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FOREIGN AFFAIRS ANALYSIS: ESWATINI CAN JOIN BRICS

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MBABANE – “If China does not object in anyway, this would be the best time for Eswatini to join this alliance (BRICS).”

This is the advice from the Political Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. However, the ministry’s political analysts said Eswatini’s alliance with BRICS could be ideal on condition it would not offend Taiwan. “The formation of BRICS was founded on economic partnerships for its member States, however, over the years, the bloc has been championing crosscutting issues on the international stage,” reads the analysis by the government department. It also reads: “This, therefore, presents an opportunity for Eswatini to join the alliance.” Some political predictions were advanced to instil a sense of caution: “This, however, might be a thorn for China who is a founding member. If China does not object in anyways, this would be the best time for Eswatini to join this alliance, with the hope that this alliance would not influence our relations with one of our best Asian allies, Taiwan.”

forming alliances

The ministry’s political department said joining or forming alliances with BRICS might require a small developing nation to align its political stance with the group. “This could pose challenges if it contradicts with existing diplomatic relationships or national interests,” reads the analysis attached to the annual performance report of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation for the financial year 2023/2024. BRICS is an acronym that stands for Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. In 2006, Brazil, Russia, India and China created the ‘BRIC’ group. South Africa joined in 2010, making it “BRICS”. Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) were invited to become members with effect from January 1, 2024.

According to the BBC, a Saudi Arabian Government minister said in mid January that it had not joined. Argentina was also invited to join, but President Javier Milei pulled out in December 2023, shortly after taking office. This information was sourced from BBC. It must be said that BRICS was designed to bring together the world’s most important developing countries, to challenge the political and economic power of the wealthier nations of North America and Western Europe.

dominate

BRICS argues that Western nations dominate important global bodies such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, which lend money to governments. It wants to see a greater voice and representatives for emerging economies. In 2014, it set up the New Development Bank to lend money to boost infrastructure. Meanwhile, in a four-page political analysis, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation advised that Eswatini could benefit from enhanced economic ties, leading to increased exports and access to diverse markets if the country was to join BRICS. The ministry stated that engaging with this bloc could offer Eswatini the chance to diversify its diplomatic and economic partnerships beyond traditional alliances, thus enhancing the kingdom’s bilateral relations.

emerging market

In terms of infrastructure, the ministry’s political department advises that BRICS nations established the New Development Bank (NDB) to provide support to member countries, other emerging market economies and developing countries. In light of the existing NDB, the government department said Eswatini could seek funding from this financial institution for infrastructural projects, which, in turn, would promote economic growth in the country. It is said that the bloc members engaged in economic collaboration, which could open up avenues for trade and investment. It is stated that small countries benefitted more from the commerce because they were open to trade opportunities in comparison with large countries.

increase sales

According to the ministry’s political analysts, developed countries tended to trade with small countries by establishing mutual friendships, thus increase their sales over the period. They also noted that BRICS member States ‘are more advanced in areas of technology and innovation’ and this development could pose an opportunity for the Kingdom to develop further in such areas. They pointed out that BRICS has become an economic rival to G7. The Group of Seven (G7) is an informal grouping of seven of the world’s advanced economies, including Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as the European Union.   

initiatives

The experts said several of their (BRICS) initiatives have included building an alternative global bank, with dialogue underway for a payment system and new reserve currency. According to the ministry’s department of politics, there are theories to the effect that the BRICS currency could potentially destabilise the US Dollar. It mentioned that it would have an immense impact on global trade. As a result, the analysis by the ministry’s department, countries aligned with the bloc would stand to benefit. Every opportunity comes with challenges. In the four-page political analysis on the rise of BRICS, the ministry’s political experts referred to global power dynamics. They said as BRICS countries were seeking greater influence in international institutions, this could lead to shifts in the global power dynamics, potentially affecting smaller nations that might feel compelled to align with one or more BRICS members.

They also predicted that as the bloc’s members expanded their economic activities, there could be increased competition for resources. Therefore, the analysts said Eswatini may face challenges in securing vital resources, leading to potential economic pressures.  According to the report, while economic collaboration is beneficial, Eswatini must be cautious not to become overly dependent on a single or a few BRICS members. It is said that economic fluctuations in these countries could have a direct impact on the smaller nations.

Debt

It is said that there is a potential of increased debt burden to the country in the form of member subscriptions and any other financial implications that could be expected from the kingdom. Eswatini’s public debt stock stood at E34.70 billion by December 31, 2023. This translated to 40.9 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). GDP is a monetary measure of the market value of all the final goods and services produced in a specific time period by a country or countries. It is more often used by the government of a single country to measure its economic health. The country’s public debt stock has exceeded the 35 per cent threshold recommended by the IMF. According to the ministry’s paper, with the inclusion of new member States as of January 1, 2024, BRICS is set to have increased trade markets. “Eswatini stands to lose access to these markets should she not align with the bloc,” it is stated in the analysis paper. They referred to the new members as Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The political analysts talked about the country’s potential limited access to development assistance. It is said that Eswatini may face challenges in attaining the said assistance for these development assistance. They described South Africa as a leading proponent of BRICS and their engagement with other bloc members would have an influence on its foreign policy decisions and inclinations. It is said that Eswatini is likely to be impacted by these dynamics as South Africa will have different interests that they are pursuing and new alliances which demand their loyalties. “The use of soft power by the other countries within BRICS that have a vested interest in Eswatini may become more pronounced,” reads the paper. “This needs careful observation and management.”

challenges

In its summary, the Political Department of the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation stated that the implications of BRICS for a small developing country were nuanced, offering both opportunities and challenges. The department suggested that effective diplomatic strategies, careful economic planning and a keen understanding of global dynamics were essential in navigating the complexities associated with engagement with BRICS. However, government’s political experts advised that specific implications for Eswatini could depend on the nature of cooperation, strengthened bilateral agreements between each BRICS member State and the country’s ability to leverage these opportunities effectively.
They advised that, for Eswatini in particular, emaSwati should be mindful of how their sovereignty was challenged by increased political influence of new partners in the sub-region through BRICS.

“We must develop increased independence from external factors such as power dependency, economic influences and become more resilient,” the experts advised. Alpheous Nxumalo, the Government Press Secretary, said the relationship between the Kingdom of Eswatini and the Republic of Taiwan ‘is rock solid in every way’. He said he would not like to address himself to the analysis of the Foreign Affairs personnel per se. But, he said, it was true that often times countries had the compelling responsibility to align themselves with nations that would best serve their respective national interests. “Remember, Mainland China is one of the greatest partners of the African Union (AU), to the point that the headquarters of the AU was sponsored by China,” Nxumalo said. Nxumalo said it was also true that economic and financial benefits attainable between countries were not necessarily the decisive factor for establishing diplomatic relations between two or more States.

He said there was more than just economic factor or financial benefit associated with establishment of diplomatic relations. Secondarily, he said it was not within appropriate diplomatic practice to consult with a view to get permission or endorsement from an ally country to establish diplomatic relations with another. “This is the sole preserve of the head of State in question to decide,” he said. It could not be ascertained whether Senate and House of Assembly members addressed this issue when they had debates on the annual performance of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

controversial issue

One lawmaker though said he actually avoided the issue purposely. “I am aware of the four-page analysis you are talking about. It was a good analysis but I did not want to address a controversial issue,” he said. He preferred to remain anonymous. On February 1, 2024, CNN reported that nearly three dozen countries were seeking entry into the China and Russia-backed BRICS economic group. This was said by South Africa weeks after the body expanded its membership for the first time in more than a decade. It is said that 34 countries have submitted an expression of interest in joining the bloc of major emerging economies, South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor told reporters, without naming the nations. Russia was accepting those applications after assuming rotating chairmanship of the group this year – and will be the first member to oversee the body since it significantly expanded its global footprint at the start of the year, when Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Ethiopia and Egypt formally joined.

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