Last week, Durban hosted the 5th BRICS summit, with the heads of state from Brazil, Russia, India and China being hosted by President Zuma of South Africa. After a stopover in Russia, the new Chinese president’s first overseas trip was to Africa – first Tanzania and then on to South Africa. At the meeting, the BRICS leaders committed to creating BRICS bank with at least a $50 billion start-up fund, with a focus on infrastructure development.
This has been hailed as a new mechanism to support development, particularly in Africa, to rival the World Bank. The new BRICS facility would in turn usher in a new era of South-South cooperation, banishing the former colonial powers to the side-lines. But is this really going to be the case? China and Brazil certainly have significant and growing economic might. But South Africa is a mere ‘briquette’, according to some commentators.
So what is South Africa’s role in this new power bloc, given that its economy is dwarfed by the others? Is it just a convenient addition to add in Africa? Or is South Africa being used as the ‘gateway’ to new investment from the new global economic powers? Is this new configuration creating, as Patrick Bond claims, a new sub-imperialism? And what are the broader implications for Africa’s development, as the global geopolitical and economic contours shift? With Zimbabwe just north of the Limpopo, and in urgent need of investment, these developments have potentially important ramificaitons. Bond rejects the potentials of a new development paradigm, and comments, “BRICS offer some of the most extreme sites of new sub-imperialism in the world today. They lubricate world neoliberalism, hasten world eco-destruction and serve as coordinators of hinterland looting. The BRICS hegemonic project should be resisted”.
Working with collaborators in China, Brazil and across Africa – including Langton Mukwereza in Zimbabwe (see also earlier blogs here and here) – the Future Agricultures Consortium has been starting some work to look at how China and Brazil in particular are engaging in African agriculture. While we don’t buy the misty-eyed talk of South-South sharing and solidarity, we equally do not dismiss the new players completely. Clearly commerical business interests are at the heart of such engagements, and Chinese and Brazilian interests in agricultural machinery, agro-processing, ethanol production and so on are very evident in the new deals being struck with African governments. But such new development encounters are creating a new dynamic at the same time - that may offer some room for manoevre for African states, in negotiating new arrangements from both traditional donors and investors, and new ones.
In a Huffington Post blog from last week, I comment on some of the issues, and provide links to the new work, just released at the Political Economy of Agricultural Policy conference in Pretoria two weeks back.