Re-Imagine BRICS: Its Scramble For Africa: Can Humpty-Dumpty Be Put Back Together, Again?

Humpty-Dumpty is a character in an English nursery rhyme/riddle and although not explicitly described, humpty-dumpty is typically portrayed as an anthropomorphic egg. The character is also a common literary allusion, particularly referring to a person or thing that is in an insecure position and once broken, it would be difficult to put it back together again…

Here are the lyrics: Humpty-Dumpty sat on a wall; Humpty-Dumpty had a great fall; Four-score Men and Four-score more; Could not put Humpty-Dumpty back together again… Similar to humpty-dumpty the BRICS countries (i.e.; Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) had a great fall, and the question is– can they ever be put back together again, or is that even desirable?

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The BRICS countries were supposed to redraw the map of global business and for a short while they did, but in recent years they have begun to lose some of their luster… Each with its own distinct economic risks, political structures, demographic groupings: Clearly, Russia is in the midst of a genuine economic and geopolitical crisis; Brazil has suffered from endemic declining growth patterns for a number of years; China is coming to terms with an increasingly stagnated economic forecast for the first time in decades; India has suffered mightily with a slow economy…

Furthermore, the rise of other economic blocs, such as; the MINT nations (i.e.; Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria, Turkey) and CIVET nations (i.e.; Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey); as well as, the resurgence of developed economies… have called into question the BRICS’ potential as a world economic leader…

The BRICS countries collectively represent almost 3 billion people (43% of world pop­ulation), with a combined nominal GDP of $14.8 trillion (about a quarter of global income), 17% of world trade, and an estimated $4 trillion in combined foreign reserves. They occupy over 20% of world territory and, over past 10 years, their aggregate income has more than quadrupled.

By 2018, overall economic output in the BRICS may overtake that of the U.S. By 2020, 33% of world GDP may be accounted for by the BRICS. By 2027, China’s GDP is expected to equal the U.S., and by 2050 the BRICS economies may absorb about 50% of global markets. Consumption in the BRICS countries has grown steadily and, in the next decade, 70% of global car sales growth is projected to occur in these emerging economies…

The BRICS group had high expectations when South Africa was officially invited to join the group in 2010– despite criticism that it didn’t belong there. According to O’Neill; South Africa is a smaller economy and its GDP growth doesn’t quite match-up to the other players in the group… Hence, South Africa is seen by many as a mere symbolic representative, and more important as a gateway into the now much sought after African market…

In recent years, BRICS have expanded their involvement in Africa, and their share in foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows and trade volume has surged rapidly, e.g.; trade volume between China and Africa increased from US$10 billion in 2000, to US$190 billion in 2012. The partnership between India and Africa has significantly promoted the development of small-and-medium-scale enterprises… Meanwhile, Brazil and Russia have been heavily involved in the mining and energy industry through public-private partnerships…

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The BRICS are now Africa’s largest trading partners with trade expected to reach more than US$500 billion by 2015, with 60% from China. The BRICS are becoming significant investors in Africa, especially in the manufacturing and service sectors… and through foreign direct investment (FDI), BRICS countries have strengthened their presence in Africa compared with traditional partners, such as; U.S. and Europe…

Currently, BRICS trade more with Africa than they do among themselves… The reasons behind BRICS countries’ involvement in Africa include; their appetite for its natural resources, its large and untapped agricultural sector, and opportunity for investments, transfer of technology and knowledge, and targeting growing middle-class which is estimated to include more than 300 million people…

Moreover, BRICS are major players in the exploitation of natural resources in many African countries including; Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Sudan… Brazil and China are very active in exploring and exploiting– gas, oil, other minerals resources… However, natural resources are not the only BRICS investment in Africa… According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD); 75% of the value of BRICS’ FDI projects in Africa between 2003 and 2012 are in manufacturing and services. While the BRICS are consolidating their positions in Africa through investments, they are also creating important new source of funding for the African governments…

In the article New Scramble for Africa by Pádraig Carmody writes: According to the International Monetary Fund; Africa hosts six of the top-ten-fastest growing economies in the world in the last decade… it also has the fastest growing mobile phone penetration rate in the world… and much of the high-levels of economic growth across Africa has been largely driven by the BRICS countries… In recent years, China has emerged as the largest commercial investor in Africa…

According to Evariste Ngarlem Tolde; China has great indirect influence for many of Africa’s governments policies– China is filling economic and political void left open and neglected by Western countries… China has used education effectively to deepen its foothold in Africa, e.g.; China has a policy of granting educational scholarships to thousands of African students… Along with political and diplomatic activity, China has also begun investing in Africa militarily… China is the partner of choice for much of the African countries weapons and military equipment…

According to David Shinn; 25% of conventional weapons in Africa (not including small arms) are of Chinese origin, which is up from about only 5% in the 1960s… China is also involved in several peacekeeping operations in Africa China is the primary contributor of peacekeeping troops, with over 2,500 Chinese peacekeeping personnel deployed in countries, such as; Mali, South Sudan… Through these policies, China has succeeded in imposing political and economic dominance that ultimately serve its interests… According to the World Bank; business ties between China and Africa have seen extraordinary growth, with bilateral trade rising by 30% annually in recent years reaching US$222 billion, a new high in 2014…

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Since 2012, China has also granted numerous loans to Africa– worth a total of US$30 billion– to support development projects in numerous fields, including; infrastructure, agriculture and manufacturing… along with special loans for the development of local small-and-medium enterprises… Between 2001-2009, it established the US$605-billion ‘China-Africa Development Fund’, while also writing off $3 billion in debt for 35 heavily indebted African countries, according to the World Bank… China is currently involved in more than 1,000 projects in Africa, while more than 2,500 medium-size Chinese firms are operating– in a variety of sectors– in more than 50 African states… China has opened Africa to the global economy and has no plans to stop…

However, the ‘New Scramble for Africa’ has been a mixed blessings; it brings Africa higher levels of economic growth, tax revenues to fund social and infrastructural projects… But it has also strengthen international support for incumbent regimes, which often are un-democratic… and it has also accelerated the pace of environmental degradation, e.g.; the deforestation process in Mozambique is known locally as the ‘Chinese take away’… and, copper mines in Zambia’s when gone will be problematic… Even the much vaunted mobile phone revolution in Africa, many of which involve BRICS companies… and where profits often flow offshore…

According to some experts; while there are similarities between the ‘Original European Nineteenth Century Scramble for Africa‘ and the ‘BRICS Twenty-First Century Scramble for Africa‘, there are also differences. Both are/were driven by desire to access natural resources, markets… However, African countries in the twenty-first century are now more juridically independent, which means that the BRICS and other countries must negotiate with African governments… which is very much different from nineteenth century version when the Europeans were dealing with tribes and mostly had an unfair advantage, and free-for-all access to the treasures of Africa…

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 So is Africa the salvation for BRICS, or is the BRICS story past its prime? Some observers believed that the whole notion of a grouping of BRICS– Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa– never made any sound sense because beyond having a lot of people, they didn’t share anything else in common, e.g.; two are democracies, two are not, obviously– China and Russia. Similarly, two are major commodity producers, Brazil and Russia, the other two, not… also, their levels of wealth are quite different…

Hence questions remain; can BRICS be re-structured as a re-imagined humpty-dumpty with all its pieces put back together again? Apparently, there is no clear consensus among experts, but most agree– there will probably be a few missing pieces…