by Gerald Mbanda
Africa is endowed with vast natural resources, yet it remains a continent with the poorest countries in the world. According to the World Bank ranking of low-income economies, 23 of 27 poorest countries are in Africa.
Apart from natural resources, the continent holds 65 percent of the world’s unused arable land, a good climate for agriculture and plenty of fresh water that can be used for consumption and irrigation. Unfortunately, millions of Africans are still victims of chronic hunger.
According to Oxfam International, as of August 2022, 139.95 million people in 35 African countries lived under a severe food shortage. About 278 million people in Africa, equivalent to a fifth of the African population, are undernourished, and 55 million children under five are stunted due to severe malnutrition.
The BRICS Multilateral Cooperation Agreement initiated during the Sixth Summit in Brazil in 2014 is an opportunity for Africa to access support for projects and initiatives promoting investments in infrastructure, technological innovation, industry, agribusiness and more.
You may notice that most African countries do not have access to large-scale manufacturing. In contrast, Asian countries have demonstrated that manufacturing is a successful development model that generates employment and export revenues, resulting in rapid and sustained prosperity and accelerated growth.
For African countries to catch up with the rest of the world, efforts must be geared toward promoting manufacturing through targeted infrastructure, skills development, financial policy, and creating quality connections with agriculture, services and other sectors.
The good news is that Africa is no longer the Dark Continent that was looked at as only the source of raw materials for the developed world since colonialism. Africa is now a continent on the rise, accounting for six of the world’s fastest-growing economies. Partnerships with BRICS countries have become game changers as cooperation in various sectors, such as infrastructure development, agriculture, education, science and technology and climate change, have produced tangible results.
Africa’s infrastructure is still underdeveloped, yet infrastructure is a crucial driver for progress and an enabler for sustainable economic development. It also helps Africa realize the Millennium Development Goals. The World Bank has found that the poor state of African infrastructure constrains economic growth by 2 percent every year and cuts productivity by as much as 40 percent. The African Development Bank estimates that the continent’s infrastructure financing needs will be as much as 170 billion U.S. dollars a year by 2025, with an estimated gap of around 100 billion dollars annually.
The BRICS New Development Bank, with the mandate to mobilize resources for infrastructure and sustainable development projects in emerging markets and developing countries, is best positioned to unconditionally lend to African countries to fill the infrastructure development gap. Africa has for decades been subjected to conditional lending by both the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, which are controlled by developed countries.
The Bretton Woods Institutions subject their lending to African countries to political issues like democracy and human rights, widely considered patronizing to and meddling in the internal matters of other countries. On the other hand, BRICS acts for the collective good of the Global South and better understands member countries’ priority needs.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, the current chair of BRICS, observed, “Our continent was pillaged and ravaged and exploited by other continents and we therefore want to build the solidarity in BRICS to advance the interests … of the continent as a whole.”
Since the founding of BRICS in 2009, South Africa has been the only African country in the bloc. However, because of the values of embracing equality, a win-win approach, noninterference and a commitment to a peaceful global order, many other countries from Africa, South America and the Arab world have expressed willingness to join the bloc, which now accounts for 31.7 percent of the global GDP, higher than the rich G7 countries whose global GDP stands at 27 percent.
The African Union Agenda 2063 was adopted in January 2015 as an ambitious development plan to create a prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development. It also identifies key programs that can accelerate Africa’s economic growth and development, leading to rapid transformation.
In March 2018, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement was signed, creating the largest Free Trade Area in the world. Among the benefits of the AfCFTA is providing productive employment and poverty reduction, which are some of the continent’s most urgent challenges.
Individual BRICS countries are already working with African countries to realize the goals of both Agenda 2063 and AfCFTA. The Belt and Road Initiative projects in Africa undoubtedly complement Africa’s Agenda 2063.
The African continent still bears the scars of the failed Western-initiated Structural Adjustment Program implemented by the IMF and World Bank in the late 1970s. Instead of improving the economies of African countries, the program ended up sinking the countries deeper into debt. From that failed episode, African countries better understand the genesis of the “debt trap” rhetoric casually thrown around by Western countries regarding China’s engagement with Africa. It was a Western creation now attributed to others.
China remains the major financier of infrastructure projects in Africa, with a total investment estimated at 155 billion dollars over the past two decades. Since 2009, China has overtaken the United States as Africa’s number one trading partner. Many agricultural products have tax exemptions to access the vast Chinese market.
It is estimated that between 2022 and 2024, China will take in African goods worth 300 billion dollars. Between 2000 and 2020, China facilitated the construction of approximately 100,000 km of roads, 13,000 km of railways, 1,000 bridges, 80 power plants and 100 ports in Africa, creating over 4.5 million jobs for Africans. Chinese investments have accelerated and boosted the economic growth of African countries.
Africa has been abused and marginalized by the West. BRICS is committed to upholding multilateralism and reforming global governance. The bloc has consistently advocated for developing countries to be fairly treated in the international arena. This is why BRICS partnerships with Africa are undoubtedly avenues for accelerated growth across the continent with increased trade and investment opportunities.
Africa’s future in collaboration with the BRICS looks as promising as ever.
Editor’s note: Gerald Mbanda is a researcher and publisher on Africa-China development cooperation.
The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Xinhua News Agency.