Africa’s Champion?

South Africa is a central player in the O5. But is it a BRIC or the extension - B(R)ICSAM/BRICSAM? This a more difficult question. In CIGI Distinguished Fellow Andy Cooper’s Heiligendamm Process Project, we have been fortunate to have Brendan Vickers join us and prepare a chapter on South Africa (SA) entitled, “South Africa: Global Reformism, Global Apartheid and the Heiligendamm Process.” Brendan, by the way, is currently a senior researcher in the multilateral programme at the Institute for Global Dialogue in South Africa (IDG). Before his appointment to IDG, Brendan was Deputy Director responsible for International and Trade in the Office of the President of South Africa.

On economic leverage, it would appear that SA is simply too small to be part of BRICSAM. Currently, SA has a GDP (PPP) of only USD$467 billion which places it as the 25th largest economy in the world. As Brendan suggest, “… there is little objective economic rationale for the country’s inclusion into the O5, let alone an expanded G13.” Brendan characterizes SA as a middle-income developing country with many of the development problems that this brings. Indeed, as he points SA is a developing country with a medium human development ranking well below the other O5 but for India. Though SA’s economy shows marked potential and is currently growing at 5% per annum it is not, according to Brendan, “… among the emerging world’s ‘new titans’ … .”

Well then, why does SA play such a significant role? If one looks at diplomatic leverage, it is evident that SA is a player of some influence. It is a significant player in many key multilateral and regional governance bodies. And SA is recognized as a key player by others - as obviously SA’s inclusion in the O5 signals. But this is both a strength and a weakness. SA is in the G8 HP and other processes in part to legitimize African representation. This gives SA some prominence but also raises African jealousies. Neither SA nor other African countries suggest that SA’s inclusion resolves the ‘Africa’ question.’

Moreover, and independently, SA like other O5 countries remains ambivalent over the HP process and mre generally in partnering with the G7/8 and all that this might suggest. SA looks to gain from inclusion but is not yet committed to a North-South dialogue at the expense of a South-South dialogue and the demand for a more developmental global governance ideal. As Brendan has argued, “South Africa’s principled commitments to strengthening multilateralism, equitable global governance and building partnerships for progressive global change capture the normative essence and strategic rationale for the country’s special relationship with the G8. “South Africa sees itself as a bridge builder extending links to the wealthy North and expanding ties and commitments with the emerging South.” Finally, SA promotes the following goal: “What is patent is that policymakers in Pretoria place a strong premium on building pragmatic partnerships to transform historical North-South relations of asymmetry. This provides the context for understanding and appreciating South Africa’s enhanced engagement with the G8, as a ‘middle power’ of the South.” Desirous of using it’s inclusion but ambivalent over the agenda and G7/8 cooptation, SA sits uncomfortably on the bridge between North and South, between Great power leadership and universalist advocacy.

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