Fri | Apr 12, 2024

Adekeye Adebajo | Africa in an evolving global order

Published:Sunday | March 3, 2024 | 12:07 AM
From left, Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, China’s President Xi Jinping, South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov pose for a BRICS group photo during
From left, Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, China’s President Xi Jinping, South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov pose for a BRICS group photo during the 2023 BRICS Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Adekeye Adebajo
Adekeye Adebajo

The world is currently experiencing not greater multipolarity, but greater bipolarity. America and China are waging a new Cold War that is less about ideology and more about markets and technology. The West’s share of global output has fallen to about 50 per cent, the lowest since the 19th century’s age of imperialism. How should Africa understand and respond to these developments?


The BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) expanded last month to include Ethiopia, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Even with 10 members, Beijing still accounts for 60 per cent of the bloc’s GDP. Despite Washington’s bipartisan belligerence towards Beijing, China had been its largest exporter for 16 consecutive years until Mexico overtook it last year. Chinese leader, Xi Jinping’s unwise embrace of a personality cult and repression of dissent could, however, stall Beijing’s socio-economic progress.

American presidential elections in November could return to power the nativist, bombastic Donald Trump. The reelection of Joe Biden, in contrast, would keep in the White House a dyed-in-the-wool Atlanticist. Trump’s return could present an existential threat to NATO, and usher in another era of protectionist trade wars. America, however, remains the world’s largest economy, accounting for 25 per cent of global output. Its technology firms and global cultural “soft power” will guarantee it a place at the superpower top table for generations to come.

The BRICS accounts for 46 per cent of the world’s population and 30 per cent of its GDP. Its members are, however, status quo powers who are seeking to improve their own positions and reduce western influence in institutions of global governance. India accounts for 13 per cent of BRICS’s GDP and has become the world’s fifth-largest economy. However, the chauvinistic Hindu nationalist regime of Narendra Modi’s “trinity” of “Ds” certainly has demography – with India having replaced China as the world’s largest population, but has fallen spectacularly short in the practice of democracy, and tolerance of diversity. New Delhi has long abandoned its Nehruvian non-alignment for an opportunistic foreign policy.

South Africa’s charging of Israel for genocide at the International Court of Justice was not only consistent with its historical championing of self-determination, but was one of the most principled and courageous moments in its post-apartheid foreign policy. The country’s “strategic non-alignment” has, in contrast, often lacked consistency and substance.

Brazil’s $2 trillion economy is the world’s 10th-largest, and the country accounts for 33 per cent of the economy of Latin America and the Caribbean. Last year’s return as president of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, saw the “second coming” of one of the most popular figures in the global South. Lula’s pragmatism could help build bridges between the rich world and developing countries, especially as Latin American countries have largely ignored Washington’s discouragement of increasing trade ties with China.


The West’s declining global influence is evident in the dramaturgy of the ongoing Gaza conflict in which Uncle Sam continues its performative power plays to little effect: Washington engages in endless series of futile “shuttle diplomacy”; US vessels continue to be harassed by Houthi drones; while assorted regional militias refuse to be cowed by American military power, with fresh memories of Washington’s humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021. Unquestioning Western support for Israel’s continuing brutalities in Gaza is further weakening international support for Ukraine.

So, what do these geo-political trends portend for Africa? The continent must exploit the economic opportunities provided by foreign investors, while continuing its elusive quest for Pax Africana by working to dismantle the military bases and end the external meddling of the US, France, Russia, and China. Africa’s continuing conflicts and climate change challenges across the Sahel, the Horn of Africa, and the Great Lakes will all require enhanced regional capacity and continued UN commitment: a major focus of UN Secretary-General, António Guterres’s “Summit of the Future,” scheduled for September.

Professor Adekeye Adebajo is a senior research fellow at the University of Pretoria’s Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship in South Africa. Send feedback to