BRICS Summit in Durban: Hope for Africa Infrastructure Development

A Paper by Welly Marguerite Lottin, President, Associazione Interculturale GRIOT, delivered at the 11th Rhodes Forum, October 4, 2013

While in Europe the Euro disintegration scenarios are becoming more alarming, the BRICS countries are speedily working “to create a new axis of global development”, suggesting profound changes in the economic order and in the balance of world powers.

From this perspective, I believe that the fifth BRICS summit of April 2013 in Durban could really be considered an historical event, also because for the first time the independent development of infrastructure, of manufactures and of modern agriculture of the entire African continent gained the Summit’s central stage.

This represents a radical break with the old colonialist policies. For the Summit participants Africa is and must be the moral watershed of the modern world.

At Durban it was decided to create a Development Bank to finance large infrastructure and other development projects, with the initial contribution of $10 billion from each country: it will be a sovereign institution independent of the policies and the control of the IMF and World Bank.

A reserve fund of $100 billion was also created to guarantee financial stability in the BRICS economies against commodity speculation, the negative effects of the global crisis and destabilization produced by the cheap liquidity resulting from the “quantitative easing” policies in the US and other Western countries.

Today the BRICS already represent 20% of world GDP and in the logic of a multilateral and multi-polar world they demand to go beyond the present architecture of global governance and “to explore new and more just development models”.

Indeed for Africa all this is reason for hope.

Africa has now more than 1 billion inhabitants. In 2000 the UN defined the Millennium Development Goals to halve the level of poverty by the year 2015. The goal has not been reached. Even if some countries report macro economic growth rates of 10%, in many regions 40% of the population lives below the poverty line of 1 dollar a day.  

For example, Nigeria, a country of 170 million people, 50 years after independence has no functioning infrastructure. On the energy front, because the few refineries rarely function, Nigeria, the largest oil exporter of the continent, has to import almost all its fuel.

After independence from colonial powers, African leaders had ambitious development plans for their economies and began building infrastructure, health and education systems and support for agriculture. Intellectuals like the Senegal writer Cheikh Anta Diop wrote in 1974 a book, “Black Africa, The Economic and Cultural Basis for a Federated State”, in  which he laid out the plan of industrialization using the richness of water, energy and natural resources. Later in 1980 in Lagos the Assembly of the Heads of State and Government of the Organization of African Unity presented the most elaborated plan for economic development of the continent.

But instead of development we had the IMF structural adjustment policy which was a blueprint for austerity, foreign debt repayment, deregulation, liberalization of trade and privatization. This was combined with local corruption, political dictatorship and regional wars.

Regional wars were fought over control of rich raw materials areas in the interest of foreign powers and, even more, of international private corporations. Congo was one of the main targets of such a policy. Beginning in 1990 the entire Central Africa and Great Lakes (Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda) region was plunged into a 30 years war scenario, sometimes called Africa’s First World War. Five to ten million people died. Even if the UN since 1999 has spent 1.3 billion a year for the military stabilization mission, there is no peace in the region because the neo-colonial interests are too big.

The problem of Africa is her wealth!

As in colonial times, African countries are condemned to deliver raw materials cheaply and to pay dearly for import of finished goods. This underdevelopment is the source of political instability and all types of extremist nightmares, as we experience in many countries, for example, recently in Mali. This is why the appeal by Pope Paul VI in his Populorum Progressio encyclical is always true, today more than ever: “Development is the new name for peace”!

The BRICS alliance is the only hope for Africa, on condition that its independence and sovereignty are respected by all, beginning with the BRICS countries.

Brazil is for Africa the closest friend and ally: They could share with us, for example, their experience in the creation of communication and transportation networks across the entire Latin American continent. I know that one of their priorities is the development of a water system centred on the creation of large river basins. Brazil and South America have impressive rivers as Africa does. Rivers and water could provide the future of Africa food and energy production, of transportation and of regional development, and of new population settlements, in respect for life and nature.

Today, 65 years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is intolerable that the dignity of man is so blatantly denied to hundreds of millions of people in many parts of Africa.