Despite being a relatively new player on the international scene, the BRICS club represents a potentially huge shift in the way global political and economic agreements are struck.
Its supporters are hoping for an end to the current system, where a few rich northern nations use their economic muscle to bully the world – and especially poor countries – into submission. But this is by no means guaranteed.
Many fear that the growth of the BRICS will just mean a transfer of power from one group of countries to another, with people seeing very little actual change.
As a citizen of a BRICS country, I know that we hold tremendous power to help shape this group’s agenda. In an increasingly globalised world, the actions of one country or group can have massive impacts across the world.
Problems such as poverty, inequality and global warming don’t respect national borders so what’s needed is a change in approach
South Africa’s story
South Africa provides a clear example of the need for change with the ongoing debate over the market-based approach to land reform.
Despite repeated failures to bring about meaningful land reform, the current government continues to rely on the invisible hand of the market to re-distribute land in our country from white to black, rich to poor, men to women. Yet 17 years into the post-apartheid era, this hasn’t been successful.
Despite repeated claims first from President Mbeki, then his successor President Zuma, we have yet to see real changes in land reform policies. The question is, as the BRICS’ power continues to grow, will this change?
A problem shared is a problem halved
It’s not only South Africa that’s facing these problems. BRICS countries share a range of development challenges such as poverty, unemployment and inequality.
The club was formed as a result of predictions around these countries’ economic growth prospects but we have to be careful.
Our experience in South Africa shows that growth on its own is not a magic bullet – we need new solutions
At next week’s BRICS summit in Durban, proposals will be on the table for a BRICS bank. Details on this remain scarce, although we have to make sure that it doesn’t become an emerging economies’ equivalent of the World Bank – an organisation whose approach to development relies on expensive infrastructure projects, which do not include the re-distribution policies needed to help the world’s poor.
The BRICS group must not become a self-interest group and its members have a responsibility to ensure that development in their respective regions happens in as inclusive a manner as possible.
The potential of this group is huge. Here in South Africa we have a vibrant way of engaging people on state policy, but there are still areas where transparency and accountability processes are lacking.
BRICS represents a further opportunity to address this dire democratic deficit and build a political and economic group that offers a meaningful pro-poor alternative approach to development.