Yonas Biru, PhD
Ethiopian intellectuals are half tribalized and half hermitized. They are driven by the emotional diktats of centuries past and Gadda this, Axum that, and Lalibela ኡኡ cacophony. They are, therefore, unfit to comprehend the nation’s geo-political challenges and opportunities. Ethiopia’s application to join BRICS is partially attributable to this phenomenon.
Let me spell out two key points from the outset. First, it is highly unlikely BRICS will admit Ethiopia. Second, even if it admits Ethiopia, there is no tangible benefit Ethiopia can get from joining the good-for-nothing Club.
BRICS stands for the regional economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. It is a scheme China started to establish Chinese hegemony by countering the Bretton Woods institutions (the IMF and World Bank) and the United Nations that are dominated by the West.
The first question champions of BRICS need to answer is: What has BRICS achieved since it was established in 2001, nearly a quarter of a century ago? The answer is: “Nothing to write home about.” Here are the reasons why it has not succeeded to date, and it is unlikely to succeed in the near future – in the next 25 years or even 50 years.
Next to China, the most important country in the BRICS architecture is India in terms of economic significance. India is China’s strategic rival. First, there is an intractable border conflict between the two. Second, as the West is shifting its supply chain out of China, India is aggressively presenting itself as a hub for the West’s supply chains. The Wall Street Journal rightly headlined this phenomenon in two recent articles. “India, Wary of China, Expands Trade Ties With the West“ and “The U.S. Pursues India as a Supply-Chain Alternative to China.”
Let us look at the key Economic factors. According to the 2022 World Bank GDP data, China’s GDP is more than double that of the other four BRICS nations combined. China’s GDP was $17.96 trillion compared to India ($3.39 trillion), Russia ($2.24. trillion), Brazil ($1.92 trillion) and South Africa (405.9 billion). In total, BRICS accounts for 25% of the World economy.
What explains BRICS’ failure to expand its membership and, therefore, its economic power vis-à-vis the West? There are two reasons. First, BRICS is envisioned as an exclusive club for emerging economies, not for what Trump called “shithole countries.” Trump says it out loud. BRICS policy is quietly excluding what Trump calls “shithole countries.”
If BRICS expands its membership to poor countries such as Ethiopia, it will have serious economic implications. Such nations need grants and concessional loans at or near zero interest rate. China is the only country with resources, but it does not provide grants and low interest rate loans. The other four countries are not in any position to provide grants and loans. Over the last decade, South Africa’s and Brazil’s economies have been on a downward trajectory. Simply put, BRICS cannot rival the West in supporting the development needs of poor countries. Then what good is it for nations like Ethiopia? Expanding its membership will expose this structural deficit.
Second, why is BRICS reluctant to expand membership for emerging countries? India, the second largest economy within the club, understands BRICS’ success lends itself to creating a Chinese hegemony. India joined BRICS not so much to support China’s initiative but to put a leash on it. India has been against adding new members especially those who are seen as pro-China or under China’s influence.
Nations such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Mexico have shown interest to join, but BRICS has been dragging its feet. First Iran and Saudi are rivals and Mexico’s economy is too dependent on the US. If BRICS wants to rival the West in earnest, it needs to establish a common agenda and its primary members need to be free of the West’s influence.
The reality is that BIRCS is a hotch-potch of nations with different, if not, irreconcilable geo-political and geo-economic interests. That is why it has not achieved any milestone in its over two-decade existence.
Let us return to Ethiopia’s application to be a member. Prime Minister Abiy is a random walking soul. Not long ago, he was a Pan Africanist in the mold of Sankara. Not long after that he declared his allegiance to the US telling an American journalist that he will die for America. As evidence he emitted signals that he will send troops to remove the President of Eritrea from office if supported by the West. Soon after the President of Eritrea traveled to China and Russia. China and Russia sent an unprecedented signal to stand with Eritrea.
Today, the random walking Prime Minister wants to join BRICS to emit yet another signal to the West. The question is not whether BRICS will accept Ethiopia. The real question is: Will BRICS take the application as seriously as the tribalized and hermitized Ethiopian intellectuals have.