Published on Pambazuka News, by Adams Bodomo, Jan. 6, 2011.
Following South Africa’s acceptance as a full member of BRIC, a group of prominent emerging economic powers, Adams Bodomo considers why the country was selected over other candidates, and what the news might mean for the rest of Africa.
On 25 December 2010, South Africa (SA) received a Christmas present from the BRIC, a group of prominent emerging countries that are economic trail-blazers in their own regional blocs, including Brazil, Russia, India and China, as stated by Xinhua News: ‘Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi Thursday said BRIC has accepted South Africa as a full member of the group, which currently includes Brazil, Russia, India and China’ … //
… WHY SOUTH AFRICA?
At a more substantial and critical level, however, at least, two crucial questions must be answered to put South Africa’s entry into the GEEP in perspective. Why was South Africa chosen over other non-African nations like Mexico, Indonesia, and Turkey, and why did South Africa triumph over other African competitors, especially Nigeria and Egypt, to be selected from the Africa regional bloc to join GEEP4, making it the GEEP5 now?
GEOPOLITICS SUPERCEDES ECONOMICS
In this article, I claim that the answer to the first question is that South Africa was chosen over Mexico, Indonesia and Turkey more for geopolitical reasons than for economic reasons. Here is why: Compared to other non-African applicants to the GEEP4, South Africa pales in comparison to Mexico, Indonesia and Turkey which occupy the 12th, 16th and 17th positions respectively in terms of the countries with the highest GDPs in the world in 2009, according to the CIA World FactBook, one of the most updated websites of economic statistics. With GDPs of approximately US$1.5 trillion,US$1 trillion and US$900 billion, Mexico, Indonesia and Turkey respectively far outpace South Africa with only about US$500 billion in 2009 and standing far below at 26th in the world in terms of GDP. Moreover South Africa pales in comparison to Mexico, Indonesia and Turkey in terms of population. While Mexico had approximately 112 million people in 2010, Indonesia 250 million, and Turkey 77 million, South Africa only had approximately 50 million people in 2010. So why was South Africa chosen ahead of these? The reasons cannot only be economic. Certainly, South Africa was chosen more for geopolitical than for economic reasons. Geopolitical reasons sometimes over-ride the purely economic reasons because of the need for representation from all significant geographical regions of the globe. Africa is a highly significant region in terms of population and in terms of politics at global fora such as the United Nations (UN) where the sheer number of nations and thus voting power from Africa alone make it hard for anyone to ignore Africa. Legitimacy is an important issue in global affairs and any global grouping must seek to be as inclusive as possible to be legitimate. Thus GEEP4 needed desperately to be inclusive and couldn’t have ignored Africa, hence the choice of South Africa over Mexico, Indonesia, and Turkey.
But if South Africa was chosen ahead of these non-African applicants, why at all was it the chosen African country? South Africa is the largest economy on the African continent but it is not by far the largest, so it is not like South Africa doesn’t have credible competitors on the African continent. In Africa two other economies that have expressed interest in joining the BRIC are Nigeria and Egypt. With a GDP of US$470 billion in 2009 Egypt is right on the heels of South Africa as the world’s 27th largest economy. Indeed in terms of GDP, Nigeria, with a GDP of US$350 billion in 2009 and occupying the 33rd position globally, is not far below South Africa and Egypt. Moreover, both Nigeria and Egypt with 150 and 80 million people respectively are more populous than South Africa with only 50 million people according to 2010 population estimates. So, again, why was South Africa chosen over Nigeria and Egypt? The reasons are neither purely economic nor purely geopolitical this time; we need to look at what role China is already playing in the GEEP for an answer.
CHINA RULES THE GEEP: … (full text).