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
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.