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Fostering African unity – one BRICS at a time


Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is currently a Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Fort Hare University and writes in his personal capacity.

The South African government should invite the two key economic powerhouses from each of the four regions on the continent to the BRICS summit in Johannesburg in July.

Come July 2018 South Africa will be hosting the 10th Summit of the BRICS group in Johannesburg. President Cyril Ramaphosa is afforded an opportunity to place Africa high on the agenda.

The conundrum, however, is that I’m not convinced the South African government is clear about what our “national interests” are, and as such, they will not be able to seize this opportunity to its fullest.

A cursory look at the theory of International Relations tells us that the Realist School comprising Neo-Realist or Neo-Conservatives have a world view that says,

The world is anarchic

There exists no global authority that can manage/control such anarchy

And therefore, you are on your own as a country

The fittest and strongest thus survive

This is the basic premise from which Realists depart and hence they invest nothing in the United Nations and other such global multilateral forums. They invest heavily in their own military industrial complexes, including nuclear arsenals, and take a very aggressive stand when it comes to their economic interests. This prowess is informed squarely by what they refer to as their “national interests”.

In short, the national interest, often referred to by the French expression raison d’Etat (reason of state), is a country’s goals and ambitions, whether economic, militarily, or culturally. This concept is the foundation of the realist school.

The first thinker to advocate for the primacy of national interest is considered to be Niccolo Machiavelli. The concept was born out of the tension that was there between the Church and State in the 16th century. Hence the concept was defended as “a means between what conscience permits and affairs require”.

The argument goes further: it is a form of reason “born of the calculation and the ruse of men” and makes of the state “a knowing machine, a work of reason”; the state ceases to be derived from the divine order and is henceforth subject to its own particular necessities.

In other words it’s about self-interest when dealing with affairs of state.

Now, our continued participation in the BRICS formation and what ultimately we want to gain and benefit from such a grouping must remain uppermost in our collective minds. President Cyril Ramaphosa has a good opportunity as the incumbent Chairperson of the BRICS grouping this year. An opportunity – because this can be a time to yet again put Africa high on the agenda.

However, collaboration between Dirco and DTI in hosting the next session of BRICS is required. In my opinion, the South African government should invite the two key economic powerhouses from each of the four regions on the continent as well as the third economy that show the most promise and growth in each of the regions as well.

In other words, in southern Africa, besides South Africa of course, Angola and the DRC should be invited, and Botswana as a third participant. East Africa, I suggest Kenya and Ethiopia with perhaps Uganda as a third participant. West Africa, it would be Ghana and Nigeria and a third participant could be Cote D’ivoire and finally North Africa would be Egypt and Algeria with Tunisia as the third participant.

Now, these invitees should not just participate and have a seat at the table; no, parallel to the BRICS summit, trade and investment sessions must be held with all the countries, in other words Brazil must sit with all if not most of the African countries and hammer out a clear trade path among each other.

Similarly, China and India must follow suit and all this must take place under the guidance and direction of the South Africans.

Now I know a similar strategy was employed by China at the last BRICS summit but what could be different with the South African chapter is that the SA government should also invite the main cities of these powerhouses. Yes, the mayors and senior officials should be invited to run alongside the summit in much the same way the cities did it in Paris with the signing of the Paris Accord on climate change. Everyone knows that the theatres where all the socio-economic challenges play out are our cities and that’s why they deserve a seat at the big table.

The department of trade and industry must step up and co-ordinate all these sessions. Dirco must manage the necessary additional requirements and of critical importance is what it is that South Africa wants from all these countries, both BRICS partners and its continental partners.

What are the national interests of South Africa? Do we know?

We must be seen as leading the African delegation and as such I propose that an African summit in preparation to the BRICS summit be organised by the South African government.

Africa continues to aspire towards greater achievements as we all know.

This is why according to the AU’s Agenda 2063, we are told that as Africans we strive towards the attainment of seven strategic goals.

It states that we are determined to eradicate poverty in one generation and build shared prosperity through social and economic transformation of the continent.

  • An integrated continent, politically united, based on the ideals of Pan-Africanism and the vision of Africa’s Renaissance. It goes on that since 1963, the quest for African unity has been inspired by the spirit of Pan-Africanism, focusing on liberation and political and economic independence. It is motivated by development based on self-reliance and self-determination of African people, with democratic and people-centred governance;
  • An Africa of good governance, democracy, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law’
  • Furthermore, Africa shall have a universal culture of good governance, democratic values, gender equality, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law;
  • A peaceful and secure Africa;

    Mechanisms for peaceful prevention and resolution of conflicts will be functional at all levels. As a first step, dialogue-centred conflict prevention and resolution will be actively promoted in such a way that by 2020 all guns will be silent. A culture of peace and tolerance shall be nurtured in Africa’s children and youth through peace education. An Africa with a strong cultural identity, common heritage, values and ethics. Pan-Africanism and the common history, destiny, identity, heritage, respect for religious diversity and consciousness of African people’s and her diasporas will be entrenched.
  • An Africa whose development is people-driven, relying on the potential of African people, especially its women and youth, and caring for children. All the citizens of Africa will be actively involved in decision-making in all aspects. Africa shall be an inclusive continent where no child, woman or man will be left behind or excluded, on the basis of gender, political affiliation, religion, ethnic affiliation, locality, age or other factors;
  • Africa as a strong, united, resilient and influential global player and partner;
  • Africa shall be a strong, united, resilient, peaceful and influential global player and partner with a significant role in world affairs.

But what are South Africa’s strategic goals with regards to the continent and the rest of the world?

If we are unable to answer this most basic question, it will be at our own peril. We know where Africa wants to be and see itself in years to come, let’s now be equally sure where we see South Africa in the next few decades and let’s build towards that future, BRICS by BRICS. DM


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