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BRICS is old wine in new bottle

Though posing as a ‘lesser evil’ to Western colonialists, the thrust on privatization remains its central focus
A screen shows Russian President Vladimir Putin virtually delivering remarks at a meeting during the 2023 BRICS Summit at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg on Aug. 24

A screen shows Russian President Vladimir Putin virtually delivering remarks at a meeting during the 2023 BRICS Summit at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg on Aug. 24. (Photo: Marco Longari / POOL / AFP)

Published: September 15, 2023 12:16 PM GMT
Updated: September 15, 2023 12:19 PM GMT

South Africa's Johannesburg business district on Aug. 22 played an unstinting host to some of the authoritarian heads of state. 

Inside the gleaming glass towers, China, Russia and India, three founding members of BRICS – the grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa – got Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt and the UAE for the company.

India under the pro-Hindu party of Narendra Modi routinely threatens to disenfranchise its minorities, including Muslims and Christians, who make up more than 20 percent of its 1.4 billion people.

In China, there is one-party rule and Vladimir Putin has been calling the shots in Russia for decades. Because of his long stint in office, Putin could easily carry out Russia’s savage war in neighboring Ukraine – Russians dare not ask any questions.

Brazil and South Africa, the other two founding members of BRICS, are their continent’s leading economies. However, these nations have used their financial and productive capacities not for the well-being of their continents’ populations but to dominate the regions. 

In Brazil, the immediate head of the state of the current incumbent, Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva (Lula), was neo-fascist Jair Bolsinaro, a known anti-people figure. He presided over Brazil’s Amazon rainforest deforestation when he was at the helm of affairs.

South Africa is headed by multi-billionaire president Cyril Ramaphosa who sits on the board of directors of leading western firms.  He uses his apartheid-era trade union days to wear nationalism on his sleeves.

Though they have few things in common, when it comes to undermining democracy and freedom the founding members and many of the new entrants seem to travel in the same boat.

The five BRICS nations alone make up 40 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of its economy. With the six new recruits, they represent more than 60 percent of humanity and immense wealth.

There are 17 other nations waiting in the wings to join the elite club. Kuwait, Bahrain and Vietnam have nothing much to boast of when it comes to people’s role in deciding their fate, and others, like Thailand, are still monarchic in nature.

The addition of Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation and the continent’s second-largest economy, is a matter of time. It may take place at the 16th summit to be hosted by Russia in the city of Kazan in 2024.

Since its inception in 2010, BRICS’ accomplishments have been negligible on a world scale.

Its New Development Bank, housed in the Chinese city of Shanghai with more than $100 billion as its Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA) has already become the talk of the town. All the five founding members and the 24 new recruits are expected to borrow money from the bank.

But to get more than 30 percent of their borrowing quota from the CRA, a member nation has to sign up to implement a structural adjustment program, an anti-poor austerity measure and a commitment to free trade, in their countries.

So, the BRICS’s tall claim of standing against the predatory Western capital and standing for inclusive growth, are mere lip-service, meant for the gallery.

The ignominious history of structural adjustment programs around the globe has already become the subject matter of many well-known books, including one by former World Bank economist Joseph Stiglitz's 'Globalization and Its Discontents.'

When a bankrupt Sri Lanka sought a US$3 billion bailout loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to tide over the foreign exchange crisis a year ago, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo questioned it, because IMF loans always come with anti-poor austerity measures.

For the people in a battered nation, a cut in their resources amounted to a stab in the back.

“Where would Sri Lanka end up if we bow down to the International Monetary Fund?” the 75-year-old cardinal asked during a gathering in Negombo, north of the capital Colombo, in 2022.

Now, the world’s greatest repressive regimes, oil monarchs, oligarchs and dictators are coming together to form the “coalition of the willing” to put private profit rights over the social needs of the ordinary people.

Though posing as a “lesser evil” to Western colonialists, the extraction of resources, production and distribution of deadly fossil fuels are central to the BRICS development plan. 

The BRICS with its tall claims of inclusive growth is actually old wine in a new bottle. With its thrust on privatization, it is naïve to expect the BRICS to challenge the routine discrimination against poor countries’ sovereignty.

The Church has always shied away from the BRICS for unknown reasons. The Holy See is playing truant when the historical transformation of more than 3.7 million people is taking place under the stewardship of dictators and authoritarian regimes with hegemonic characteristics.

While meeting with members of the Council of Inclusive Capitalism in 2020, Pope Francis urged the world’s largest investment and business leaders to harness the potential of the private sector to set up a sustainable economic foundation for the world.

The Vatican meeting in December figured Ajay Banga, who now acts as president of the World Bank Group, Rajiv Shah, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, and Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild, founder of Inclusive Capital Partners, among others. It was facilitated by Cardinal Peter Turkson, who then headed the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

Addressing them, the supreme pontiff said, “An economic system that is fair, trustworthy, and capable of addressing the most profound challenges facing humanity and our planet is urgently needed.”

The Vatican needs to take a BRICS route immediately so that enough checks and balances are in place when an oligarchy of private capital runs amok on nearly half of humanity.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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