Uppsala (Sweden), June 26 (IANS) It was a week of Africa in this historic Swedish university town of castles, cathedrals and itinerant scholars.
With the African continent's economy predicted to grow at the rate of around six percent next year, hundreds of experts and researchers gathered here mid-summer to re-script the unfolding narrative of Afro-optimism that is set to reconfigure the emerging geography of power in the emerging world order.
There were rock bands and photo exhibitions celebrating African resurgence and experts sat in the stately Ekonomikum of Uppsala University discussing topics ranging from aid politics to the changing ideas of citizenship in Africa.
The Nordic Africa Institute, a preeminent think-tank in this region, brought together experts from each of the five BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and now South Africa) mid-June to discuss the implications of the rise of BRICS for a renascent African continent.
China has multiplied its trade with Africa from $3.5 billion in 1990 to over $108 billion in 2010. India's trade with Africa is estimated to be $45 billion; Brazil's trade is pegged at around $16 billion; and Russia's bilateral trade is around $10-12 billion.
Africa has become 'a vital market' to the original BRIC (minus South Africa that joined in April) , which increased its trade with the continent from merely $3.5 billion in 2000 to $166 billion in 2008, according to Goolam Ballim, group economist at Standard Bank.
While each BRICS country has varying motivations and even competing ambitions for engaging Africa, there is an increasing realisation that the emerging powers provide alternative investment and development paradigms for the African continent.
BRICS presents a powerful challenge to the US and traditional Western donors and partners, some of them former colonialists, who have dominated the continent through the IMF-World Bank combine and their prescriptive aid policies, many discussants noted.
Unlike western countries, BRICS countries do not impose conditions on doing business with Africa. BRIC countries also like to believe that their investments in Africa are development-oriented and are done within the framework of the South-South cooperation.
BRICS countries' engagement can potentially outline how South-South cooperation can be done differently and outside the neo-colonial framework, says Dr Fantu Cheru, the co-editor of 'The Rise of China and India in Africa'.
Not all agree with this view though, with many critics targeting China as a mercantilist power pursuing resources, markets, and big power ambitions in the African continent.
BRICS countries believe that there is a cluster of long-term strategic goals that bind them and Africa. The reform of political, security and economic institutions of global governance is the professed goal of BRIC countries and they know that they can't achieve this without getting Africa on board.
As the process of reform of the UN Security Council gathers momentum in New York, the spotlight will be on Africa's position. Other areas where BRICS countries can make a difference in Africa include food and energy security; poverty reduction; and inclusive growth.
Each of the BRICS countries has core competence in different sectors they can help Africa develop, it was pointed out. India leads in IT, Russia is an acknowledged space power, China is a leader in green technologies, and Brazil has broken fresh ground in agriculture-related innovations.
'If you were to think about Africa collectively, and consider it in the same framework that informs our 2050 scenarios for the Bric, next 11 and other major economies, you would see an economy as big as some of the Brics,' says Jim O'Neill, aGoldman Sachs economist who coined the acronym BRIC to denote the world's fastest growing economies.
BRICS - it's part of bricolage, an improvisatory evolving process that is recasting the world order, says James Mittelman, the author of 'The Globalisation Syndrome' and a professor of international relations at American University who participated in the conference.
India's second summit with Africa in Addis Ababa last month shows the possibilities of partnering Africa in its ongoing resurgence. At the summit, India unveiled a $5.7 billion package for setting up over 80 training institutions, putting the spotlight on the development of Africa's most precious resource - its over one billion people, with nearly half of them young and restless to make it in a globalised world.
(Manish Chand can be contacted at email@example.com)