DURBAN, South Africa – (Reuters) – “BRICS, Don’t Carve Africa” reads a banner in a church hall in downtown Durban where civil society activists have gathered to cast a critical eye at a summit of five global emerging powers.
The slogan evokes the 19th Century conference in Berlin where the predominant European colonial states carved up the African continent in a scramble historians see as epitomising the brash exploitative capitalism of the time.
Decades after Africans threw off the colonial yoke, it is the turn of the blossoming BRICS group of Brazil, Russia, China, India and South Africa to find their motives coming under scrutiny as they proclaim an altruistic-sounding “partnership for development, integration and industrialization” with Africa.
Led by that giant of the emerging powers, China, the BRICS are now Africa’s largest trading partners and its biggest new group of investors. BRICS-Africa trade is seen eclipsing $500 billion by 2015, with China taking the lion’s share of 60 percent of this, according to Standard Bank.
BRICS leaders persist in presenting their group – which represents more than 40 percent of the world’s population and one fifth of global gross domestic product – in the warm and fuzzy framework of benevolent South-South cooperation, an essential counterweight to the ‘old’ West and a better partner for the poor masses of the developing world.
In his first trip to Africa as head of state, China’s new president Xi Jinping expounded this line in Tanzania on Monday, saying his country wanted “a better life for African people” and was offering a relationship of equals.
“We think there’s too much back-slapping,” said Patrick Bond of the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s centre for Civil Society, who helped to organise an alternative “BRICS-from-below” meeting in Durban to shadow the BRICS summit on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Bond and other critics of the BRICS’ South-South pitch say developing countries that receive investment and assistance from the new emerging powers need to take a hard, close look at the deals they are getting.
Beneath the fraternal veneer, Bond sees “incoherent imperial competition” not unlike the 19th Century scramble, saying that BRICS members are similarly coveting and exploiting African resources without sufficiently boosting industrialisation and job-creation, all much needed on the continent.
This view has gained some traction in Africa as citizens from Guinea and Nigeria to Zambia and Mozambique increasingly see Brazilian, Russian, Indian, Chinese and South African companies scooping up multi-billion dollar oil and mining deals and big-ticket infrastructure projects.
Many of these deals have come under scrutiny from local and international rights groups. More than a few have faced criticism that they focus heavily on raw material extraction, lack transparency and do not offer enough employment and developmental benefits to the receiving countries – charges often levelled against corporations from the developed West.
“NEW FORM OF IMPERIALISM”
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