By Etim Etim
In a week full of high drama on the international scene – the murder of Yevgeny Prigozhin in Russia; Donald Trump’s mug shot in a Georgia prison; India landing a spacecraft on the moon and the cable car rescue in Pakistan – the 15th Summit of the BRICS nations in South Africa managed to grab a few headlines.
For Nigeria, the meeting turned out to be another humiliating moment as its application to join the economic bloc was turned down. Instead, Ethiopia, Egypt; Argentina; UAE and Saudi Arabia were invited to join with effect from January 2024. Twenty countries, including Nigeria and Indonesia applied to be members, and 20 others had expressed interest, but had not applied.
So, why did our country seek to join BRICS in the first place, and why were we rejected and why was Ethiopia, a relatively smaller economy currently wracked by civil war, chosen? Is this rejection yet another national embarrassment for this country which had suffered severe mismanagement in the hands of its corrupt political leaders? Is this a vote of no confidence on the Tinubu administration?
Vice President Kashim Shetima who attended the conference in the place of the President said Nigeria wanted to be a member because we are seeking a partnership that provides opportunities for all to engage in trade, prosperity and shared progress with no marginalization based on geography, race and legitimate sovereign affiliations. In a statement he read at the event, the VP said: ‘’We want a partnership that guarantees a world governed by acceptable rules and norms. These nations confront historical developmental vulnerabilities and challenges that are beyond their control. Thus, it is imperative for us to unite within regional groups and forge a novel form of international cooperation’’.
Mr. Shettima said the objective of BRICS is to foster global economic governance reform while enhancing the representation and voice of emerging economies or developing countries. But the government is yet to make any statement on why our request was turned down. As in many other degrading instances, our leaders may just shrug this off and move on as if nothing happened. But at the heart of this snub is decades of mismanagement, corruption and incompetent leadership that have weakened this country. The world can no longer tolerate us. The rejection of Nigeria’s bid to join BRICS is among the worst diplomatic humiliation that we have suffered as a country. It is the ultimate chastening of a nation once referred to as the giant of Africa. Among others, it will deny us the opportunity to access capital in the group’s soon-to-be formed global development bank. How I wish we did not even bother to apply. Nigeria’s political class should cover themselves in sackcloth and weep in shame for one month. They have damaged this nation irreparably.
The group started as BRIC, an acronym for Brazil; Russia; India and China, in 2009 and in 2010, South Africa was admitted. Its vision is to serve as champion of the needs of the Global South. This includes the need for beneficial economic growth, sustainable development and the reform of the multilateral systems. According to South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, BRICS is committed to inclusive multilateralism and upholding international law, including the purposes and principles enshrined in the UN Charter. The presence of the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres at the Summit and his poignant message on the need to uphold multilateralism supports this position.
Many developing countries have often chafed against what they see as US imperialism and an unequal international system, and so, they like the idea of a group challenging the status quo. This is why BRICS appears so appealing and many want to belong despite the diverseness and oddities in its composition. Two of the founding members are the world’s largest democracy (India) and the world’s biggest autocracy (China). But BRICS is determined to forge ahead as a veritable alternative to western alliances. The Summit has asked member-states’ Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors to work on the issue of local currencies, payment instruments and platforms and report back at the next Summit, which will hold in Russia. In other words, BRICS is considering an alternative currency to the dollar as the global reserve currency. That is a tall dream that would take years and a lot of hard work to materialize.
Before it expanded its membership this week, BRICS was already a politically and economically diverse group with 40% of the world’s population and 25% of global GDP. The expansion of its membership should make it a powerful economic and political force that would further serve as a counterweight to what it perceives as US dominance. BRICS is also setting up a development bank as alternative to the IMF and the World Bank. But it is unclear how the new members will affect the acronym by which the group had been known.
Relations among the BRICS nations have not always been chummy. China and India squabble over a section of their border, and now with six new members, the eccentricities are visible. Iran and Saudi Arabia are old political foes, although they have managed to patched things up lately. There have also been tensions between Egypt and Ethiopia over hydroelectric dam on the Nile.
Unlike the G7, BRICS are also ideologically diverse. India is pro West with an extreme right-wing leadership which believes in neoliberal economics. It is also pursuing an independent international economic policy. India is one of the top 10 global industrial powers; its huge population is matched by a strong industrial base and a powerful military. Though a huge segment of the Indian population is very poor, the country is a major exporter of manufactured goods and pharmaceuticals. It builds its own main battle tanks and warships. India is advancing in aerospace, having just this week landed a space ship on the moon, the fourth country to be able to do so, and the first country to land on the south pole of the moon. This was a very proud week for the country whose, science and technology are very advanced. The country has nuclear capability. It cannot be dictated to, and it adamantly refuses to be.
Ethiopia is not pro West. Its economy is smaller than Nigeria’s but it has a record of defiance of the West. For some time now, the US has been pressing Ethiopia to privatize its banks, threatening to kick it out of AGOA but Ethiopia has refused. Ethiopia is not paying much heed to the US over its ongoing civil war either. It’s also quite close to China. In fact, it is more integrated into the China Belt and Road Initiative than Nigeria is, notwithstanding our bigger trade links with China. Vestiges of Ethiopia’s earlier close working relationship and ideological affinity with the Soviet Union also remain. In summary, Ethiopia or at least its rulers, may have more respect globally than Nigeria’s politicians.
Nigeria on the other hand is very poor, with a weak industrial and productive economic base. Its political leaders are among the most corrupt and incompetent set of people in the whole world. Nothing matters to them apart from their wellbeing, comfort and luxury lifestyle. Nigeria is not in a position to assert itself as an independent player in world affairs. Its economy may soon come under the ministrations of the IMF and World Bank. We need their seal of approval on our policy to get much needed support of the global investment community. Our leaders can’t stand up to the West if they need to and our economy isn’t doing that great. ‘’Nigeria’s membership of BRICS is therefore less likely given our poor economic status. At the moment, our foreign reserves position is lower than the market capitalization of three top South African banks’’, said an economist and banker who works for the Nigerian government.
It is an immense national tragedy that Nigeria was passed over for Ethiopia and Egypt. It is an awkward turn of events that the elites should talk about openly.