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BRICS and the Contest for Shaping Global Public Opinion

AMBASSADOR MICHAEL BATTLE

BRICS and the Contest for Shaping Global Public Opinion

 

Author Ambassador Michael Battle

 

Though it does not pose an inherent security threat to the global West, we must not underestimate the alliance of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa as it seeks to expand its influence in Africa and, thus, to increasingly shape African policy and political development.

When it was formed in June 2009, BRICS was seen by many American and Western diplomats as a novel clique of diverse nations seeking to find a meaningful role in shaping international opinion. While the expansion of BRICS in 2023 has created a renewed focus on BRICS by the global West, it should have been clear years ago that China and Russia, in the formation of BRICS, always had a long game in mind, not only to have influence over Africa, but also to gain votes in the United Nations General Assembly, with which inevitably come a greater voice in international organizations and global affairs and an enhanced ability to sway global public opinion.

Since my time as United States Ambassador to the African Union and U.S. Representative to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (2009-2013), I have spoken about the shifting tides of global alliances and the formation of new alliances that are shaping the fluid political landscape of the world. From Addis Ababa, Ethiopia I noticed that, beginning in the latter part of 2010, the significant sway once held by the United Nations P-3 (The United States, The United Kingdom and France) in influencing public opinion on the African continent was being increasingly challenged by the ability of the P-2 (Russia and China) to actively and constructively engage South Africa, and through South Africa, to engage the African continent as the first leg of a three-legged stool. Because of the affinity between Africa and much of South and Central America, Brazil’s presence in BRICS represents the transatlantic expansion as the second leg of increased influence on African public opinion. India’s expanding and progressive role in investment in education and development in Africa is the third leg of the BRICS stool. China and Russia are the drivers of BRICS, this makes them the seat of the stool.

BRICS has been and continues to be intentional about its outreach to Africa to increase the influence primarily of Russia and China on the shaping of African policy and political development. This can be seen in the invitation of all African nations as well as the leadership of the various regional economic communities of the African continent to attend the alliance’s 2023 summit in South Africa and to join the alliance. According to Open Source Enterprise, officials from at least 40 African countries, including 26 heads of state and government, attended. This nearly doubles the 21 African countries and 14 heads of state and government attending the 2018 summit (OSE 5 September 2023).

It is noteworthy that while Egypt and Ethiopia both get considerable attention and support from the global West, these significantly influential African nations chose to join BRICS this year. It is highly likely others will follow. BRICS has increasingly become a forum through which African Heads of State and Governments can have direct access to the leadership of China at the highest level.

A widespread expansion of BRICS membership across Africa would give Russia and China great sway over the continent with the largest number of votes in the United Nations General Assembly. Africa has the world’s fastest growing population, which will include, in the next two decades, at least 25 percent of the available global youth working force. Africa is the home of much of the precious natural mineral resources necessary to power the clean energy and technological future of the world. Additionally, Africa has the land mass that, if coupled with modern farming techniques, rich fertilizer, and productive seeds, can feed the planet. It makes sense that BRICS would see Africa as a pearl of great possibility.

Thanks to discussions at the 2023 BRICS summit, it is clearer today than it was in 2009 that the growth of BRICS membership and influence is a primary goal of the alliance as the large and tightly aligned Russia and China seek to be the voice of the smaller and non-aligned nations of the world. Further, the expanding membership of BRICS through the five regional economic communities of Africa is foundational and fundamental to Russia and China’s efforts to shape global public opinion about forms of governance and global fiscal policy.

I am not suggesting that China and Russia should not seek to shape global public opinion, nor do I suggest that BRICS should curtail its desire for expansion. Throughout history the tides of global alliances have always shifted, and new alliances have always emerged. BRICS is not a security threat to the stability or sovereignty of Western countries, but it is a serious challenge to Western beliefs that seek to encourage democracy, free market economies, freedom of speech, and inclusive civic engagement.

The best way to counter the inevitable growth and expansion of BRICS is not to seek to deconstruct BRICS but rather to constructively and intentionally engage Western investment that focuses on job creation and expanded opportunities as a progressively incremental paradigm shift from aid and development. Just as Russia and China clearly see Africa’s potential, the global West and its allies also should view Africa as a significant partner with which to work and trade, and in which to invest to assist the continent in the development of its own resources. 

This approach will be most effective in places rich in the precious minerals and resources essential to power future generations with cleaner energy and technological development. While Russia and China seek to take advantage of mineral-rich nations by mining and extraction, the alternative model will be for the United States and like-minded nations to mine, extract and build value added capacity for in-country processing and refining of critical minerals. The latter model will build wealth through the creation of jobs and opportunities at every stage of the value chain leading to value added productivity. It is equally important for nations that encourage democratic values, freedom, and good governance to work with the African continent as partners in the modernization of African agriculture both to eliminate poverty while reducing food insecurity and to cultivate an expanding supply chain of food for the global community.

I do not believe that BRICS seeks to be a military or defense alliance, and thus it presents no danger of shifting the global balance of power. It is, however, a growing influential alliance seeking to effectively shape global public opinion, and its ability to do so should not be underestimated.

 

 

Submitted by Ambassador Michael A. Battle

U.S. Ambassador to Tanzania (2023-)

U.S. Ambassador to the African Union and U.S. Representative to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (2009-2013)

Senior Advisor to the Africa Bureau (2014)

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