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One of the least known information about the BRICS countries is that the chairmanship of the group is rotated annually amongst its members in accordance with the acronym of B-R-I-C-S.

Last year, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi chaired the bloc. This year, President Xi Jinping of China is at the helm, and next year it will be the turn of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who will host the 15th BRICS Summit in 2023 and oversee the expansion of the bloc.

BRICS -- which is made up of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa -- is more than just an acronym. It is a bloc of influential emerging market economies that are collaborating to restructure the global economic multilateral order to make it fairer, inclusive, and equitable. These nations account for about 42% of the world’s population and 24% of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP). However, they collectively hold less than 15% of voting rights in both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. 

It has been predicted that BRICS nations could by 2032 surpass the G-7 economies, which comprise world’s advanced economies including Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom, United States of America, and the European Union, which collectively contribute 46% to the world’s GDP.

From its inception in 2009, BRICS has been vocal about the under-representation of developing and poor countries in the global financial system. They want the system to be transformed to reflect the development interests of poor countries, many of which are in Africa. 

As South Africa prepares to take over the BRICS chairmanship, the bloc will continue pushing for equitable representation in international decision-making and supporting post-covid 19 global economic recovery and ill efforts to end the ongoing Ukraine-Russia war, which is threatening poor nations with food insecurity due to high oil and food prices.

As BRICS chairman from 2023, President Ramaphosa will also oversee the expansion of the bloc, which may welcome new members. Soon after President Xi Jinping announced during the 14th BRICS summit that was held virtually in late June this year, Iran and Argentina announced that they had submitted their applications to join the group. 

These announcements were followed by media reports that Indonesia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Nigeria, Kazakhstan Senegal, and Thailand were also interested in joining BRICS. 

Although there are no criteria that has been set to determine how will the new BRICS members will be selected, any of the potential members will add weight to the bloc, which already consists of resource-rich nations and highly industrialised economies.

An expanded BRICS will be beneficial to South Africa as it will allow our country to extend its global influence and strengthen trade ties with a wide range of powerful, emerging market economies. 

South Africa is considered as a door or entry point to Africa by many multinationals looking to do business on the continent and it also played a significant role in the establishment of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) that has created a market of 1.4 billion people with a continentwide GDP of $2.6 trillion. 

The AfCFTA, which was officially launched in January last year, has removed import tariffs, and will progressively promote regional integration, develop new regional value chains, and stimulate industrial and infrastructure development across Africa. 

At the 14th BRICS Summit in late June, the bloc’s member countries, released a 75-point joint statement, known as the Beijing Declaration, which amongst other things, expressed support for AfCFTA. In the declaration, BRICS also committed to assisting Africa to accelerate industrialisation and infrastructure development, which are pre-conditions for driving trade and investment on the continent. 

Given that South Africa has the most industrialised economy in Africa with an advanced logistics infrastructure and a sophisticated financial system, the country is in an advantageous position to capitalise on trade and investment benefits presented by AfCFTA and an expanded BRICS, particularly in key sectors such as manufacturing, agriculture, tourism, e-commerce, and the services industry in which it has a competitive edge.

As a major food producer and exporter, South Africa is well positioned to ramp up its agricultural production to ease food shortages caused by the disruption of supply chains related to the Ukraine-Russia war. 

Many African countries that are dependent on maize imports from Ukraine, which Ukraine is unable to deliver due to the ongoing conflict. I am confident that South African farmers can close the gap left by the absence or shortage of Ukrainian maize imports.

Agriculture is one of the strengths of South Africa’s economy and the sector produces an array of agricultural exports ranging from subtropical fruits, sugar, citrus, to wine, vegetables, wool, mohair, and meat.

There is no doubt that the enlargement of BRICS will benefit South Africa. The expansion comes at an opportune time when our country is implementing an economic recovery plan and structural reforms to make our economy globally competitive, reduce cost of doing business, attract investment, and stimulate economic growth. 

As President Ramaphosa prepares to take over the BRICS chairmanship, I urge all key stakeholders including private sector, government, labour, and civil society to collaborate to position to our country to take advantage of opportunities that the BRICS expansion will bring to our country.  

  • Ntombela is the Acting CEO of Brand South Africa   AMA

The Central Bank of Kenya in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG

The licensing of digital credit providers by the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) has opened the floodgates of new funding to the non-deposit taking entities.

CBK’s greenlight to 12 additional digital lenders at the end of January has, for instance, enabled Mycredit Limited to tap Sh325 million from Oiko Credit in a deal announced on February 1 with the proceeds expected to spur the lender’s medium-term lending programme to small and medium enterprises.

 

“The funding from Oiko allows us to start giving medium-term loans to at least 1,000 SMEs in the next financial year,” said MyCredit Limited Managing Director Wangaruro Mbira.

Sources have intimated to the Business Daily that more funding is expected to stream to the recently licensed digital credit providers with M-Kopa Loan Kenya Limited for instance expected to tap up to Sh12.5 billion ($100 million) according to a person close to the transaction.

The fintech platform, which provides connected financing and digital financial services to unbanked customers has been among the top recipients of funding from partners and investors in the recent past.

M-Kopa Loan Kenya sealed a Sh9.4 billion ($75 million) equity round in March last year with the injection bringing M-Kopa’s total equity funding to Sh23.8 billion ($190 million) to support the fintech’s expansion including adding to its hubs in Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria.

 

On January 30, the CBK issued 12 additional licensing to digital lenders including Inventure Mobile Limited (Tala), Jumo Kenya Limited, Letshego Kenya Limited, MFS Technologies Limited, Natal Tech Company Limited, Ngao Credit Limited, Pezesha Africa Limited, Tenekata Enterprises Limited, Umoja Fanisi Limited and Zanifu Limited.

This brought the number of licensed entities in the space to 22, after the grant of licenses to 10 players in September last year including Ceres Tech Limited, Getcash Capital Limited (Flash Credit Africa), Jijenge Credit Limited, Kweli Smart Solutions Limited, Mwanzo Credit Limited, MyWagepay Limited, Rewot Ciro Limited, Sevi Innovation Limited and SokoHela Limited.

The recent grant of permits to digital credit providers has served to dissipate fears among players especially existing entities who missed out entirely from the list of initial licensees which largely featured new players in the industry. 

The lengthy delay to secondary approvals had caused jitters to the players who lamented struggles in obtaining fresh funds to investors who were demanding CBK certification before disbursing money.

The jitters led to digital lending executives fearing a potential cash-crunch even as their platforms were blacklisted to platforms such as the Google Playstore.

Delays in the issuance of digital credit providers licensing was largely attributed to the wide range of documentation required by the CBK including a list of directors and funding sources.

CBK’s engagement with other regulators and agencies such as the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner is also attributable to the lengthy licensing process.

“The focus of the engagements has been inter alia on business models, consumer protection and fitness and propriety of proposed shareholders, directors and managers. This is to ensure adherence to relevant laws and importantly that the interests of customers are safeguarded. We acknowledge the efforts of the applicants and support of other regulators and agencies in this process,” the CBK stated.

“Other applicants are at different stages in the process, largely awaiting the submission of requisite documentation.”

Concerns including exorbitant credit costs, unethical debt collection practices, and abuse of personal information served to push digital credit providers to the ambits of the banking sector regulator. By By KEPHA MUIRURI, Business Daily

Former Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta. As a retired president and a glad-handed statesman, he became an obvious choice for the EAC in its pursuit of peace in eastern DR Congo. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO | NMG

Former Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta has been praised for helping end the Tigrayan conflict in Ethiopia. As a retired president and a glad-handed statesman, he became an obvious choice for the East African Community (EAC) in its pursuit of peace in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

But the complexity of the Congo conflict has left Kenyatta gasping for breath, with support and opposition coming in equal measure.

So what happened?

Interviews with people close to the peace process in the DRC paint a complex picture of the conflict, with parties routinely shifting bases or allegiance depending on interests.

‘Bidding for own side’

Kenyatta, the official facilitator of the EAC peace process, now faces lamentations from the same parties that praised him.

“Everybody is bidding for their own side; some want to win the glory of bringing peace to the DRC – so the issue of who takes credit is important here. It is a no-win situation,” said an official who has worked with Kenyatta on the programme. The East African

Johannesburg — South Africa hosted the world's biggest mining investment conference this week, with industry experts in attendance saying the U.S. and China are in a race for the critical minerals -- such as cobalt and lithium -- that will likely power the projected transition to clean energy.

African countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo have some of the largest deposits of these resources, but China currently dominates the supply chain as well as their refinement and the U.S. wants to reduce its reliance on the Asian giant.

In his remarks at the mining conference in Cape Town this week, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment Jose Fernandez hinted at this saying, "I don't need to remind you of what happens when the supply chain breaks down or when we depend on a single supplier. We lived it during the COVID pandemic, and this is a vulnerability that we need to solve together."

Fernandez -- who did not mention China by name -- noted that electric vehicles are expected to command half the global market by 2030 and that demand for lithium is expected to increase 42-fold by 2040. China is responsible for some 80 percent of the world's lithium refining. 

Tony Carroll, the director of Acorus Capital and an international adviser to the conference known as the Africa Mining Indaba, told VOA the session came at a critical time for the West.

The Chinese made it a "priority to corner the market for critical minerals about two decades ago and supported that strategy with massive public diplomacy and infrastructure investments into Africa -- most of which [came] via long-term debt. The West woke up to this strategy too late and have been scrambling ever since," he said.

Rare earth minerals are essential for electric vehicle production and expanding the production of green technologies. However, their extraction can come at an environmental or social cost to African countries that have big deposits. 

Fernandez echoed remarks made by Pope Francis on his recent trip to Congo denouncing "economic colonialism" in Africa, which could be seen as a swipe at Beijing. He also assured African countries the United States would respect "environmental, social, and governance standards."

"While late to the game, the U.S. has awakened with more ambition in mining and processing and building alliances with like-minded partners," said Carroll, who is also an adjunct professor in the African studies program at Johns Hopkins University.

A first-time sponsor of the Mining Indaba this year was Chinese company Zijin, one of the largest mining groups in the world with interests in lithium, copper and other metals.

Asked for comment by VOA on whether China is now in a race for rare earth metals with the U.S., as well as other questions about Chinese mining interests in Africa, the PR manager of South Africa Zijin Platinum said the CEO was unable to respond before the deadline for this article. 

African governments are now trying to get the best deals for their people. Namibia's Mines Minister Tom Alweendo told Reuters at the Cape Town conference that his country is insisting that all lithium mined in Namibia has to be processed in the country.

Similarly, DRC President Felix Tshisekedi, who was one of the key speakers at the mining conference, has been demanding better terms from China for several years. China sources the majority of its cobalt from DRC, which produces some 70 percent of the world's total.

Despite its vast mineral resources, Congo is one of the world's least developed countries and Tshisekedi said in January it hadn't benefited from a $6.2 billion minerals-for-infrastructure contract with China signed by his predecessor.

"The Chinese, they've made a lot of money and made a lot of profit from this contract," Tshisekedi told Bloomberg at the World Economic Forum in Davos. "The Democratic Republic of Congo has derived no benefit from it. There's nothing tangible, no positive impact, I'd say, for our population."

"Now our need is simply to re-balance things in a way that it becomes win-win," he added.

There are signs Tshisekedi could be moving toward the West.

The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden organized the Minerals Security Partnership last year as a way of diversifying supply chains. Partners include Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the European Union. At its first meeting last year, the DRC was one of the non-partner nations in attendance.

Then at Biden's U.S.-Africa Summit in December, the DRC and Zambia inked a deal with the U.S. to jointly develop the supply chain for electric vehicle batteries.

"Dependency on China for rare earths is viewed with alarm," said Jay Truesdale, CEO of the risk advisory firm Veracity Worldwide, and a speaker at the Indaba. "Given that Beijing has the means to severely restrict access to these minerals, in the event of a geopolitical crisis it could choose to use its market dominance to cripple non-Chinese manufacturers in such sectors as electronics, automotive manufacturing, aerospace, and renewable energy."

Besides the rising tensions between China and the West in Africa, Russia's invasion of Ukraine will also force mining companies to make hard decisions, Truesdale said.

"The war in Ukraine has placed greater scrutiny on Russian mining activities across the continent. Russia benefits from a lack of transparency and weak governance where its mining companies operate. African governments are now more closely observing how Moscow trades promises of greater security for deeper access to mineral resources and the state capture that can result," he told VOA.  By Kate Bartlett, VOA

ODM leader Raila Odinga at Azimio rally in Kibra on Sunday, January 29, 2023.  Image: RAILA ODINGA/TWITTER
 
In Summary
  • The coalition warned that it will take firm and decisive action against MPs betraying the opposition’s course.
  • Azimio said State House has no constitutional mandate or power to appropriate funds.

Azimio coalition has asked perceived rebels hobnobbing with president William Ruto’s administration to shape up or ship out.

The opposition coalition led by Raila Odinga warned the politicians that flirtations and cohabitations with the Kenya Kwanza regime under whatever pretext are no longer acceptable.

As part of the resolutions following a two-day Azimio parliamentary group meeting, the coalition warned that it will take firm and decisive action against MPs betraying the opposition’s course. 

“Azimio therefore asks its elected leaders to shape up or ship out. There will be no two ways about this,” the coalition said in a statement.

Azimio said it is currently engaged in a just struggle for the nation which it described as a struggle for good standard of living , struggle for democracy and struggle to safeguard that hard won multi-party political system.

Saying the country hard-won multi-party democracy is under threat from the Kenya Kwanza administration, Azimio said it will not tolerate acts of betrayal.

“In this struggle we shall not tolerate acts that amount to a betrayal of the dreams and aspirations of the people of Kenya,” Azimio said in the statement.

The coalition insisted that leaders should use the parliamentary platform to push for more resources for their people than to visit President Ruto at State House, ostensibly for development.

“Development is to be sought in Parliament which appropriates resources and not from State House. State House has no constitutional mandate or power to appropriate funds,” Azimio said.

“That mandate and power resides in the two houses of Parliament; Senate and National Assembly. Our people must not succumb to the blackmail, dirty politics and dirty money being dished out by the regime that is struggling for legitimacy.” 

Earlier this week,MPs including Senator Tom Ojienda, MPs Gideon Ochanda, Caroli Omondi, Elisha Odhiambo, Paul Abuor, Mark Nyamita and Phelix Odiwuor alias Jalang'o visited Ruto at State House.

The ODM party has kicked off the process of ejecting the rebels from the party, a move that could see them lose their seats.  By James Mbaka, The Star

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