For a long time, Africa has been dictated to in its internal affairs, including trade, politics, and governance, among others. Long denied, owing to the configuration of global geopolitics, a driver’s seat in determining its agenda, the relationship between the continent and the West has worsened as the West has focussed more on defending and advancing its interests and meshed the continent in long-running loans. During that time, Africa has made a tactical shift to the East, with China overtaking the US as Africa’s biggest trading partner.
As a result of the growing trade between China and Africa, BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) bloc is an important trading partner for the continent. Even though China’s look to Africa has played a major role in the increase in trade with Africa for the bloc, South Africa joining the bloc also increased investments to Africa from the rest of the BRICS economies.
In fact, with increasing investment in Africa, it is projected that, by 2030, trade between the two parties will be over Sh71.05 trillion ($500 billion). According to Charles Robertson, an economist at Renaissance Capital, with the assistance of the BRICS, Africa can reach levels that have been impossible before. “The BRICS bring a different perspective to the table and can help change the status quo that has held back Africa for so long,” he said.9
However, this can only come to pass if Africa ensures that its partnerships with the BRICS bloc follow a different path than its partnership with the West. It is for this reason, in addition to increasing the continent’s economic growth, that President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa has extended an invitation to all African leaders from the African Union and regional economic communities to have a dialogue with the BRICS leaders during the 15th BRICS Summit that will be held in Johannesburg, South Africa from the 22nd to 24th of August 2023.
The summit will be key for Africa to ensure that its partnership with BRICS will benefit it and fulfil its growth potential. Even though the commander in chief for Russia, President Vladimir Putin, will not be able to attend the summit, Africa will have to plead its case to have access to the right tools to improve its people’s livelihoods and development.
According to Vincent Mutua, an economics professor, the people of Africa have been crying for better living standards and increased opportunities. “BRICS can be Africa’s solution. With the bloc now contributing 31.5% of the global GDP surpassing the 30% contributed by the G7 nations (United States, France, Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom), it has the technological capability, market size, and other qualities that would make it an ideal partner for Africa to develop further, and that’s exactly what South Africa is aiming for at the summit,” he added.
For this to happen, a partnership must be struck between Africa and the BRICS nations. When the West invested in Africa, they focussed on Africa’s sub-regional integration organisations such as the East African Community (EAC), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) as they knew there importance in driving development. These communities must now agree with the BRICS to establish trade cooperation.
However, the BRICS nations can partner with the whole of Africa through the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). Through the theme of South Africa’s chairship this year, partnership for mutually accelerated growth, sustainable development and inclusive multilateralism, Africa has the chance to come to an agreement that doesn’t only benefit it through acquiring imports at an affordable price but also gives it a market for its exports. The bloc offers new scope and platforms for equitable trade, industrial development, inclusive growth, and export opportunities.
“South Africa will take the summit as a chance to advocate for Africa by discussing with the other BRICS members in terms of AfCFTA. On how the agreement will help Africa trade more with the external world as well as create goods domestically that the countries within the continent can trade among themselves,” Mutua said.
According to James Gatama, an economist at the African Institute for Economic Development and Planning, currently, the bloc is in a better position to offer the best benefits to Africa than the West. “The BRICS are not perfect, but they are a better alternative to the West,” he said.
The summit will also be necessary to Africa as it allows its leaders to attract the BRICS nations to invest in the industrial and manufacturing sector in the continent. For Africa to export more products to these markets, there is a need for support in the manufacturing industry to ensure that the goods produced are of the best quality and that these markets need.
Without a doubt, Africa has the resources but needs more capital and technology to make it a manufacturing stronghold. With China already leading the way in bringing in its expertise and technology, with a deal in place, the other members can follow suit, ensuring ‘made in Africa’ is no longer a goal but a reality. With different African countries focusing on different products, Africa will have an industrial system allowing it to export more products of higher value and grow and become truly independent. However, this is only possible if the African leaders can ensure the agreement they enter with the BRICS does not entrap them but leads to both parties benefiting and growing.
The summit will also be crucial in determining the criteria and if the growing number of countries hoping to join the bloc can be members. So far, over 40 countries have expressed intentions to join, with the likes of African countries such as Ethiopia, Algeria and Egypt already formally asking to join the bloc of emerging markets. More countries are joining the bandwagon as they grow tired of the dominance of the US.
For example, Sudan, Egypt and Zimbabwe have already tried to reduce their reliance on the dollar. Sudan is already in talks with Russia in ways trade between the two can be done in their national currencies. Iran is also planning to move away from the dollar, following its rough relationship with the US, by suggesting the formation of a joint bank with African states to promote cooperation and trade in local currencies.
EAC has also been planning to move to a unified regional currency for quite some time now. President William Ruto of Kenya has also championed de-dollarization as he suggested that African countries should trade in their national currencies.
“We are all struggling to make payments for goods and services from one country to another because of differences in currencies. And in the middle of all these, we are all subjected to a dollar environment. Why is it necessary for us to buy things from Djibouti and pay in dollars? Why? There is no reason. And we are not against the U.S. dollar; we just want to trade much more freely. Let us pay in U.S. dollars what we are buying from the U.S.,” he said. However, even though the president is championing the change, Kenya is still trading through the dollar, failing to back up the talk for now.
As the summit draws near, African leaders should be ready to attract the bloc to invest in the continent while ensuring they benefit and do not depend on imports again or become victim to the resource curse. African leaders need to partner with the bloc knowing they keep their independence in check, unlike with the U.S. If this happens, when BRICS come to contribute more than 50% of the global GDP, Africa will benefit greatly and be one step closer to reaching its growth potential.