One of the odder items to show up on my radar screen recently was the eThekwini Declaration on BRICS and Africa: Partnership for Development, Integration and Industrialisation adopted at a conference in Durban, South Africa on March 27, 2013. I found a copy of the declaration at the University of Toronto BRICS Information Centre, along with an analysis. You can get a flavor for who’s behind the Information Centre from one of the co-authors of the analysis, a certain John Kirton who is the author of many books and articles urging a more compassionate capitalism. Building Democratic Partnerships: The G8-Civil Society Link is fairly typical, with a warning that the police killing of an anarchist protestor at a G8 meeting in Genoa was ill-advised. We can’t have that, can we?
Kirton called the Durban conference “a productive performance” that was “also a promising one for the future,” as well he should. When you stop and think about it, there are no differences between the G8 nations and the BRICS on the fundamental question of our day, namely whether the capitalist system should be abolished. For those on the left who carry the banner for the BRICS, this does not seem to matter very much. For them, the fundamental question is “imperialism”. The BRICS are “our” peeps because they challenge the USA here and there, Putin’s decision to allow Snowden to stay in Russia for a year being one example as well, of course, his military and diplomatic efforts on behalf of the blood-soaked Baathist regime in Syria.
One can easily understand the psychology of the BRICSite left. If Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro both aligned with the BRICS, who are we to quibble? What’s more, when Tom Friedman, Nicholas Kristof, Barack Obama, Samantha Powers, and Louis Proyect say nasty things about Putin, isn’t that reason enough to back Putin?
To be perfectly blunt about it, there is an element of TINA in all this. If you accept the idea that there is no alternative to capitalism, then why not align yourself with the BRICS? They at least are devoted to a modicum of nationalist development, symbolized one gathers by Putin’s repudiation of Yeltsin’s groveling before Western banks and corporations. Yeah, Putin is a nasty piece of work with his ties to the Russian Orthodox Church, his homophobia, his tightening the screws on the political opposition, and all that but at least he ain’t as bad as Yeltsin. I should add that it is the same argument I have heard from Obama supporters on the left as well. How can you note vote for Obama with someone as bad as Mitt Romney ending up in the White House? He might even unleash the NSA on us. Furthermore, they are ill-disposed to standing up for the democratic rights of Putin’s opponents because that would undermine all the great progress being made in Russia.
I know that all this sounds insane but we are dealing with a bankrupt left that through its pretzel logic is driving just about every young person into the arms of the anarchist movement. Fuck it, if they dropped the black bloc tactic, I might join it myself especially since I can’t live without my morning Starbucks blonde.
Turning now to the eThekwini Declaration, you can’t help feeling that it was written by the same people who write those advertising supplements for the Sunday NY Times on “The new and dynamic South Africa” with pictures of wineries, gamboling elands, and a Black family in a BMW. The article starts off with the cheery affirmation: “As the global economy is being reshaped, we are committed to exploring new models and approaches towards more equitable development and inclusive global growth by emphasising complementarities and building on our respective economic strengths.”
Maybe they should start with a look at Durban itself to see how “equitable” that city is. Despite being the scenic host of many prestigious “progressive” conferences, including the one on climate change that failed to put forward any serious measures, Durban’s poor live in utter squalor as reflected in an 2007 Pambazuka article titled Children of a Lesser God: Durban’s legacy of poverty by public health worker Saranel Benjamin. Durban, South Africa’s most poverty-stricken major city in 2004 (44 percent of its citizens were beneath the poverty line), is noteworthy for the desperate conditions of its youth, as is of course the case with Brazil, another showcase. Benjamin writes:
Every night I am haunted by the faces of the children I meet during the day. Their stories weigh heavy on my heart and when I close my eyes I see their hungry, pained, desperate faces. I want to hug them all, save them all. I am riddled with guilt with every spoonful of food I put into my mouth, for the roof I have over my head, and the warm bed I have every night. I panic when it starts to rain because I think of Thabo, Senzo and all the other children who are sleeping on pavements with no shelter over their heads, getting drenched to the bone – six children sharing one tattered blanket. I look at the time. It is about 5pm. I know that the children will be going out, like stealth-hunters, spreading through the shadows of the city, scavenging in bins for food.
Hardly the sort of people who would be attending the BRICS conference.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen a reference to South Africa’s neoliberal institution par excellence but the statement that “Within the framework of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), we support African countries in their industrialisation process through stimulating foreign direct investment, knowledge exchange, capacity-building and diversification of imports from Africa” brings back debates on Marxmail when there was still some lingering illusions in the ANC, mostly from aging former members of the SWP—even older than me.
Just a couple of weeks ago, the NY Times reported: “Attacks Have Immigrants Worried Again in South Africa”. The situation appears grim:
A fresh wave of violence aimed at foreign citizens living here and in several other poor black communities outside Cape Town has raised new fears among residents, community leaders and advocates for poor refugees.
Some 200 Somali shops and an unknown number of others run by Chinese immigrants, Zimbabweans and others have been looted and sometimes burned to the concrete foundations in recent months, said Braam Hanekom, director of a Cape Town-based activist group called People Against Suffering, Oppression and Poverty.
That very NEPAD that the BRICS brass recommends for uniting Africans is in fact very likely an instrument of disunity as Shawn Hattingh argued in an article titled “Xenophobia, Neo-liberalism, and NEPAD: The End of African Unity?”. Hattingh states:
The South African corporate elite are certainly benefiting from NEPAD. South African-registered companies are now the largest source of foreign direct investment in other African countries. They have become major players in almost every economic sector in Africa. The people of Africa, however, have not benefited from this. This is because South African corporations and government-owned parastatals have become directly involved in exploiting Africa’s people and resources and in some cases even destabilizing parts of Africa. This is due to the fact that South African corporations crowd out local capital in other African countries; South African corporations are mainly involved in predatory mergers and acquisitions in Africa; many South African corporations have been involved in the destruction of the environment in Africa; and many South African companies have been involved in undermining human rights in the countries in which they operate. Indeed, 13 South African-registered companies were operating in the Congo during the war, and AngoGold Ashanti was directly involved in financially assisting one of the warlords involved in the conflict. In Zimbabwe, a South African-based company Barloworld provided the bulldozers that were used by the ZANU-PF to destroy thousands of homes and informal traders’ stores during Operation Murambatsvina. Providing these bulldozers proved very lucrative for Barloworld as they sold them to the Zimbabwe government for approximately US $123 000 each. Many South African linked companies undermine workers’ rights in other African countries. For example, Shoprite in Zambia pays its workers as little as $48 a month. In Zimbabwe in 2001, the South African-based AngloGold Ashanti also used Mugabe’s riot police to brutally break up a strike at its Freda Rebecca mine. The workers had gone on strike because of the appalling working conditions. Between 1996 and 2003 there were 120 accidents reported at the mine.
So whose word are you going to take? The bullshit artists who wrote the eThekwini Declaration or Shawn Hattingh? I vote for Hattingh.
Most of the economic proposals in the declaration are as ludicrous as the one calling for operating within the NEPAD framework and are not worth answering. I do, however, want to take up a few of the war and peace issues.
The declaration states: “We commend the efforts of the international community and acknowledge the central role of the African Union (AU) and its Peace and Security Council in conflict resolution in Africa. We call upon the UNSC to enhance cooperation with the African Union, and its Peace and Security Council, pursuant to UNSC resolutions in this regard. We express our deep concern with instability stretching from North Africa, in particular the Sahel, and the Gulf of Guinea. We also remain concerned about reports of deterioration in humanitarian conditions in some countries.”
Just to give you an idea of how wretched the African Union as a peace-keeping force, I am going to quote from an article in the Party of Socialism and Liberation, a member in good standing of the BRICSite International:
After duly plunging the country back into war, the United States and European Union have gone to great lengths to support increases in AMISOM forces [African Union Mission in Somalia] and provide money, weapons and training to TFG troops. A recent report by The Nation details substantial CIA operations in Somalia, where it runs a secret prison and trains a secret police.
And even more revealingly, the African Union and AFRICOM, the chief imperialist gendarme in Africa according to the BRICSites, have played nice with each other:
U.S.-European imperialists initiate joint military exercises
November 4, 2010
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
Published Nov 3, 2010
A 10-day joint military exercise involving the European Union, the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) and the African Union headquarters based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, was recently uncovered in a series of press releases from the Pentagon and other sources. Labeled “Amani Africa,” the operation brought together the combined forces of the EU, the Pentagon and 120 African military components.
Ostensibly designed to enhance the military and security capacity of the 53-member African Union states, the fact that both the EU and the Pentagon were heavily involved in this process raises questions about the role of the leading imperialist states in usurping and misdirecting African political and military policy on the continent. The joint exercises culminated on Oct. 29 with a VIP ceremony in the U.S.-backed state of Ethiopia.
According to African Union Commission Chair Jean Ping of Gabon, “The command post exercise is the culmination of two years of engagement and partnership throughout the Amani Africa cycle of preparations and activities, designed to both contribute toward and validate the operational readiness of the African Standby Force. The ASF therefore lies at the very core of the efforts of the African Union to take ownership of and lead in matters related to peace, security and development in Africa.” (U.S. AFRICOM Public Affairs, Oct. 27)
In a way, none of this matters since leftist support for the BRICS is what boils down to a faith-based initiative. The small scattered bands of aging leftists who can’t get over the fact that Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa are poised to become imperialist powers themselves as the awful 21st century lurches forward need something to keep them going, like Rosary beads. I personally prefer the truth.
You can get the truth from this stunning article that appeared in Pambazuka recently:
Brics lessons from Mozambique
2013-07-24, Issue 640
Just across the border in Mozambique there is neo-colonial exploitation underway. It is not Europe or the United States that are dominating, but rather countries which are often looked up to as challengers, such as Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. This is a dangerous statement to make but let us consider the facts.
South Africa is extracting 415 megawatts of electricity from Mozambique through the Portuguese developed Cahora Bassa Dam, which has altered permanently the flow of the Zambezi River, resulting in severe flooding on a more frequent basis over the last years. In the recent floods earlier this year it is reported that a women gave birth on a rooftop of a clinic, this follows a similar incident in 2000, when Rosita Pedro was born on a tree after severe flooding that year.
South Africa’s failing energy utility Eskom is implicated in the further damming of the Zambezi, for it is likely to make a commitment to buy power from the proposed Mpanda Nkua Dam just downstream of Cahora Bassa. Most of the cheap energy generated by that dam is fed into a former South African firm, BHP Billiton, at the world’s lowest price – but jobs are few and profits are repatriated to the new corporate headquarters in Melbourne, Australia.
After years of extracting onshore gas from near Vilanculos, the South African apartheid-created oil company Sasol is planning to exploit what are some of Africa’s largest offshore gas fields, situated off Mozambique, in order to serve South Africa’s own export led growth strategy.
Brazil is also in Mozambique. Sharing a common language as a result of colonial subjugation by the Portuguese, business in Mozambique is easier. The result is that the Brazilian company Vale, which is the world’s second largest metals and mining company and one of the largest producers of raw materials globally, has a foothold in the Tete Province of Mozambique between Zimbabwe and Malawi. They are so sensitive about their operations there that an activist challenging Vale from Mozambique was denied entrance to Brazil last year to participate in the Rio +20 gathering. He was flown back to Mozambique, and only after a global outcry was made led by Friends of the Earth International, was he allowed to return for the gathering.
Further to this, India also has an interest in Mozambique. The Indian based Jindal group which comprises both mining and smelting set their eyes on Mozambican coal in Moatize, as well as having advanced plans for a coal-fired power station in Mozambique, again to create supply for the demanding elite driven economy of South Africa.
Russia also plays an interesting role in Mozambique. While not much is known about the Russian state and corporate involvement, following the break when the Soviet Union collapsed, there is a link with Russia’s Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation which has non-ferrous metal operations in Mozambique. Interestingly the Russian government has just invested R1.3 billion in Mozambique to facilitate skills development to actively exploit hydrocarbons and other natural resources, according to Russian Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.
So this tells a tale of one country, in which tens of billions of rands of investment by BRICS countries and companies in extracting minerals results in the extraction of wealth. Mozambique will join the Resourced Cursed societies of our region, with polluted local environments, and a changed structure of peoples’ lives, making them dependent on foreign decisions rather than their own local and national political power. This is not a random set of exploitations, but rather a well-orchestrated strategy to shift the elite development agenda away from Europe, the US and Japan, to what we now term the BRICS.
This positioning means that the BRICS drive for economic superiority is pursued in the name of poverty alleviation. No matter how one terms the process – imperialist, sub-imperialist, post-colonial, or whatever – the reality is that these countries are challenging the power relations in the world, but sadly the model chosen to challenge this power is nothing different from the model that has resulted in mass poverty and elite wealth globally.
This is the model of extraction and intensely capital-intensive development based upon burning and exploiting carbon, and of elite accumulation through structural adjustment also termed the Washington Consensus. The agenda of setting up the Brics Bank is a case in point: it is opaque and not open to public scrutiny. Except for the reality as presented above, these countries are coming together with their corporate powers to decide who gets what were in the hinterland of Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Caucuses.
It is projected that by 2050, Brics countries will be in the top ten economies of the world, aside for South Africa. So the question has to be asked why is South Africa in the Brics? Simply put, the reality is that South Africa is seen as a gateway for corporations into Africa, be they energy or financial corporations. This is because of South Africa’s vast footprint on the continent.
Remember Thabo Mbeki’s peace missions? Well they were not all about peace; they were about getting South African companies established in areas of unrest so that when peace happens they are there first to exploit the resources in these countries. This could potentially be a negative role, if South Africa is only used as a gateway to facilitate resources extraction and exploitation of Africa by BRIC countries, as it is now by the West. The question has to be asked by South Africans why do we allow this? I do not have the answer.
Returning to poverty alleviation, the reality is that in the BRICS countries we have the highest gap between those that earn the most and the poor, and this gap is growing. Calling the bluff of poverty alleviation is critical. How to unpack this opaque agenda of the Brics governments is a challenge. For while their talk is about poverty alleviation the reality is something else.
We recognise that what the BRICS is doing is nothing more than what the North has been doing to the South, but as we resist these practices from the North, we must be bold enough to resist these practices from our fellow countries in the South.
Thus critically, the challenge going forward for society is to understand the BRICS and given how much is at stake, critical civil society must scrutinise the claims, the processes and the outcomes of the BRICS summit and its aftermath, and build a strong criticism of the Brics that demands equality and not new forms of exploitation.
* Bobby Peek is director of the NGO groundWork