared by Russia. India, on the other hand, appears to balance its longstanding relationship with the West.

For sustainable globalization and the development of BRICS, it is crucial for the North and South to work together through mutual respect, understanding, and fair partnerships. Cooperation in areas such as sustainable investment, collaborative research, inclusive decision-making in international forums, and free and open trade can yield positive results.

Encouraging regional cooperation, capacity development, and inclusive policymaking will ensure that the interests of all stakeholders are considered in international forums. By working together, both regions can achieve long-term prosperity, stability, and contribute to greater international understanding and cooperation.

Does BRICS+ have a visible institutional structure that can address the political and economic issues of member countries and beyond?

In international relations, ideas, political vision, political competence, and institutional capacity are the three traditional pillars of statecraft that determine a country’s ability to exert influence in foreign affairs.

While the BRICS countries possess the economic capabilities of individual nations, they require stronger institutional competence to effectively translate that capacity into a formal framework within the international arena. Although they may find agreement in certain economic matters, they often have disagreements on numerous other issues.

The exact composition of the BRICS+ organizational structure and its capacity remains unclear. BRICS does not exist as a formal organization; instead, it functions primarily as an annual summit attended by the heads of state from the five member countries. The chairmanship of the forum rotates annually among its members in accordance with the acronym BRICS.

On the economic front, the block has established the New Development Bank, which has the potential to challenge existing Western financial institutions.

In conclusion, it is important to recognize that various international entities pose potential challenges to the continued existence of BRICS. These organizations have exerted influence over the global economy for several decades, and it would be naive to ignore their visible and unseen soft-power capabilities. While it is premature to dismiss BRICS as merely a talk shop, it is also essential for the member nations to re-evaluate their expansion plans and address any weaknesses.

In international relations, the strength of states is not the sole determinant of their influence. Their conceptions of how to utilize that strength are equally crucial. This holds particular relevance in the current global geopolitical landscape. The BRICS nations need to rise to this formidable challenge in order to have a lasting impact on political issues.

(Seife Tadelle Kidane (PhD) is a senior research fellow at the IPATC, University of Johannesburg. He is the director for Africa Speaks-Centre for Governance and Intra Africa Trade Studies, and a member of the AISSS Executive Board Director and the head of strategic research.)

Contributed by Seife Tadelle

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