The BRICS. From Hope to Hopeless?

I was both flattered and apprehensive when authors Chris Hart and Glenn Silverman asked me to join them as editor on their book on the BRICS, which ended up with the title: Half Way There.

At the time, I felt this title was a tad pessimistic. After all, this coalition of Brazil, Russia, China, India and South Africa was a populous and exciting new grouping, with the potential to provide a counterbalance to the old order, where the world was dominated by the Western Powers.

However, while the global economy has since suffered some grief….so too have the BRICS.  And arguably there has been, on balance, some political deterioration. The South African President escaped impeachment thanks to a loyal parliamentary party, but we have just seen that his Brazilian counterpart was not so lucky and has lost the first round of her impeachment battle.

China a remains a vital economic power, but its human rights record remains a disgrace.   And while India limps along as a democracy, the bureaucratic vice continues to stifle growth.   It remains a delightful location for pictures of balding British heirs and their attractive wives, but the slums and squalor show no signs of abating and are more real to billions of Indians than the Taj Mahal and other tombs.

And then there is Russia.   A country where the leader is thought to have enriched himself to the tune of billions of dollars, and has acted with contempt for Russia’s neighbours.  To add insult to injury, Putin the Terrible has even banned some imported wines and cheeses, a gastronomic deprivation too horrible to imagine.

Looking back, I give Chris Hart and Glenn Silverman top marks for their reading of the BRICS, and for their caution.    Their analysis of the challenges facing the five BRICS nations helps to explain a lot of what is happening today.

Half Way There?  Maybe they did make some progress, but there is no sign of the BRICS completing their journey anytime soon.

Offsets can be Upsetting

As anyone who has been watching the excellent TV adaptation of ‘The Night Manager’ will know, the arms business can be dirty and nasty.  Therefore, it is important to keep a close eye on each and every arms deal, especially if is conducted with a government as sleazy and corrupt as Jacob Zuma’s kleptocratic administration.    This is why our interest was aroused by a report in Engineering News about US aerospace giant Lockheed Martin.   It is apparently seeking to sell some more Hercules aircraft to the South African Air Force, with the suggestion that SA manufacturers could be involved in producing the roll-on, roll-off systems for the planes.  Engineering News reports: “Roll-on roll-off modules can be used to configure aircraft for maritime surveillance, intelligence and surveillance, firefighting, medical evacuation and VIP roles, for example.”

Sounds good, doesn’t it?  We buy the aircraft and at the same time the deal brings offsets which give a boost to our manufacturing base. However, those of us with long memories recall the ANC government’s first big arms deal, which was concluded around the turn of the Millennium, and involved an array of industrial offset opportunities.  I am pretty sure that the jobs and investment South Africa was expecting did not materialize at anything like the promised levels, and it is also pretty certain that there were millions of rand which changed hands in murky and corrupt exchanges.   There was not a lot of transparency, either.

Would things be any better today?  I doubt it.  We are now seeing reports that on his latest visit to Saudi Arabia, President Zuma may have opened some joint-venture arms factory, an event which was not publicized at the time.  Why not?  So while I have no reason to believe that Lockheed Martin would act in anything other than an honest and above-board manner, my concern is that some well-connected crooks would benefit from any offset agreements.   So let’s just agree that if the deal goes ahead, instead of offsets, there are some well-audited donations to AIDS charities, rhino conservation and the ZA Confidential wine cellar?  Well, it was worth asking.


Tweet of the Day:

Shit Jokes (@ShitJokes):  Two peanuts walking down the road.  One was a salted.

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