A BRICS think-tank for emerg­ing economies

The 10th BRICS Aca­demic Fo­rum closes with a mul­ti­tude of new ideas on mu­tual co-op­er­a­tion, writes Pro­fes­sor Ari Si­tas

The Sunday Independent - - Dispatches - ■ Si­tas is chair­per­son of the South African BRICS Think Tank.

AMULTITUDE of en­ti­ties and ideas have been pro­posed at the fifth BRICS Think Tanks Coun­cil (BTTC) meet­ing and 10th BRICS Aca­demic Fo­rum, namely cen­tres, in­sti­tutes, net­works, plat­forms, pro­grammes, hubs and com­mit­tees, as well as a fo­rum. Each one is based on al­ready em­bry­onic work be­ing un­der­taken in the BRICS do­main – th­ese pro­pos­als bring ur­gency for their con­sol­i­da­tion. Each one, we have agreed, nudges the spirit of co-op­er­a­tion fur­ther.

Key to the de­lib­er­a­tions was the broader con­ti­nen­tal di­men­sion of iden­ti­fy­ing pri­or­i­ties and in­vi­ta­tions that reached An­gola, Bu­rundi, Ethiopia, Gabon, Namibia, Uganda, Togo, Rwanda and Sene­gal. A fo­rum on women’s equal­ity The Aca­demic Fo­rum of 2018 theme was about “En­vi­sion­ing in­clu­sive de­vel­op­ment through a so­cially re­spon­sive econ­omy”, and un­der its ban­ner not only was there a ple­nary fo­cus on gen­der and in­equal­ity, but through the de­lib­er­a­tions, a Fo­rum on Women’s Equal­ity was pro­posed. Such a fo­rum will share ex­pe­ri­ences on the progress of women-led devel­op­ments in the eco­nomic, so­cial and po­lit­i­cal life of our re­spec­tive coun­tries; iden­tify the ob­sta­cles to in­clu­siv­ity in the BRICS do­main; and strive to es­tab­lish a panel of ex­perts on gen­der equal­ity un­der the frame­work of the BTTC.

It is the po­si­tion of the fo­rum that eco­nomic pros­per­ity and well­be­ing is in­deed un­think­able with­out gen­der equal­ity.

Smart man­u­fac­tur­ing hubs There is a greater need to work to­gether to nur­ture smart man­u­fac­tur­ing hubs that take our in­dus­trial fate to new lev­els. In­stead of com­pet­ing, eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment that is smart, labour ab­sorb­ing and pro-ac­tive has been en­cour­aged; a de­vel­op­ment that is at once tech­no­log­i­cally savvy and labour sen­si­tive. From the South African per­spec­tive, re­spect for labour rights is in­alien­able and rec­om­men­da­tion for strong pro­grammes en­cour­ag­ing small farm­ers and food se­cu­rity-linked MSMEs, as well as the move to­wards nu­tri­tional democ­racy is be­ing mooted.

The dis­cus­sions in the Aca­demic Fo­rum touched in earnest on the im­pli­ca­tions of “digi­ti­sa­tion” and its im­pli­ca­tions for in­clu­sion. While recog­nis­ing the neg­a­tive pos­si­bil­i­ties of fur­ther labour sub­sti­tu­tion and in­for­mal­i­sa­tion, it was ar­gued that the BRICS could lead in driv­ing devel­op­ments in this do­main to en­sure na­tional pro­tec­tion of in­comes and also in re­vis­ing the mod­els of gov­er­nance espe­cially at lo­cal lev­els (vil­lages, towns, and cities).

An African academy for de­vel­op­ment

We do note that the most vi­tal post-colo­nial am­bi­tion was to turn the con­ti­nent’s abun­dant re­source­base into vir­tu­ous in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion and self-suf­fi­ciency (the La­gos Plan of the 1980s, Africa’s Ac­cel­er­ated In­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion Plan of the late 2000s). There­fore, the rec­om­men­da­tion is for the es­tab­lish­ment of an African Academy for De­vel­op­ment and Ben­e­fi­ci­a­tion. In this, BRICS coun­tries and BRICS-re­lated ter­tiary in­sti­tu­tions and ex­perts would par­tic­i­pate in as­sist­ing in the cre­ation and def­i­ni­tion of pri­or­i­ties for the academy.

Vac­ci­na­tion re­search plat­forms

If eco­nomic pros­per­ity and ad­dress­ing the press­ing chal­lenges of in­equal­ity, poverty and un­em­ploy­ment was a ma­jor pre­oc­cu­pa­tion of this gath­er­ing, so was the need for break­throughs in health, health pro­vi­sion and re­search and de­vel­op­ment in new fron­tiers of cure. To meet new health chal­lenges such as non­com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­eases, in­fec­tious dis­eases and drug-re­sis­tant tu­ber­cu­lo­sis, it was felt that BRICS should play a greater role in global norm set­ting and in global gov­er­nance of health sec­tor is­sues.

It would also be im­por­tant to ex­plore BRICS co-op­er­a­tion for find­ing out ap­pro­pri­ate forms of com­pre­hen­sive na­tional health­care sys­tems and con­tex­tu­alsen­si­tive sys­tems of so­cial pro­tec­tion. Not­ing that sus­tain­ing a healthy so­ci­ety and the pro­vi­sion of ba­sic health ser­vices is a pre­con­di­tion for the de­vel­op­ment of our re­spec­tive coun­tries, and not­ing too that all de­part­ments of health in our do­main are work­ing closely to­gether to­wards a health and de­vel­op­ment con­sen­sus, the BTTC can only play a sup­port­ive role. It there­fore rec­om­mended the es­tab­lish­ment of a Vac­ci­na­tion Re­search Plat­form to re­spond to com­mu­ni­ca­ble and non­com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­ease chal­lenges, such as zika, HIV/Aids, tu­ber­cu­lo­sis and malaria.

Knowl­edge shar­ing and col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­forts

As this was an aca­demic fo­rum, the theme of en­hanc­ing ed­u­ca­tional, creative and sci­en­tific pow­ers was re­garded as a must. Co-op­er­a­tion ought to be pri­ori­tis­ing the BRICS’ pro­duc­tive, creative and sci­en­tific pow­ers. And it has to trans­late into strength­en­ing the BRICS univer­sity and postschool sys­tems. Not­ing too that to be driv­ers of in­no­va­tion and on the fore­front of new tech­no­log­i­cal rev­o­lu­tions, our sys­tems have to be­come co-op­er­a­tive and in­no­va­tive.

In this case, it was im­por­tant to make a call that the re­al­i­ties of the Fourth In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion be in­te­gral to the post-school, higher ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor that re­in­forces syn­chro­nised cross-na­tional cur­ric­ula to fa­cil­i­tate knowl­edge­shar­ing and col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­forts in uni­ver­si­ties and vo­ca­tional train­ing in­sti­tu­tions in the BRICS.

As was to be ex­pected, the Com­mons re­ceived em­pha­sis both as a threat­ened ter­rain or as a prop for re­spon­si­ble de­vel­op­ment, from cli­mate change to the need to es­tab­lish Re­silient Eco-Sys­tems Net­works; in turn, is­sues of en­ergy and its re­la­tion to eco­nomic growth and de­vel­op­ment, to the rec­om­men­da­tion for the cre­ation of a BRICS Cen­tre for Pol­icy Re­search on En­ergy, In­no­va­tion and Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment.

A peace re­search in­sti­tute Re­flec­tions around peace and se­cu­rity were the most self-crit­i­cal and in­tro­spec­tive.

En­coun­ters in China last year set a high stan­dard in un­der­stand­ing the ne­ces­sity for new norms of global gov­er­nance to achieve a pa­cific new world sys­tem.

Does BRICS have the ca­pa­bil­i­ties and ca­pac­ity to main­tain peace and se­cu­rity? The Eurasian-Rus­sian ini­tia­tives and China’s Road and Belt ini­tia­tives were dis­cussed as new ways of en­gag­ing on the ba­sis of mu­tual in­ter­est. Although peace and de­vel­op­ment were imag­i­na­tively linked, the ca­pac­ity of BRICS coun­tries to be de­ci­sive in peace-keep­ing was ques­tioned.

But there was con­sen­sus around the need for the es­tab­lish­ment of a BRICS Peace Re­search In­sti­tute.

Fi­nally, the BTTC rec­om­mended the cre­ation of a mul­ti­lat­eral BRICS Re­search Con­sor­tium to con­duct re­search and present re­ports to track the pub­lic on spe­cific is­sues.

Even­tu­ally, the BRICS Re­search Con­sor­tium could un­der­take the mis­sion to mon­i­tor the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the agree­ments within BRICS in or­der to iden­tify ur­gent ar­eas of nec­es­sary in­ter­ven­tion.

It was en­cour­ag­ing to be heard and sup­ported by a co­hort of schol­ars and thinkers who are not trapped by the West-cen­tric cur­rents of the Wash­ing­ton con­sen­sus or even its “dis­sensus-rhetoric” that traps every­thing in­side the clutches of a Bret­ton Woods world.

My thanks go to the del­e­gates who made their way here from near and far to en­rich the per­spec­tives of the BTTC. We were ready to ar­gue, lis­ten and learn.

Our coun­tries come from a long way back and are search­ing for a way to re­con­fig­ure our life-chances in the world sys­tem. Af­ter all, th­ese are the only coun­tries we have.





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