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Publication Details

Reference
Bond, Patrick (2015) The BRICS and their Critics in Geopolitical Context. Paper presented to the conference Southern Africa beyond the West: Political, economic and cultural relationships with the BRICS countries and the global South  : 1-24.

Summary
The most notable political attack on the world status quo by the BRICS bloc – and with it, the great chance for taking Southern Africa ‘beyond the West’ - lies in international financial interventions. A survey of BRICS geopolitics readily begins with the sometimes spectacular hopes expressed about new prospects for addressing global economic vulnerability, which along with climate has again ranked at the highest levels of world public concern in July 2015 polls. However, at $100 billion each, the BRICS Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA) and New Development Bank (NDB) represent not anti-imperialist but instead ‘sub-imperial’ finance. Africa will be the primary victims, for in 2014, South Africa’s finance minister predicted the continent would get the NDB’s first loans, and the Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Commission used Chinese financing worth $5 billion in 2013 to begin major rail and port projects that include large Chinese locomotive purchases and port expansions. Further afield, the Inga Hydropower Project on the Congo River is anticipated to cost $100 billion alone.

Simultaneously, the African Union’s new Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa was anticipating $93 billion in funding for new projects annually, while the Development Bank of Southern Africa was given an additional $2 billion in capital to foster its cross-border expansion. Financing of these large sums requires repayment, however. All of these opportunities looked much less attractive once put in context of the 2011-15 crash of world commodity prices mainly due to slowing Chinese demand, an apparent negation of the prior ‘Africa Rising’ rhetoric. In this context, the NDB would appear much closer to the Bretton Woods Institution model promoting frenetic extractivist calculations based on US dollar financing (hence more pressure to export), than to the opposite Bank of the South model whose core mandate by founder Hugo Chavez was to finance basic needs goods in a rational manner, using local currencies. The inability of African civil society to so far grasp the dangers is of great concern, yet prolific protests against extractivism amidst a larger ‘Africa upRising’ do offer grounds for optimism that both imperialist and sub-imperialist development finance will not prove viable in coming years.

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