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The BRICS and the Rest of Africa: What’s at stake?

Who would have thought few years, months or even weeks ago that leaders of two of the most populous countries and dynamic economies (China and India) would have visited the small country, Rwanda, and on the same week? Well, it did happen few weeks ago. Indeed, President of China, Xi Jinping, officially visited Rwanda on 22nd of July, and India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, on 23rd July 2018.

By Ibrahima Cheikh Diong, CEO of Africa Consulting and Trading (ACT) Afrique Group

Analysts had to come up with all kinds of rationalizations as to why Rwanda? Many have indicated that it is because President Kagame is the Chairperson of the African Commission, therefore, these visits attempted to position both countries in Africa as a whole. I have a different take on it. None of the previous Chairpersons of the African Commission and heads of states have benefited from this type of attention. So, let’s give credit to President Paul Kagame and his beautiful country. Here is what I think: Rwanda is an example of an action-oriented leadership, a good governance, a clear sense of direction, an adequate planning, a great vision and ambition and hard-working people who care about their country. In short, Rwanda is a serious and professionally well-run country that knows what it wants and makes it clearly understood to all of its partners. Therefore, who does not want to be associated with such an African success story?

Let me then move on beyond Rwanda and reflect upon the topic of the moment: The alliances of the BRICS, which stands for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. More specifically, what’s at stake for the rest of Africa when it comes to the BRICS countries.

The recent gatherings of the BRICS in South Africa, on the 25th of July 2018, did not go unnoticed to many of us who are fascinated by the rapid changing nature of the dynamics of the world since Donald Trump became President of the United States. The world before and with Trump’s Presidency affects all of us whether we like it or not. The BRICS countries are certainly not an exception and neither is Africa. The question is then: What impact can this situation have on the relations between the BRICS countries and the rest of Africa?

  1. Strengthening Alliances: There is a generally shared sentiment these days that Trump loves to fight with everybody and/or engages in many controversial issues at an unmatched pace: trade wars with China, Canada, Mexico and EU; mixed messages to NATO countries or chaotic negotiations with North Korea; war of words with Iran leaders; military threats to Venezuela and a controversial relation with the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, to name a few. 

The world has changed drastically under Trump. Our heads are literally spinning every day wondering what’s next. Most countries are working harder today than ever to keep their old friends and/or try to make new friends. Being part of a solid and dependable alliance is a must these days, more than ever. One should therefore expect more solidarity amongst the BRICS countries, and between the BRICS countries and the rest of Africa. The world as we knew it is gone, at least for the remainder of the Trump’s presidency. Don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against the USA, the country, as it has given me a higher education and 20 years of professional experience, which I will cherish forever, and it will always be part of me. However, while it is impossible to ignore the USA given its superpower status, the world can only move on through stronger solidarity and alliances.

  1. Consolidating bilateral relations: As witnessed during the recent visits of the Chinese and Indian leaders to Senegal and Rwanda, during which many concrete agreements in strategic sectors were concluded, one should expect more efforts to strengthen the bilateral ties between the BRICS countries and the rest of Africa. It is paramount for the African countries to be absolutely clear about their expectations from these bilateral ties. The BRICS and rest of Africa need each other today more than ever and could certainly support each other on their development endeavors. For example, the BRICS countries, which have gone rapid through industrial transformation in many domains, could play role in the acceleration of Africa’s industrialization, which is one of the key pillars of the African Development Bank. Win-win bilateral ties are important and should be the motto of African countries.
  1. More trade and investment and less aid: Africa is getting better organized on trade matters through the passing of the African Free Trade Agreement, which is expected to help boost trade between African countries but also with the rest of the world.  But let’s face it, Africa needs also access to the huge BRICS markets? We therefore need to create the conditions that allow us to competively export to the BRICS countries beyond our raw materials that support their economies.

Most of the BRICS countries have an Import and Export Bank that provides mostly concessional financing to African countries as long as the beneficiary project is executed by companies from the lending countries. We need to go beyond concessional financing, which is limited anyway, and fully explore commercial financial and private investments from the BRICS countries to help fill in our huge funding gaps in infrastructure, energy, housing, agriculture, amongst other. Africa needs more trade and investment than aid. 

  1. Strengthening private sector ties: This pillar is critical to Africa’s relationship with the BRICS countries. Yet, one hears little about it during the gatherings of the BRICS countries. Of course, it was quite encouraging to see the President of China and the PM of India being accompanied by their leading private sector players during their visits to Senegal, Rwanda and South Africa.  One should expect that the private sector angle to be part and parcel of the BRICS gatherings. South Africa, as the only African country of this club, has a major role to play in fostering stronger partnerships between the private sector players of the BRICS countries and that of the rest of Africa. We need more private investments and joint ventures between these private sector players. A BRICS-Africa investment Forum on the side of the governmental meetings could be a good starting point?

In the end, we live in a rapidly changing world, one where there seems be a need for a level playing field.  New York Times Columnist Tom Friedman brilliantly stated this in his best seller “The World is Flat”, therefore we are all connected. African countries need to get themselves better organized and focused to get the best out of their relationship with the BRICS countries. This would require, in my humble opinion, 10 simple points that countries like Rwanda seemed to have understood well:

  • Strong and action-oriented leadership
  • Clear vision and big ambition
  • Good governance
  • Concise and focused plans
  • Great negotiation skills
  • Stronger emphasis on human development
  • Better branding and communication
  • Empowered youth and women
  • Increased private sector engagement
  • Greater participation and rule of law

In the end, the above non-prescriptive 10 simple good practices could allow African countries to be on the path to emerging countries and rebalance their bilateral ties with the BRICS countries to make them truly win-win.


 

* Ibrahima Cheikh Diong, CEO of Africa Consulting and Trading, China specialist and Speaker/Moderator on African Affairs.

 

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