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Bond, Patrick (2012) BRICS summit a looming ‘sub-imperial’ disaster for Durban. Eye on Civil Society : -.

The five heads of state of the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa bloc are coming to Durban in four months’ time. Given recent performances, it is reasonable to expect another ‘1%’ summit at the International Convention Centre (ICC), wreaking socio-economic and ecological havoc on everyone else.

A year ago at the ICC, Durban’s COP17 climate summit – better known as the ‘Conference of Polluters’ – featured Washington’s sabotage, with no new emissions cuts. As US State Department official Trevor Houser bragged to the New York Times, “There is no mention of historic responsibility or per capita emissions. There is no mention of economic development as the priority for developing countries. There is no mention of a difference between developed and developing country action.”

With our foreign minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane in the chair, the COP17 confirmed this century’s extra climate-related deaths of what will be more than 180 million Africans (according to Christian Aid).

Such degeneration of global governance is inevitable when Washington unites with the BRICS countries, as first demonstrated three years ago with the Copenhagen Accord. At that COP, Jacob Zuma, Brazil’s Lula da Silva, China’s Wen Jiabao and India’s Manmohan Singh joined Barack Obama to foil the Kyoto Protocol’s mandatory emissions cuts, thus confirming that at least 4 degrees global warming will occur by 2100, nearly certainly inundating central Durban with sea water. “They broke the UN,” concluded Bill McKibben from the climate advocacy movement

Negotiators were explicitly acting on behalf of their fossil fuel and extractive industries. Subsequently, the close ties between Pretoria politicians, London-based mining houses, BEE tycoons and sweetheart unions were exposed at Marikana.

The onset of fracking will expand the MEC relationship to the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and KZN’s Drakensburg Mountains. The 2012 Yale and Columbia Universities’ Environmental Performance Index showed that aside from Brazil, the other BRICS states are decimating their – and the earth’s – ecology at the most rapid rate of any bloc of countries, with Russia and South Africa near the bottom of world stewardship rankings.

And as happened in Berlin in 1884-85, the Durban BRICS summit will carve up Africa. The objectives: to support favoured corporations’ extraction strategies, to worsen retail-based deindustrialization (Shoprite is already notorious in many African capitals), to revive failed projects such as the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, and to confirm the financing of both land-grabbing and the extension of neo-colonial infrastructure through a new ‘BRICS Development Bank’.

The question is whether in exchange for the amplification of these destructive tendencies, African elites can leverage any greater power in the world economy via BRICS. With Pravin Gordhan’s regular critiques of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), there is certainly potential for BRICS to ‘talk left’ about the global-governance democracy deficit.

But in the ‘walk right’ vote for Bank president last April, Pretoria’s choice was hard-core Washington ideologue Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala from Nigeria, while Brasilia chose the moderate economist Jose Antonio Ocampo and Moscow backed Washington’s choice: Jim Yong Kim. This was a repeat of the prior year’s fiasco over the race for IMF Managing Director, won by a European (Christine Lagarde) because the Third World was divided-and-conquered.

A few months later, the BRICS gave $100 billion in new capital to the IMF, although South Africa’s contribution was only $2 billion (R17.5 billion), a huge sum for Gordhan to muster against trade union opposition. Explaining the SA contribution – initially expected to be only one tenth as large – Gordhan told Moneyweb last year that it was on condition that the IMF became more ‘nasty’ to desperate European borrowers, as if the Greek, Spanish, Portuguese and Irish poor and working people were not suffering enough. At the same time, Africa loses a substantial fraction of its IMF voting share.

Likewise, South Africa’s role in Africa has been nasty, as confirmed when NEPAD was deemed ‘philosophically spot on’ by lead US State Department Africa official Walter Kansteiner.

Is there no hope? After all, the greatest victory won by ordinary people in the last decade was probably the Treatment Action Campaign demand for access to AIDS medicines, aided by India’s cheap generic versions of drugs (that a decade ago cost $10 000 per person per year), which in turn allows more than 1.5 million South Africans to get treatment and thus raised our collective life expectancy from 52 to 60 over the last eight years. But in recent months, Obama has put an intense squeeze on India to cut back on generic medicine R&D and production.

So are BRICS and their African agenda ‘anti-imperialist’? Or instead, ‘sub-imperialist’, doing deputy-sheriff duty for global corporations, while controlling their own hinterlands?

The BRICS countries’ eco-destructive, consumerist-centric, over-financialised, climate-frying maldevelopment works fine for corporate profits, but the model is generating crises for 99% of the people and for the planet. And it warrants opposition from everyone concerned, including through a civil society counter-summit next March 23-27, to rebuild BRICS from below.

(Patrick Bond directs the UKZN Centre for Civil Society and authored Politics of Climate Justice, UKZN Press)

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