The bloc was dismissed by many in the beginning, with some arguing that it does not hold sufficient power to change anything, let alone contend with the global hegemons. But BRICS is not about challenging anyone. It is about fostering cooperation and collaboration to find solutions for global challenges and achieve a shared future in which development is enhanced and accessible to all who seek it, Mikatekiso Kubayi writes.
Some Background Reflections
The recently-concluded BRICS Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, was not only a success for the bloc but also historic in how it captured the times we live in today. Heavy global expectations sat on the shoulders of all those with a role in the dynamics. These main expectations leaned on two central narrative generators: 1) global financial architecture reform efforts (development, payment system, BRICS currency, ‘de-dollarisation’) and 2) BRICS expansion. Aided by country-level agency, the summit went quite far in meeting these expectations.
But what is this agency, and why is it relevant? It is best to revisit the formation of the bloc in 2009 and at least some of the associated dynamics of that time to provide a context for the evolution of the bloc, culminating in the outcomes communicated in the BRICS Johannesburg 2 Declaration. This is important because to assess its advances correctly, we need to recall why it was formed and what it must advance, therefore determining whether the declaration reflects an advance towards the goals and aims enumerated in 2009.
In 2006, the BRIC foreign ministers and finance ministers started meeting to discuss various issues of common interest, particularly their role in global governance. In 2008, the housing market bubble in the United States burst, triggering significant devastation to economies around the globe. Moreover, the developing economies had no role in provoking this, nor had they had a role in the governance of the global financial system or its design. At that time, Africa had one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, along with China, India, and Brazil. Even Russia was experiencing notable growth. Recognising that there was something wrong with the system and the need to expand the representation of voices of developing economies in global financial and economic governance, the G20 was established.
But, of course, this had not been the first global economic crisis. There had been others leading up to this. Many scholars have traced the problem to the very nature of global capitalism, dis-investments in the productive (real) economy, financialization, deregulation, shareholder value (capitalism), and other advice from significant consulting companies since the 1950s. Indeed, the romance with financial markets and the seduction of speculation and quick profits, mainly to make books appear more attractive to shareholders, was real. In 2009, the BRIC bloc of the most significant and fastest-growing developing economies was formed. At its formation, the bloc stated its agenda for reforming global economic governance and its architecture, development, and reform of multilateralism with the United Nations at its centre. The bloc also stated then that it had no intention of replacing anything or anyone. Its agenda was not acrimonious.
In 2010, South Africa joined the bloc. This was a significant development because Africa suddenly had a voice among a group of fast-developing economies. It was also significant in that the BRICS footprint was now extended by population, land mass, and region, along with the influence that came with them. In 2013, several African countries were invited to the BRICS Summit in South Africa. The concepts of a BRICS+ and BRICS outreach were proposed by China and formalised by the bloc. Throughout this period, the effects of the global financial crisis continued to bite, even though the Chinese and Indian economies continued to lead global growth numbers.