Changing global economic power balance and Southern development



South African President Cyril Ramaphosa meets Russian President Vladimir Putin.

From the viewpoint of the South, the recent visit by a delegation of African political leaders to Russia for the primary purpose of impressing on President Vladimir Putin the need to end the conflict in Ukraine is welcome news. The visit is doubly important for at least two main reasons; first, the mounting economic pressures on the people of Africa and those outside the continent need to be mitigated. Second, the increasing significance of the African continent in the affairs of the world is being underscored.

Needless to say, the people of Africa are among the worst affected by the current global economic crisis, which has been considerably aggravated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Their vulnerability to economic pressures, given their general poverty level, needs no stressing. Their economic misery and that of the people of South Asia remains a prominent feature of the current world economic landscape.

The suffering of these populations needs to be alleviated and quickly. Hopefully, the Russian political leadership would explore the possibility of doing what is possible for it to reduce the material suffering of these the world’s ordinary people.

However, the burden of de-escalating the current round of economic misfortunes does not fall on entirely Russia. It is incumbent on the West or the Northern hemisphere as well to restructure the contemporary world economic order in a manner that would ease the material lot of ordinary people everywhere.

It is of note that some principal actors of the West have already initiated moves in this direction, particularly in the form of the currently unfolding Macron Summit, also referred to as ‘talks for a new financial contract between the Global North and the Global South.’

Hopefully, the Macron Summit would recognize the South as an equal, dignified and independent partner in the evolving world politico-economic system. There should be no question of the South surviving ‘on the crumbs that fall off the rich man’s table.’

Much will depend on the capabilities and sense of vision of those Southern political leaders and policymakers who participate in these talks. They should steel themselves for some hard bargaining and essentially point out to the North that it is economic interdependence between the two hemispheres that would render the global economic order effective, productive and equitable.

These Southern leaders would do well to revisit the forgotten ‘New International Economic Order’ project of 1974 while engaging in these discussions. That is, ‘trade and not aid’ needs to remain their fundamental motto in this context.

Instead of seeking endless aid, as the Sri Lankan government is doing at present, the South should, among other urgent matters, impress on the developed North that what it needs most are markets for its produce and increasing and meaningful capital investment in the productive sectors of its economies. The worst that Southern leaders could do is to join these talks with the mindset of economic underdogs and minions in the world system.

However, these Southern leaders would need to focus strongly on the interests of their publics and not on the selfish needs of their classes; which attitude has brought many of their countries to ruin. If they persist in these parasitic ways, the North could not be blamed for treating them degradingly.

In these tasks of working towards the legitimate needs of the Southern people African political leaders could prove to be of considerable importance. It is quite some time since Africa re-captured the attention of the world as brimming with development potential. Some months back the US’ Biden administration stepped-up its rapport with African leaders in recognition of the contribution they could make towards mutually-beneficial economic interaction. It should only be expected, given this backdrop, that top African political leaders should take on themselves the responsibility of seeking to end the Ukraine crisis.

The fact that South Africa is part of the BRICS grouping should prove re-assuring to the ordinary people of Africa and those outside it. Come August and the next BRICS Summit would be held under the leadership of South Africa. Although the West continues to dominate the world economic system, BRICS is catching-up with it fast and would soon be among the foremost economic blocs of the world. A number of up-and-coming economic powers are tapping on BRICS’ door, seeking membership. Among them are: Iran, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

However, the challenge before economic blocs, such as BRICS, is to involve themselves in the running of the global economic order for the benefit of the Southern hemisphere in general and that of its ordinary people in particular. The latter responsibility will prove an acid test for Southern leaders in the on-going Macron Summit, for example. Their interventions on behalf of the wellbeing of their peoples would be of inestimable weight.

Australian High Commissioner’s comments

Responding to my column of June 15th titled, ‘Stiffer challenge to democracy from Far Right’, the Australian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, among other things, states that my comments present ‘a false picture of Australia’. It is not possible to ascertain as to how this observation was arrived at considering my comment in the column concerned that, ‘given Australia’s democratic vibrancy it is highly unlikely that the Far Right would be emerging as a dominant political force in the country any time soon..’.

Australia has been a successful democracy with a rich pluralistic heritage. This is the reason why signs of the emergence of a Far Right in the country, though in the form of small but seemingly assertive groups, should prove worrisome to the Australian government, its people and its admirers the world over.

Deteriorating economic conditions within countries usually lead to the emergence extremist political formations, such as the Far Right. The overall thrust of my column was to highlight this potentially worldwide tendency. Nowhere in my column have I suggested, though, that the Far Right is rampant or widespread at present in Australia. But its emergence, even in the form of small formations, needs to be viewed seriously.