Saudi Arabia Invited to Join BRICS

Maybe the Alliance will Actually Achieve Something Now

If I walk out into my garden and look towards the north west, I can just see in the distance the location of the BRICS conference, where Saudi Arabia has been invited to join BRICS. It sits smack bang in the middle of the richest square kilometre in Africa. At ten past three on two afternoons last week, a Grippen fighter jet would hurriedly roar over my house towards the venue, as if it were late for an appointment. A typical example of African military bombast, I thought. Impressive at first glance, fairly impotent at second.

Just like BRICS, in fact.

Okay, I concede they started the BRICS Bank to fund climate-related projects in developing countries. But according to a man who, until very recently was an intermediary between developing countries and BRICS, this has created a rather sour byproduct.

“Developing nations have been attempting to use BRICS as a front to get loans from the World Bank. These nations have ongoing human rights issues and are forbidden to apply for loans by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The worrying aspect of this is not the attempted circumvention of the IMF, but how often they’ve succeeded.”

Jim O’Neill, the man who first coined the term BRIC as an anacronym for the first member countries (South Africa came later), not only laments the ineffectual history of the alliance, he’s sceptical of its future role in the protection and growth of approximately half the world’s population.

Before I disagree with him – not on the past, but the future – you should know that his resumé as an economist is quite possibly the most impressive in the world. Mine? Err…less impressive.

Okay, so now I’m going to disagree with the Lord O’Neill of Gatley. The reason for my disagreement is Saudi Arabia. Anyone who has paid attention to the Kingdom in the last while, and I’m not talking about the media fodder which has contributed to the world’s distrust of the place, will know there’s a miracle unfolding.

The Kingdom Sees a New Future

A brief study of the country’s giga-projects, such as NEOM, will show that they’re the only country who understands that Vision 2030 is not a goal. It’s a milestone to gauge how committed we are to a caretaker mentality. Yes, there are some tourism sector projects in that mix – but even they are grounded in sustainability. And not just sustainable practices, either. But awareness and education, too. It really is time to level the playing field on our prejudices and see that the Kingdom is putting their money where their children’s mouths are – and our children, too. I’m not asking you to believe me. I’m asking you to simply take a look at the investment their Public Investment Fund is making in the future. Not just theirs. Ours.

There were five other countries invited, too. In principle, I can understand Ethiopia wanting to join BRICS. The country is enterprising, bursting with energy and needs any platform it’s allowed on, to get attention. I get Egypt wanting to climb on board. Argentina too, to reinforce an influential South American voting bloc with Brazil. And the UAE, rising in influence with its sound governance. Even Iran, arguably the most dumped-on nation in the world (Iran’s inclusion deserves a story on its own).

But I can’t see any of these countries being instrumental in fulfilling the potential of BRICS, as awestruck as I am about some of them (Ethiopia and UAE, to be exact). In this, it’s hard to disagree with Lord O’Neill.

But Saudi Arabia? In the context of getting things done, when you compare the Kingdom to the current BRICS members, it’s like putting five different versions of Mr. Bean in a room with Chuck Norris.

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