The following is an abridged version of the interview published on October 30, 2023 in Eurasia Review:
According to authentic reports, a number of African countries such as Algeria, Angola, DR Congo, Gabon, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan, Tunisia, Uganda and Zimbabwe have expressed interest in joining BRICS. Egypt and Ethiopia have gained full-fledged membership in BRICS during the last summit held Johannesburg, South Africa.
In this interview, Kester Kenn Komegah attempted to find out more about the future relationship of BRICS with Africa from Yaroslav Lissovolik, who is the founder of BRICS+ Analytics – a think-tank that explores the potential of the BRICS+ format in the global economy. Lissovolik, previously worked as chief economist and head of research in Deutsche Bank Russia, the Eurasian Development Bank as well as Sberbank.
Q: As Russia prepares to take over the rotating chairmanship of BRICS group in January 2024, what are some of the expectations?
Yaroslav Lissovolik: The expectation is that Russia will likely pursue a broad agenda with closer connectivity of BRICS to Africa being one of its key items. one of the possible directions in Russia’s chairmanship may be the path of «integration of integrations» — the creation of a cooperation platform for the regional organizations of the Global South such as the Eurasian Economic Union and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) as well as BRICS. This may be complemented by efforts to add more economic weight to the BRICS grouping via developing the payment mechanisms within BRICS to conduct settlements in national currencies. There may also be the continuation of the BRICS expansion process with possible further steps to expand the core as well as to create a group of BRICS partners from among the leading members of the developing world community.
Q: What are your views about the key challenges confronting BRICS in pursuit of leading the emerging reconfiguration and new political and economic architecture?
Lissovolik: The main challenges facing the BRICS grouping have to do with a lack of an ambitious economic agenda. Thus far the strong momentum exhibited by BRICS on the international stage is mostly political/geopolitical as reflected in the sizeable number of developing countries expressing their desire to join the grouping. This widening of the ranks of the BRICS bloc renders the attainment of consensus even more difficult — something that will be critical in adopting decisions on economic cooperation. And on the economic front there are still a lot of issues that are yet to be addressed — apart from the financial track related to the common payment systems and a potential common currency/accounting unit, another crucial theme is trade liberalization among the BRICS economies and across the economies of the Global South more broadly. The BRICS need an ambitious trade liberalization agenda that would favour developing economies, especially Africa. At this stage, import tariffs in BRICS countries are relatively high, especially on agricultural products — there is significant scope for the BRICS economies to lower trade barriers to support the modernization of Africa and other regions of the Global South.
Q: There has been much talk on Global South, and Africa is geographically located there. What are Africa’s weaknesses and strengths in this rising multipolarity?
Lissovolik: One of the most significant strengths wielded by Africa on the international stage is its rising solidarity and rising coordination of the continent’s economies on the international stage. This is vividly exemplified by the rising prominence of the African Union (AU) in some of the key international fora. The AU in 2023 became a member of the G20, while also becoming increasingly active in international mediation efforts and discussions on economic cooperation with other regional blocs. The AU has been also successful in advancing the project of Africa’s regional integration via the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). Again, the best way in which the BRICS could contribute towards the success of this regional integration project is via greater trade openness to African economies. The success of the AfCFTA would go a long way towards overcoming the limitations faced by Africa’s economy in terms of low intra-continental regional connectivity and trade.
Q: Let finally talk about the some specific tangible roles Africa could play in the geopolitical changes and process? Do you think African Union also need some urgent reforms to perform effectively
Lissovolik: In my view, Africa could play a crucial role in the coming years both at the level of the developing world and globally. In particular, the African Union given its membership in the G20 and South Africa’s presidency in the G20 in 2025 could launch important initiatives aimed at boosting the resiliency of the global economy. One such initiative could involve the creation of a platform for regional blocs such as the AU, MERCOSUR, ASEAN, EU and other blocs in which G20 countries are members. Such a platform for regional arrangements could be launched as a G20 engagement group, the R20 or regional 20 — in effect it would represent a new level of global governance formed by regional integration arrangements and their development institutions. Thus far there is no mechanism for a horizontal coordination of regional integration groups and their development institutions in the world economy. A similar effort could be undertaken by the African Union within the realm of the Global South — the AU could lead the establishment of economic linkages with other regional blocs from the developing world, including MERCOSUR, SCO, EAEU and ASEAN. Such a platform could serve as a basis for an expanded BRICS+ circle that would encompass the majority of developing economies.
In the longer term, the AU could also participate in the reconstruction and the reform of the main global institutions and fora such as the WTO, the G20 and the UN Security Council. With respect to both the WTO there may be a case for the African Union becoming a member of this organization, just like it did in the case of the G20 alongside the EU as a regional bloc. In this scenario, the AU could represent the developing world in both the WTO and the G20 with initiatives countering protectionism and beggar-thy-neighbour policies that have become so prevalent over the course of the past decade. As the role of the AU gains traction in the world economy, there may be a stronger case for Africa’s greater representation in the UN governing bodies such as the UN Security Council. Overall, the main potential for Africa and the African Union in my view lies in pursuing the path of «integration of integrations», i.e. the building of cooperative linkages and platforms between Africa’s regional integration projects and development institutions with regional peers elsewhere in the world economy. This process of greater cooperation among the regional integration blocs is only starting and the African Union could lead this important process that opens up new communication lines and possibilities for cooperation in the world economy.
The full version of the interview can be found in the link below:
Image by Geralt via Pixabay