After successfully hosting the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup, it was a case of double celebration when the country was invited to join Brazil, Russia, India and China to be a member of the BRICS. Of course, compared to these economic giants, South Africa’s economy, population and growth prospects are quite small.
However, since the advent of democracy in 1994, South Africa has often punched above its weight in global terms. Furthermore, the inclusion of South Africa has certainly cemented the rising optimism about the prospects for African growth and a changing narrative for the continent. It is not widely acknowledged or known, but seven out of the top 10 fastest growing economies in the world today are in Africa.
This is not a short-term flash-in-the-pan phenomenon. The momentum for future growth is quite strong as the continent continues its unprecedented increase in investment in all forms of infrastructure. From the upgrading of roads, rail and ports to new power generation capacity, there are significant private sector investment opportunities in infrastructure over the next decade, and more as these projects are rolled out. It will be critical for South Africa, therefore, to align its national interests with those of the continent.
The time has clearly arrived for new emerging market economies to compete for influence and to reflect the shifting balance of economic and political power. However, it is still too early to judge what precise role the BRICS will play in terms of global governance. The BRICS has the potential to have a powerful influence on world politics and the economy as the “coalition of the global south” on many issues. These include climate change, food security and the reform of multilateral institutions, such as the IMF and World Bank, to reflect the world of 2012 as opposed to the post-1944 balance of power.
One area where significant impact could be made is in food security. There is little doubt that BRICS can be instrumental in solving Africa’s food and nutrition crisis, and by doing so provide major impetus for contributing to global food security. With an abundance of arable land, it is widely accepted that Africa represents one of the few areas globally where major increases in agricultural yields are possible. With smart investments and partnerships, BRICS could enable Africa to finally live up to its potential to become the breadbasket of the world.
*Leslie Maasdorp, President, Southern Africa, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, South Africa, is Vice-Chair of the Global Agenda Council on Africa and Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum.