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The Brics summit will provide South Africa with another moment of glory on the global stage, coming, as it does, on the heels of a successful Africa Cup of Nations.
South Africa is a seasoned host of global events and strategic meetings such as the 17th Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2011 and many others before that.
Brics (Brazil, Russia, India and China) has captured the global public imagination and policy and investment pundits have put forward various scenarios about its prospects.
Brics is a growing force in global economic political affairs, though its impact on global affairs has yet to be felt.
The Durban Brics summit provides this elite grouping of leading emerging markets an opportunity to articulate a compelling agenda that can reinvent the architecture of global economic and political affairs in ways that tilt the global forces towards a point of equilibrium.
This requires vision and boldness from the Brics leaders.
Their interests and global strategic positioning will be best served by avoiding the temptation to focus on what divides them, such as fears of a growing and potentially domineering China, cheap chicken imports from Brazil, India’s unfriendly regulatory regime, Russia’s impenetrable oligarch-dominated market or South Africa’s rigid and increasingly unstable labour market.
None of the Brics countries are angels in everything.
The opportunity for this potentially formidable alliance is great, but its success is not ordained from the skies. It will hinge on a mosaic of forces.
First, the Brics countries need a central organising and unifying vision of the future. The discourse of “co-operation” and “mutual benefit” is hardly enough; it is the language of all diplomatic engagements at all levels.
The Brics countries have a great opportunity to reframe and reinvent the global order of things. They need to build a global hegemonic project that appeals to a global public outside the Brics universe.
This requires a strategy to deploy soft power in strategic and creative ways.
Second, these countries need a clear and unifying set of values to underpin and drive their strategic agenda. They need to define their values in ways that unpack their tangible sense of common purpose.
Values are also key to ensuring that these countries hold one another accountable on the extent to which they adhere to those values.
Values are crucial as part of qualifying or disqualifying criteria for membership.
It would enhance their soft power strategy if the Brics set of values has universal appeal and embraces democracy, human rights, transparency, accountability, equality, rule of law and an active civil society.
Values matter. The global economic and governance crisis is, to a large extent, also a crisis of a values deficit in business, government and civil society.
Brics can articulate a vision of a values-based world order that give primacy to the interests of all stakeholders.
Third, to be a powerful and positive force in global affairs as it can and must, Brics needs strong, capable and delivering institutions.
They play a decisive role in differentiating winners from losers among countries.
Show me a poor country and I’ll show you a country with poor institutional arrangements, discipline and capacity.
Show me a rich country and I’ll show you a country with strong, capable and delivering institutions.
The Brics countries face internal socio-economic challenges as shown by the wave of protest actions related to service delivery or unhappiness with certain institutions. As their economies grow, inequality between rich and poor grows, too.
This requires a deliberate effort and agenda to pursue inclusive growth and development strategies that ensure an expanding circle of beneficiaries from economic growth and a shrinking circle of losers. Youth unemployment and rural development, especially in Brazil, India, China and South Africa, require an active exchange of best practice and targeted interventions. This is a time bomb in these four member countries.
Fourth, the global trade agenda as managed through the institutions of the World Trade Organisation provides an opportunity for Brics to craft and actively pursue a focused and less ambitious but effective global agenda.
The dithering by the leading Western powers, which had resulted in the collapse of the Doha round of global trade negotiations, has opened a space for Brics to pursue bold and courageous leadership in an area that has the potential to unlock global growth, development and prosperity for generations.
It is right that there is great focus on intra-Brics trade and investment.
However, this must not be an end in itself but a means to a greater transformation and levelling of global trade and investment relations in ways that uplift poor people across the world.
Brics can position itself as a champion of a new form of capitalism that advances the lot of the world’s poor better than the Washington Consensus and Anglo-Saxon models, which has been found wanting in the global economic crisis of the past five years.
Furthermore, the Brics countries need to consider having a Brics development plan just like South Africa’s National Development Plan (NDP). India and China are good planners. A common Brics development plan will enable the strategic alignment of policies and practices were appropriate across all Brics nations. National differentiation should be allowed where unique national circumstances and dynamics dictate.
As we have seen with our own NDP, a Brics development plan will be a necessary starting point for strategic conversations between business, government, labour and organs of civil society. I believe this can and must be done.
The expertise and experience is there within all the Brics countries. A common development plan will enable Brics to craft, articulate and perpetuate a tangible sense of common purpose that can unleash prosperity for generations.
The extent to which Brics countries are properly co-ordinated and aligned on key global and regional strategic issues will determine the extent to which they can affect global affairs in a positive, constructive and meaningful way.
- Dlamini is a member of the national council of the SA Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA).