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BRICS expansion sparks joy in Africa

Thuso Khumalo in Johannesburg
August 25, 2023

While the plans to expand BRICS have caused a lot of excitement amongst African leaders, questions on how the economic bloc will manage tensions among its members persist.

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South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, left, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi lock hands during the 15th BRICS Summit at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The BRICS summit was hosted by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa (seen here) greeting Indian Prime Minister Narendra ModiImage: Sergei Bobylev/Imago Images

Analysts are describing the planned expansion of the BRICS bloc as a significant shift in the geopolitical landscape. It was announced as part of the Johannesburg Declaration II that was unveiled on August 24, 2023, after the conclusion of the 15th BRICS summit at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, the current BRICS chairperson, told journalists at a media briefing that six new countries would be joining the bloc.

"We have decided to invite the Argentine Republic, the Arab Republic of Egypt, the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to become full members of BRICS. Membership will take effect from January 1, 2024."

Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, China's President Xi Jinping, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov pose for a picture at the BRICS Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa
The BRICS bloc will next year have Ethiopia and Egypt amongst its new membersImage: Alet Pretorius/REUTERS

Africa welcomes new additions to BRICS

Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema, chairperson of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), described the African continent's expanding partnership with BRICS as a win-win. "We see this as a rare opportunity to address the challenges we have been talking about for a long time and on many platforms," he said.

"We need to reform the global order in particular to address the inequities associated with critical ingredients to development such as capital. Africa pays a higher cost of capital than any other on the globe," the Zambian leader added, stating that the BRICS platform should, and could, be used to work through and expedite the reform processes around issues inhibiting development."

Africa relishes new role in the global order

The planned inclusion of two more African countries — Egypt and Ethiopia — in the bloc has generated much interest on the continent. "The partnership between BRICS and Africa goes beyond convenience," Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh, who chairs the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), told the BRICS-Africa dialogue meeting in Johannesburg. "It is a step that places Africa in its rightful position within the global order."

Gideon Chitanga, a research associate at the African Centre for the Study of the United States at the Witwatersrand University, told DW that the inclusion of Egypt and Ethiopia would give Africa more of a voice on global issues.

"You can see the deliberate effort to represent Africa regionally," Chitanga told DW. "South Africa being from Southern Africa, they [BRICS] have added Ethiopia from East Africa and Egypt from North Africa," he noted, adding that the move would represent African interests more broadly and inclusively.

What does BRICS want?

Managing tensions within BRICS

Amidst the euphoria, questions are also being asked aboutwhether the bloc will be able to iron out the difference between the governments in Cairo and Addis Ababa over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam being built on the Blue Nile.

Luanda Mpungose from the South African Institute of International Affairs told DW that BRICS countries had always had good relations despite existing differences between certain member states.

"Even with the original five countries, there were tensions between India and China, but you have never heard that India is not going to China to attend a conference and vice versa," he said. "What makes the BRICS very unique is the set of principles that guide their cooperation.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali attends a press conference.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has been at loggerheads with Egypt over the construction of a hdyroelectricity dam on the Blue NileImage: Massimo Percossi/Ansa/ZUMA Press/IMAGO

BRICS expansion adds economic clout

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said that the new additions would mean that BRICS would represent 46% of the global population. Its combined GDP would jumps to 37% of the global economy.

The bloc has made a tactical decision to include Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, which boast rich oil reserves.

Brett Singh, a business delegate at the summit, said the expansion would mean a larger market and a better trading environment. "What I will be hoping to see is not just talking but also we can try and take action so that the ordinary citizen can also see contribution and see growth in our communities and neighborhoods and we grow as one and prosper as one," he told DW.

Busisiwe Mabuza, a member of the BRICS Business Council, also welcomed the expansion. "We used to have a deregulations working group, which we have now refocused into a trade and investment working group that is going to track how we are performing in terms of balancing trade amongst our respective nations," he said.

BRICS new currency?

The possibility of introducing a BRICS currency also generated much interest at the just-concluded summit. "We have noted that there is global momentum for the use of local currencies, alternative financial arrangements and alternative payment systems," South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said. "As BRICS, we are ready to explore opportunities for improving the stability, reliability and fairness of the global financial architecture."

However, he said the issue was still under consideration. BRICS ministers of finance and central bank governors have been tasked to deliberate on the use and strengthening of local currencies and payment systems and to report back at the next summit.

Experts say creating a common currency-based payment system in the BRICS currency would simplify trade transactions.

Edited by: Chrispin Mwakideu

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