Introducing Brics From Above, And Brics-From-Below

Published on ZSpace, by Patrick Bond, March 23, 2013.

In Durban, South Africa, five heads of state meet on March 26-27 2013 at the International Convention Centre, to assure the rest of Africa that their countries’ corporations are better investors in infrastructure, mining, oil and agriculture than the traditional European and US multinationals. The Brazil-Russia-India-China-SA (Brics) summit also makes space for 16 heads of state from Africa, including notorious tyrants. A new $50 billion ‘Brics Bank’ will probably be launched. There will be more talk about monetary alternatives to the US dollar.   

Three narratives have emerged about Brics. The first is promotional and mainly comes from government and allied intellectuals; the second perspective is wait-and-see patience; and the third is highly critical, from forces who meet as ‘brics-from-below.’ All can be found in the following pages.

The first narrative is represented through the most intellectually-engaged speech about Brics we have found by any local politician: Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, South Africa’s foreign minister. At a gathering of the 5th Brics Academic Forum on March 10, she requested robust, critical engagement, and by reading the ‘Recommendations’ of that group’s meeting at the Durban University of Technology, you can assess whether she can be satisfied … //

… But if you are thinking about these matters from ‘below’ (or like me, within ‘brics-from-the-middle), you will intrinsically understand that the debate is only beginning. Given how much is at stake, critical civil society must scrutinise the claims, the processes and the outcomes of the Brics summit and its aftermath. Civil society critics point to four groups of problems in all the Brics:

  • socio-economic rights violations, including severe inequality, poverty, unemployment, disease, inadequate education and healthcare, costly basic services and housing, constraints on labour organising, and extreme levels of violence, especially against women (such as the high-profile rapes/murders of Delhi student Jyoti Singh Pandey last December 16, and in South Africa, of Anene Booysen on February 2 in Bredasdorp, Reeva Steenkamp on February 14 in Pretoria, and countless others);
  • political and civil rights violations, such as widespread police brutality, increased securitisation of our societies, militarisation and arms trading, prohibitions on protest, rising media repression and official secrecy, activist jailings and torture, debilitating patriarchy and homophobia, and even state-sanctioned massacres (including in Durban where the notorious Cato Manor police hit squad executed more than 50 suspects in recent years);
  • regional domination by Brics economies, including extraction of hinterland raw materials, and promotion of ‘Washington Consensus’ ideology which reduces poor countries’ policy space (for example, in the Brics 2012 donation of $75 billion to the International Monetary Fund with the mandate that the IMF be more ‘nasty,’ according to South African Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, or in the desire of China, Brazil and India to revitalise the World Trade Organisation to maximise their trading power against weaker neighbours);
  • ‘maldevelopment’ based on elite-centric, consumerist, financialised, eco-destructive, climate-insensitive, nuclear-powered strategies which advance corporate and parastatal profits, but which create multiple crises within all the Brics (as witnessed during the Marikana Massacre carried out by police on behalf of Lonmin platinum corporation last August, and in South Durban where R225 billion ($25 bn) in white-elephant state infrastructure subsidies for chaotic port, freight and petrochemical industry expansion – and more labour-broking exploitation – are being vigorously resisted by victim communities).

Confusingly to some, Brics regimes carry out this agenda at the same time they offered radical, even occasionally ‘anti-imperialist’ rhetoric, accompanied by mainly trivial diplomatic actions. Yet the Brics alliance is incoherent, as shown in the elites’ debilitating disagreement over who would lead the IMF and World Bank in 2011-12. In the UN Security Council, Brics countries seek greater power for themselves, not the collective: repeated bids for permanent membership by India, Brazil and South Africa are opposed by Russia and China … //

… Other extreme cases are the Democratic Republic of the Congo where Johannesburg-based mining capital (AngloGold Ashanti) paid off warlords in a region where five million people were killed mainly to get access to minerals such as the coltan we use in our cellphones, and Zimbabwe where Chinese firms and a military junta – along with SA businesses, Indian and Israeli traders, Dubai middlemen and other vultures – prop up President Robert Mugabe’s rule, together looting the country of billions of dollars worth of diamonds.

In 2010, 17 out of Africa’s top 20 companies were South African, even after extreme capital flight from Johannesburg a decade earlier, which saw Anglo American, De Beers, SA Breweries and Old Mutual relocate to London. Just as in Cecil John Rhodes’ day, the greed of South African business is backed by government officials, through the (failed) New Partnership for Africa’s Development – praised as ‘philosophically spot on’ by the Bush Administration – and useless African Peer Review Mechanism. More recently, SA’s National Development Plan sheepishly conceded a ‘perception [sic] of the country as a regional bully.’

In bullying Africa, the traditional SA, US, European, Australian and Canadian corporations have been joined by major firms from China, India and Brazil. Their looting has mainly built upon colonial infrastructural foundations – road, rail, pipeline and port expansion – connected to mines, plantations, petroleum and gas. Durban simply updates the investment strategy.

There is similar collusion with Washington when it comes to global finance: in July 2012, the Brics treasuries sent $75 billion in fresh capital to the IMF, which was seeking new funds for bailing out for banks exposed in Southern Europe. Like Africa’s experience since the early 1980s, the resulting austerity in Greece, Spain, Portugal, Cyprus, Ireland and other failing European states does far more harm than good to both local and global economies. As for voting power within the IMF, the result of this Brics intervention was that China gained many more votes (for dollars rule at the IMF), while Africa actually lost a substantial fraction of its share.

For these reasons, will Durban 2013 be known as the logical successor to Africa’s initial carve-up: Berlin 1885?

Building a bottom-up civil society network to analyse, watchdog and represent silenced voices of dissent has never been more important. One part of this process involves an analysis of the pros and cons of Brics.

We hope you the reader can join the conversation because from Africa, too little has been said about Brics, given what is at stake.
(full long text).

Links:

The ECB: still behind the curve when it comes to (estimating) inflation – Graph, on RWER blog, by merijnknibbe, March 21, 2013;

Graph of the day: Low and lower GDP inflation in the Eurozone, selected countries, on RWER blog, by merijnknibbe, March 21, 2013;

Running into money: The coming shitstorm, on Hopi Sen, March 21, 2013;

Old Etonian TORY MP (Kwasi Kwarteng): we are “soft” not to cut public sector pay by 10%, on Political Scrapbook, March 21, 2013;

UK: The chancellor’s plan has failed and we are all paying the price, on Left Foot Forward, by Nicola Smith, March 21, 2013.

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