The BRICS Come to Durban
Keynote Speech at the BRICS Academic Forum by South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation
The BRICS are catalysts and drivers of a multipolar world, aiming to demolish the hegemony of the West in global affairs.
It is my distinct honour and pleasure to deliver the keynote address at the welcome dinner for the BRICS academic forum. I wish to extend warm greetings and a heartily South African welcome on behalf of President Zuma, the Government and people of South Africa.
It is indeed a momentous occasion for South Africa to host the fifth BRICS summit, the first time on African soil.
The BRICS summit process has its origins in the extraordinary vision of our founding leaders who constituted this grouping at a time of global uncertainty and transition during the financial crisis. The dire need for providing additional impetus to global governance reform debates was recognized. The growing interdependence between nations of the world required joint efforts to address common challenges.
Our leaders urged us to establish this forum out of recognition of the importance of ideas in the realization of the vision and objectives of BRICS. As academics, you will all be aware of the value of research, knowledge sharing, knowledge transfer, and capacity building to policy development.
It is in the area of ideas where this forum has a role to play in the BRICS architecture. You are the brain-trust that must enrich policy development within BRICS and in the BRICS countries; and generate scientific knowledge to improve our understanding of the world and nature.
You are best positioned to make this contribution when you are fully engaged. The Brazilian philosopher, Paulo Freire, emphasized the dialectic of scientific inquiry and practice in knowledge production in his pedagogy of the oppressed when he wrote that, and I quote: ‘For apart from inquiry, apart from the praxis, individuals cannot be truly human. Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other’.
However, knowledge can be used to engender the hegemony of certain ideas, in the process manufacturing consent and the legitimacy of particular interests in society. There are a set of ideas that we take for granted today and consider self-evident because they were packaged for us as “scientific” and “objective” (in inverted commas) when in fact they are views of a particular class or group of people. In this sense, knowledge production is not a neutral exercise. It is highly contested and not immune from the political economy of power relations in society and the world.
Accordingly, the North-South disparities in knowledge production and the content of today’s dominant ideas reflect the inequalities and power imbalance that characterize our global system. Therefore, if BRICS is to be a factor in the current global system, we must extend our engagement to the terrain of ideas.
As the intelligentsia, you have an opportunity to play your part in the shaping of the 21st century given your function in society of observing, analysing and influencing policy direction in the reconfiguration of the global landscape.
The world is experiencing a quiet and yet profound shift from the old locus of political, economic and social power into a multipolar system with BRICS countries being the catalysts and drivers. In essence, the BRICS concept and its associated forums represent a counter to hegemonic unilateral creation of knowledge into a more pluralistic co-determination of knowledge production and policy agenda setting recognizing multiple centres of human civilization.
In this regard, you have a role in demystify unilateral hegemonic pretences of universality of the current dominant paradigm into a positive force that recognise diversity of humanity and the potential contribution that each knowledge base can make to human development. If this forum is to be effective, it must contribute to emancipating plurality of discourse with the sole purpose of advancing humanity.
Indeed, the BRICS countries have produced many prominent scholars for centuries whose works continue to survive the passage of time and influence generation after generation.
China’s confucius has had an influence on humanity for more than two thousand years.
Amartya Sen is another example – his work not only won him the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences; but he was also instrumental in the creation of the widely-used United Nations Human Development Index. Leo Tolstoy’s novel, War and Peace, has been immortalized in many languages in movies, music and theatre, among others.
We have given to humanity Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi who continue to inspire millions all over the world, even those just searching for meaning in life. Gautama Buddha, the father of Buddhism, is the son of India.
The intelligentsia was in the forefront of the struggle in our respective countries, challenging hegemonic ideas and generating alternative knowledge.
Therefore, when we challenge you to stand up against the apparatus of knowledge production whose ideas dominate the world in favour of one side, we are not asking you to do something that you have not done before or you are not doing as we speak. We challenge you to marshal your forces through BRICS for effectiveness and higher impact.
The emergence of BRICS has not been well received by all of us. There are those who do not have a positive appreciation of BRICS because they believe that its continued existence will threaten the status quo and tamper with the current international balance of forces. At the other end, we find critics of BRICS who see it as a body of what they call “sub-imperialist” countries that are joining the club of traditional powers.
These critics talk of what they call a “new scramble” for Africa, comparing the growing interest on our continent by BRICS countries to the late 19th century when European colonial powers partitioned Africa among themselves.
What these two groups of critics have in common is their lack of appreciation of multi-polarity for the geopolitical health of our international system. The first groups views multi-polarity in a negative sense, as a threat; while the second group would rather remain in the old system than to see it being shaken by emerging players from the South.
To see BRICS countries as “sub-imperialists” is the result of a dogmatic application of classical notions of imperialism and Immanuel Wallerstein’s centre-periphery model to a situation that is fundamentally different from what these theories were trying to comprehend and explain. Our scholars have to be innovative and courageous enough to develop new tools of analysis and theoretical models when history challenges us to do so.
I am reminded here of a warning Franz Fanon made in his The Wretched of the Earth that, and I quote: “It so happens that the unpreparedness of the educated classes, the lack of practical links between them and the mass of the people, their laziness, and, let it be said, their cowardice at the decisive moment of the struggle will give rise to tragic mishaps”.
The tragic mishap in this case is that such intellectuals will be left behind and rendered irrelevant by history.
A poignant question being posed today is whether BRICS represent a real paradigm shift or are new role players just assuming traditional balance of power positions?
BRICS leaders and people have clearly signalled that we do not compete with any country or grouping and in fact wish to transform the former model of cooperation based on a zero-sum relationship in favour of more equitable and sustainable global partnerships, hence also the theme that was selected for the summit, namely BRICS and Africa: Partnership for Development, Integration and Industrialisation. This approach indeed constitutes a plurilateral or in the older idiom, a multipolar structure of international relations.
When South Africa planned our hosting of the summit and related meetings, we reflected on the existing synergies within the grouping and appreciated that the academic and business forums as well as our think tank network are critical components of our people-to-people interaction and that their salient relevance vis-à-vis the BRICS leadership needs to be emphasised.
It is therefore particularly significant that the summit theme has been adopted as the theme for the academic forum this year.
The BRICS academic forum endeavours to complement and supplement the BRICS leaders summit and the official consultation process amongst officials and ministries of the respective BRICS countries.
This forum seeks to collectively offer viable and timely advice and recommendations to government leaders of the BRICS to support policy making, the adoption of best practices, exploration of new frameworks, and assistance in implementation of existing and new schemes and programmes. This forum also serves as our “alter ego” which will analyse our agendas and critique it, often in a robust manner.
What make BRICS timely and historic are few factors which I wish to emphasize.
Firstly, is the common history that brings the BRICS countries together. This is a history that distinguishes the BRICS countries from the traditional powers. It is a history of struggle against colonialism and underdevelopment, including the spirit of Bandung. Circumstances of history have put these countries on the same side.
Secondly, the BRICS countries have common challenges as developing nations. Here at home, we speak of the triple challenges of inequality, poverty and unemployment. We have set in motion processes to grow our economy and expand our infrastructure, among others. Other BRICS member states are dealing with similar challenges that, however, differ in scale and degree.
Thirdly, we are driven by shared interests not only in the definition of our respective national interests as individual BRICS countries. We also share a common vision of the world of the future.
Fourthly, each of the BRICS countries works for a true partnership with Africa and this resonates well with us because Africa is the centre-piece of our foreign policy. The topic chosen for this summit is a testimony to the consensus that exists among the BRICS countries on the importance of forging a true and effective partnership with the African continent.
The summit theme acknowledges the various engagement activities of BRICS countries vis-a-vis the African continent.
Viewing Africa as the new global growth centre, BRICS countries are emerging as the new largest investors and trade partners to the continent with strong exponential growth potential for the future.
The summit theme emphasises the African Union’s own prioritisation of infrastructure development and industrialisation and will also contribute to sharing of related international and regional approaches and best practices between BRICS and Africa.
Finally, bilateral relations among BRICS countries are on the rise and improving across many sectors, notably in political cooperation and the economic field. We are frank and open to each other.
I have perused though your programme which is very impressive and comprehensive enough to cover the core issues that are on the agenda of the BRICS leaders. I am looking forward to receiving your recommendations at the end of your deliberations. Like with previous academic forums, the leaders will study your recommendations closely and use them to inform their decisions.
In respect on the themes posed to the forum’s deliberations, I wish to make some preliminary reflections.
In the context of the global financial situation, BRICS economies have become the engines for sustainable global growth and served during the financial crisis as the anchor for low income countries through its economic relationships with these countries. The overarching risk for all of us however, remains that of sustainability. This takes several forms, the most important of which revolve around inclusiveness, dealing with inequality and creating jobs.
Indeed we meet at a time of global uncertainty, which requires that we consider issues of mutual interest and systemic importance in order to explore shared concerns and develop solutions.
The prevailing global economic system is regulated by institutions which were conceived in circumstances when the global economy was characterised by very different challenges and opportunities. We also need to focus our “lenses” from a more BRICS specific perspective as opposed to adhering to traditional views.
As emerging economies become more integrated and interdependent, they increasingly shape the global economy and influence its dynamics. BRICS offers a historic opportunity to explore new models and approaches towards more equitable development and inclusive global growth by emphasizing complementarities and building on our respective economic strengths.
The G20 has become an important player in the reform of the global economic architecture, including the Bretton Woods Institutions. In its work, the G20 should continue to put development first.
Furthermore, BRICS considers the United Nations to be the foremost multilateral forum entrusted with bringing about hope, peace, order and sustainable development to the world. The UN enjoys universal membership and is at the centre of global governance and multilateralism.
We express our strong commitment to multilateral diplomacy with the UN playing the leading role in dealing with global challenges and threats. In this regard, we reaffirm the need for a comprehensive reform of the UN, including its security council, with a view to making it more representative, effective, legitimate and efficient, so that it can deal successfully with global challenges.
In terms of education, research and skills development of building industrializing economies, I wish to draw from a study that UNESCO published in 2011 which found in recent decades that university-industry partnerships have moved high onto the policy agenda and is fast becoming a new and expanded phenomenon.
The university-industry partnership is conceptualized as a means to bridging the perceived gap between the science base and the productive sector which would allow new knowledge to be transformed rapidly into innovation. As was already stated, the BRICS business and academic fora are critical elements to harness our skills development in this regard, and we should also strengthen linkages between these fora through joint initiatives.
The nexus of university and industry holds potential for economic development, entrepreneurship and job creation. It is evident that we need to take the opportunities presented to us vigorously as governments aim to strengthen international partnerships in the pursuit of new knowledge and innovation for technology transfer opportunities.
Regarding our core summit theme and our cooperation on the African continent, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of our continental organisation, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), this year, and it is poignant that this coincides with the first BRICS summit on African soil.
President Zuma will be convening a BRICS leaders-Africa dialogue forum retreat immediately after the fifth BRICS summit to offer an opportunity for BRICS and African leaders to exchange views under the theme, “unlocking Africa’s potential: BRICS and Africa cooperation on infrastructure”.
The retreat will reflect primarily on infrastructure development, as well as integration and industrialisation which are aligned to Africa’s own priorities, to the mutual benefit of the BRICS countries and the continent.
The theme on peace and security requires special focus from our academics considering the various debates in this regard. From our perspective, the peaceful resolution of any conflict situation is paramount and we emphasise the importance of preventive diplomacy and mediation.
The African Union (AU) has made significant progress in conflict resolution and peace building on the continent through its peace and security architecture since its formation more than 10 years ago. In order to enhance its positive role, we encourage BRICS to support closer collaboration with the AU peace and security architecture.
Especially of importance is continued focus of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on the formalized cooperation between the UNSC and the AU PSC as reflected in UNSC Resolution 2033 (2012) unanimously adopted by the Security Council under the South Africa Presidency in 2012.
As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the OAU, we should also remember a stalwart of Pan-Africanism, Dr WE Dubois, who died in 1963 in Ghana, just a few months after the formation of the OAU.
At the height of the First World War in 1915, Dr Dubois wrote his famous article entitled “The African Roots of War” wherein he described what was contributing to the development and accumulation of wealth by the North while the South was being underdeveloped.
He asked, and I quote: “Whence comes this new wealth [that the North is accumulating] and on what does its accumulation depend? It comes primarily from the darker nations of the world – Asia and Africa, South and Central America, the West Indies and the islands of the South Seas.”
This is the analysis we need to distinguish the emerging global players of the South, some of whom are in BRICS, from the traditional powers.
When Dr Dubois visited China in 1959 he was so moved by the revolution there that when he addressed Peking University during this tour he proclaimed: “Africa, arise, face the rising sun… China is flesh of your flesh and blood of your blood” (close quote).
Since then China has risen and Africa is rising.
I can anticipate the vibrant debates that will take place over the next few days and I wish you a successful engagement and trust you enjoy the warm hospitality of the city of eThekwini.
I thank you!
Maite Nkoana-Mashabane is South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation.
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