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Geopolitics

Are The Emerging BRICS Countries Ready To Break The Old Order? Don’t Count On It

Editorial: Brazil, China and the other so-called BRICS countries are demanding a political role proportional to their economic importance. Is a global power shift forthcoming? Not necessarily says Le Monde’s Alain Frachon, who says the BRICS bloc is still

Alain Frachon

Last month they banged their fists on the table and shouted "No!" The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is not the exclusive domain of the old powers of the North, of Europe, they said, demanding that control of the recently beheaded international organization go instead to one of the emerging new powers, the so-called BRICS countries.

The press release was released in Washington, the seat of the IMF, and has five signatures, those of the BRICS member states: Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. The day after former IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn's resignation, the five-member club joined together to rebel and claim their due.

Two weeks earlier, while gathered together in Sanya, China, in the province of Hainan, BRICS leaders formally adopted an official statement, a sort of charter of their demands. South Africa's Jacob Zuma, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Hu Jintao of China, India's Manmohan Singh, and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev demonstrated their will to carry more weight in all of the international organizations.

Together they are demanding a political role proportional to their economic importance. They want to be the spokespersons of an emerging group that is challenging the old order, the remnants of a time when the world was still dominated by the United States and Europe. They denounce the tradition adopted at the time the IMF and World Bank were created, in 1945, that dictates European leadership of the first and American control of the second.

And yet several weeks later, the name being aired as Strauss-Kahn's most likely successor doesn't hail from India, Brazil or anywhere else in the developing world, but instead from France: Christine Lagarde. Why? Because the emerging nations, while agreeing on the one hand to challenge the old world order, haven't actually been able to agree on how they might go about it. A clear example is their failure to reach consensus on a single candidate for the IMF post.

This matter goes beyond the case of the IMF. For the most part, the BRICS are indeed emerging powers. But they have neither the political uniformity nor enough common interests or values necessary to form a bloc. In reality, the group of five exists only on paper. They had enough time for a meeting and a "family photo" in a seaside city in China, but not for much else.

Some analysts are interpreting this change in geography and economic power as the beginning of a split into two political orders. On the one side, the triumphant South, on the other, the tired defensive West. This view is hardly accurate. Beyond a shared rhetoric inherited from the Cold War, the South is deeply divided.

In an article entitled "Do the BRICS exist?" from the excellent Telos-eu.com website, political scientist Zaki Laïdi observed that the emerging nations are a force when it comes to making demands and protesting. But, explained Laïdi, they do not offer any real proposals. Instead they remain bogged down in their established regional rivalries.

In the race to become the next director of the IMF, it is difficult to imagine Brazil openly supporting the only real candidate from the South, Mexico's Agustin Carstens. Call it a case of Latin egoism. Likewise, it is difficult to imagine India defending a Chinese candidacy.

The same goes on the political front. The BRICS" Sanya "charter" glosses over certain divergent attitudes. At this time last year, China and Russia were the first to reject attempts by Brazil and Turkey to bring Iran to the table to discuss its nuclear program. As permanent members of the U.N. Security Counsel, Moscow and Beijing have their own prerogatives.

China is incapable of forming a united Asian front behind it. The government's cantankerous demands on a number of islets in the South China Sea terrorize China's neighbors, who gathered behind Vietnam (the irony of history), and called for support at all costs: that is, for American reinforcement.

Russia, meanwhile, is stuck between two worlds. A sort of honorary member of the BRICS countries, it is not necessarily an emerging nation, but rather a floating one. As a member of the G8, which is supposed to be made up of the old industrial nations and democracies, Russia can barely be considered a legally constituted state. While the real emerging powers have powerful technocratic elites, the Russian "sherpas' pass for amateurs within the halls of global governance.

When it comes to the world's contemporary problems, the emerging nations do not have any concrete plans. They have nothing to say on the fight against nuclear proliferation, the battle against sea pirates, destabilization in the Middle East, or global climate change. Much of the "work" on those issues is still done by the "old world."

The emerging powers could generously participate in developmental assistance, here and there, at a bilateral level. But they defy anything that resembles a multilateral front in the affairs of a state. The old world, in other words, isn't going anywhere.

Photo - dilmarousseff

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Economy

In Uganda, Having A "Rolex" Is About Not Going Hungry

Experts fear the higher food prices resulting from the conflict in Ukraine could jeopardize the health of many Ugandans. Take a look at this ritzy-named simple dish.

Zziwa Fred, a street vendor who runs two fast-food businesses in central Uganda, rolls a freshly prepared chapati known as a Rolex.

Nakisanze Segawa

WAKISO — Godfrey Kizito takes a break from his busy shoe repair shop every day so he can enjoy his favorite snack, a vegetable and egg omelet rolled in a freshly prepared chapati known as a Rolex. But for the past few weeks, this daily ritual has given him neither the satisfaction nor the sustenance he is used to consuming. Kizito says this much-needed staple has shrunk in size.

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Most streets and markets in Uganda have at least one vendor firing up a hot plate ready to cook the Rolex, short for rolled eggs — which usually comes with tomatoes, cabbage and onion and is priced anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 Ugandan shillings (28 to 57 cents). Street vendor Farouk Kiyaga says many of his customers share Kizito’s disappointment over the dwindling size of Uganda’s most popular street food, but Kiyaga is struggling with the rising cost of wheat and cooking oil.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has halted exports out of the two countries, which account for about 26% of wheat exports globally and about 80% of the world’s exports of sunflower oil, pushing prices to an all-time high, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, a United Nations agency. Not only oil and wheat are affected. Prices of the most consumed foods worldwide, such as meat, grains and dairy products, hit their highest levels ever in March, making a nutritious meal even harder to buy for those who already struggle to feed themselves and their families. The U.N. organization warns the conflict could lead to as many as 13.1 million more people going hungry between 2022 and 2026.

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