By Koffi Kouakou
Two decades ago in 2001, a littleknown and obscure acronym, BRICS, made global economic news headlines. Its spelling and sounding cut through geopolitical conversations with a combined excitement and fear.
More so, it made powerful nations pay attention to its rising geoeconomic weight. The acronym, an idea coined by Jim O’Neill, the former chief economist of Goldman Sachs, included initially the four emerging markets’ economies – Brazil, Russia, India and China. Later in 2010, it was joined by South Africa.
It’s an eclectic, hardly homogenous group of nations with diverse interests aiming for win-win co-operation. At the heart of their ideals is the unifying goal for the establishment of an alternative, credible and inclusive geopolitical system for the G7 nations.
The group was expected to “grow faster than the developed countries and to play an increasingly important role in the world”. Indeed, the prediction is coming closer to fulfilment. It has grown bigger and more influential, and although not larger than the G7 nations, it is leading the world with the highest economic growth.
Today, according to the New Development Bank (NDB) annual report 2020, the key multilateral financial institution of the BRICS created in 2014, it represents “a combined area of 39746220km² and an estimated total population of about 3.21 billion, or about 26.7% of the world land surface and 41.5% of the world population.
“Four out of five members are among the world’s 10 largest countries by population and by area, except for South Africa which is 23th in both,” the report notes.
“Furthermore, it has a combined nominal GDP (PPP) of an estimated $23.5 trillion,” in comparison to the about $34 trillion of the G7 nations.
Over the years, the BRICS nations have been known for their significant global influence on regional and global affairs with their annual meeting in 2009. This year’s summit in Beijing, China, a Bandung Conference of sort, has an expansionist agenda to include new members, on the back of the consequences of the Ukraine war, the US/West-led sanctions against Russia and renewed US belligerence towards China.
It includes a highly attended hybrid and virtual format BRICS Business Forum, established at the fifth BRICS Summit in Durban, in 2013, with over 1000 officials, diplomats and representatives from 18 countries and 40 of the world’s top 500 companies.
Beyond the news headlines and the strengthening of global development for developing countries, the agenda tells a determined story of a rising geopolitical group of nations ready to assume a deserved ownership of a polycentric world.
The BRICS are the targets of both praises in emerging nations and criticism in wealthy industrialised countries. As the world witnesses “increasing factors” of instability and uncertainty, the BRICS become a credible geopolitical alternative to the G7 and a new international order.
So, the significance of this summit cannot be underestimated. It comes at the backdrop of the refusal of the “BRICS’s shared policy stance on Ukraine: refusing to denounce Russia, urging both sides for the immediate cessation of hostilities and for initiating direct talk to resolve this crisis,” says Swaran Singh, professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in India.
China and Russia, the key driving forces behind the BRICS, are helping to set a global agenda for development, fair and inclusive trade, and a transition to a peaceful and zero-wars world. There are two possible scenarios for the BRICS future co-operation in the next two decades.
The first is the long march road scenario. It is the best-case scenario that would strengthen the relationship among the original members and the growth of a measured and inclusive membership by invitation to new countries. But such intended and deliberate enlargement must be done cautiously and progressively to maintain the strength of the common ideal that underlies the sustainable development partnership among members to avoid the common gridlocks and dysfunctions of most international institutions such as the UN.
Therefore, the much talked-about BRICS+ to accommodate new members’ proposal must be welcomed. While it will be an arduous scenario to unfold given global uncertainties, it is the most likely preferred scenario for BRICS. Second is the too fast and fat scenario.
It is the worst-case scenario that would see the BRICS nations grow too fast, too fat, hard to manage, exhibit hubris with their new-found geopolitical and economic powers, and act such as the US-led West hegemony.
Also in this scenario, BRICS members might poorly manage their diverse interests, compete ferociously with each other for supremacy and disregard their core ideal. This scenario is the least desirable.
Finally, the people-to-people and cultural exchanges among BRICS countries are perhaps one of the most significant selling points of the people-centric nature of the BRICS developmental model ideal.
Without it, much of the BRICS nations’ geopolitics and geo-economics remain lifeless and inhuman. Indeed, it is a noble expectation for such a summit.
* Kouakou is an Africa Analyst and Senior Research Fellow at The Centre of Africa China, University of Johannesburg, South Africa