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South Africa BRICS Presidency: Challenges and Future Perspectives

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Cyril Ramaphosa South Africa BRICS Presidency

By Kestér Kenn Klomegâh

The next year 2023, South Africa, as per stipulated approved guidelines and rules, will hold the rotating presidency of BRICS, the organization of five emerging developing countries made up of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. This implies that South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has a lot more at hand, especially with the current global geopolitical changes to drum home, to consolidate the growing support underway for a few others to join BRICS.

Ramaphosa has already reminded us that South Africa will hold the BRICS rotating presidency in 2023. “That BRICS summit next year under the chairship of South Africa, the matter of expanding BRICS is going to be under serious consideration. A number of countries are consistently making approaches to BRICS members, and we have given them the same answer that it will be discussed by the BRICS partners, and thereafter a collective decision will be made.” the president said this December.

Russia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov told the gathering at the Primakov Readings forum held this early December that the quintet of BRICS economies (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) may turn into an organization of 15-17 countries, not just enthusiasm but if those wishing to join it are granted membership based on two principles: have the necessary conditions and the collective decision of the organization.

Lavrov, in his presentation, traced the historical establishment and development of the organization. “We all know that this format [RIC – Russia, India, China] paved the way for the BRICS Five, which currently enjoys great publicity and many countries line up seeking a full-fledged membership,” Lavrov said.

“If we meet all bids, then the ‘five’ will turn into about 15-17 countries as the BRICS summit in June, which was organized in a video conference format by our Chinese colleagues, showed us,” the foreign minister noted, and further stressed that the RIC remains an operational format and not only foreign ministers, but ministers of economy, energy and economic development as well, are meeting within the framework of this format.

“The RIC keeps thriving today, and not many know that this ‘trio’ continues holding meetings at the level of foreign ministers,” Lavrov continued. “Just a couple of months ago, we held such a meeting in the online format, and it was the 20th meeting of this kind since [ex-Foreign Affairs Minister] Yevgeny (Primakov) proposed to keep developing this format.”

“Besides the meetings of foreign ministers, there are meetings of energy, trade and economic development ministers as well as of numerous industrial members of the corresponding governments,” the Russian foreign minister added.

“We have real partners – BRICS, the SCO, the EAEU, and the CSTO, regardless of what is written about it,” Lavrov stated. The top diplomat stated that the RIC structure (Russia, India, China), a Primakov initiative, “spawned the BRICS five, which currently receives enormous attention.” Several states are lined up for full membership, and the five could expand to roughly 15-17 countries, Lavrov added.

Russia’s local Vedomosti reported that the number of BRICS members might triple during the Primakov Readings forum. According to the report, organizations such as BRICS are becoming an alternative against the backdrop of the weakness of the European Union. The emphasis on cooperation with non-Western states appears to be even more warranted in light of Europe’s current problems. The United States and its closest allies’ unjust policy toward key EU members.

Berlin and Paris do not have complete autonomy in international politics; thus, they deliberately cede some of their foreign policy functions to Washington, according to Alexander Kamkin, a Senior Researcher at IMEMO. The expert admits that the European countries are capable of taking the initiative in a few circumstances, but on the whole, they follow Washington’s lead.

According to Andrey Kortunov, Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council, BRICS can provide countries with an alternate partnership path to the EU that does not require a high admission threshold. According to him, the group is now developing along two avenues: by admitting new members and by strengthening cooperation.

In the second case, additional countries will not be admitted to BRICS, but each organization’s partner will be able to choose a convenient mode of cooperation within the BRICS+ structure. Kortunov noted that the EU is unwilling to seek strategic autonomy from the US not only due to the Ukrainian crisis but China’s ascent.

The possibility of expanding membership in the organization is still under discussion within the BRICS framework. Noteworthy to reiterate here that a decision was made at the five BRICS members summit on June 23-24 to launch a discussion for the purposes of determining the principles, standards, criteria and procedures of this process.

China and Russia have been pushing for the expansion of BRICS, soliciting support for the multipolar system of global governance instead of the existing rules-based unipolar directed by the United States. Often explained that a bigger BRICS primarily offers huge opportunities among the group members and for developing countries.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said at a plenary session of the Valdai International Discussion Club held on October 27 reaffirmed Russia’s unshakable support for Saudi Arabia joining BRICS. “Yes, we support it, but this requires a consensus of all the BRICS countries,” he said.

According to him, Saudi Arabia is a rapidly developing country, which is due not only to its leading position in the hydrocarbon market. “This is also due to the fact that the Crown Prince, the government of Saudi Arabia, has very big plans for diversifying the economy, which is very important. They have entire national development plans designed for this goal,” the Russian President said.

He expressed confidence that, given the enthusiasm and creativity of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, these plans will be implemented. “Therefore, of course, Saudi Arabia deserves to be a member of major international organizations, such as the BRICS and such as the SCO. Most recently, we determined the status of Saudi Arabia in the SCO and will develop relations with this country both bilaterally and on multilateral platforms,” Putin added.

With the current global unstable and volatile situation creating skyrocketing uncertainties in global economic recovery, China has unreservedly shown its contribution to strengthening BRICS. For 16 years since its inception, China has offered the largest financial support for the BRICS National Development Bank and contributed tremendously to other directions, including health, education and economic collaboration among the group.

That is why BRICS has gained extensive recognition. More and more countries are willing and interested in becoming members of the organization, making joint efforts to overcome difficulties and challenges, and realising common development and prosperity. BRICS activities have expanded during the past few years. Countries participated in the Outreach and BRICS plus segments of the organization. But now, with the emerging new global order, BRICS seeks to expand its membership and consolidate its platform as an instrument for pushing against the existing rules-based order unipolar system.

BRICS activities have expanded during the past few years. Countries participated in the Outreach and BRICS plus segments of the organization. There are also a number of African countries, including Algeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Senegal, that have also shown interest. Egypt has already been involved for a fairly long time. Last December 2022, Egypt, the decision on its accession to the New Development Bank was made by BRICS.

Russia has consistently advocated for deepening the organization’s interaction with the African continent, the diplomat stressed. In particular, President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin mentioned this at an expanded meeting of leaders of the five BRICS member-states in the BRICS plus format on June 24. It is, however, expected that this avenue of efforts will get an extra impetus during the presidency period of South Africa in 2023.

On May 19, China’s State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi chaired a video conference dialogue between foreign ministers of BRICS countries and their counterparts from emerging economies and developing countries. It was the first BRICS Plus dialogue at the level of foreign ministers. Participants in the dialogue came from BRICS countries as well as invited countries such as Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Egypt, Indonesia, Nigeria, Senegal, United Arab Emirates and Thailand.

According to Wang Yi, the dialogue’s importance was to further expand cooperation between the BRICS countries and other emerging economies and developing countries. In addition, Wang Wenbin, during his weekly media briefing on October 20, explained that as the BRICS chair for this year, China has actively supported the BRICS in starting the membership expansion process and advanced the BRICS Plus cooperation.

During the 14th BRICS summit successfully held in June 2022, President Xi Jinping noted at the meeting that BRICS countries gather not in a closed club or an exclusive circle but in a big family of mutual support and a partnership for win-win cooperation. At the summit, BRICS leaders reached important common understandings about BRICS expansion and expressed support for discussion on the standards and procedures of the expansion.

“This has been well received in the international community, and many countries have expressed interest in joining the BRICS. China supports and welcomes this. Going forward, China will work with fellow BRICS members to steadily proceed with the BRICS expansion process and enable more partners to join this promising endeavour,” Wenbin said at the media briefing.

Despite its large population of 1.5 billion, which many have considered an impediment, China pursues admirable collaborative strategic diplomacy with external countries, and that has made it attain superpower status over Russia. A careful study and analysis monitored by this author vividly show that muscle-flexing Russia largely lacks public outreach diplomacy, Russia contributing towards its own ‘cancel culture’ policy, and this is seriously detrimental to the emerging new global order.

South Africa was a late minor addition to the group, to add a bridgehead to Africa, says Charles Robertson, Chief Economist at Renaissance Capital. All the BRICS countries are facing economic challenges that need addressing urgently. The BRICS is keenly aware of the importance of contributing to Africa’s development agenda.

“Therefore, it could expand because the BRICS are under-represented in the global financial architecture. Europe and the United States dominate institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, and to some extent many others,” explained Robertson in an emailed query.

According to him, “Russia and others in the BRICS would like to see larger power centres emerge to offer an alternative to that Western-dominated construct. That is reasonable enough – providing there are countries with the money to backstop the new institutions, such as China supporting the BRICS bank, and if the countries offer an alternative vision that provides benefits to new members.”

South African Ramaphosa has repeatedly said that BRICS as a dynamic group would usher in a new global development era that promises a system of more inclusive, sustainable and fair principles. BRICS group, in an expanded form, can support a sustainable and equitable global economic recovery.

For South Africa, Ramaphosa further believes that the BRICS is simply a highly-valuable platform fixed to strengthen ties with partner countries in support of South Africa’s economic growth for discussing global economic problems and challenges and, above all, strengthening the role of developing countries.

After his official visit to Saudi Arabia in mid-October, Ramaphosa said that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud had expressed the desire to join BRICS. “The Crown Prince did express Saudi Arabia’s desire to be part of BRICS. They are not the only country seeking membership in BRICS,” according to the local radio station ABC. That report said Argentina, Iran, Turkey and the UAE also voiced their intention to join the organization.

The BRICS embody a synergy of cultures and are a model of genuine multilateral diplomacy. Its structure is formed in compliance with the 21st century’s realities. Efforts within its framework are based on the principles of equality, mutual respect and justice.

Historically, the first meeting of the group began in St Petersburg in 2005. It was called RIC, which stood for Russia, India and China. Then later, Brazil joined and finally, South Africa in February 2011, which is why now it is referred to as BRICS. The acronym BRICS is derived from the member countries’ names in English. The BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) collectively represent about 26% of the world’s geographical area and about 42% of the world’s population.

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4 Methods of Meeting Customers At Their Pain Points Instead Of Just Selling

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customers pain points

Every business is founded to solve a customer problem, and the vast majority of products and services are designed to alleviate a specific customer pain point. But it is still important to let each customer know how their specific problems are being solved.

One of the best ways to build brand credibility is to understand a customer’s journey and build long-term relationships with them. In this article, we ask industry professionals how they meet the needs of their customers.

Build engagement with customers

It’s no secret that we live in a time of unprecedented technological acceleration. Nowhere is that more true than in the customer experience space. Things that, ten years ago, seemed completely impossible are now commonplace and almost expected.

“Many organisations want to make changes in line with accelerations in technology and customer experiences, but the range of options available out there stops them from even starting, or worse, they settle for an option that they deem to be “good enough,” comments Brent Haumann, Managing Director at a digital communications firm, Tilte.

Importantly, however, is that as technology accelerates, so do customer expectations, and what was considered good enough yesterday is not good enough for tomorrow. It is critical that organisations aim to meet and even exceed these expectations because if they don’t, their competitors will happily oblige.

“The problem is that engaging customers is not about sending an email or introducing a chatbot.” Anyone can do that. It’s about how to get your customers to actually engage with your brand and build a loyal relationship that will see their customer lifetime value grow. This is a lot more difficult and requires expertise in these spaces.” concludes  Haumann

Enhance the user experience

While the use of technology to streamline customer-facing processes is an integral part of SME growth, the user experience of such technology can often become a pain point for the business if the right tool is not chosen.

“While SMEs need technology to reduce manual tasks and automate repetitive processes, complicated software packages and platforms can be more of a hindrance than a help. “In fact, as many as 70% of startups fail within the first five years, according to research from the University of the Western Cape, because they don’t have the technical support they need to get the basics done,” says Andrew Bourne, Regional Manager, Africa – Zoho Corporation.

Integrated, seamless solutions need to meet the needs of the user, regardless of the scale of the business. This means having a full-featured Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system that will improve the user experience and enhance customer service.

Provide access across borders

It’s no secret that mobile money has revolutionised the financial services industry, allowing individuals to transact within and across borders – opening up a world of possibility for small business owners on the continent.

However, consumer pain points such as a lack of access to financial services, high transaction costs, and regulatory requirements still hurt interoperability and the cross-border payments innovations that are key for scaling access across Africa.

Remittances, for example, are important to African countries, but the cost of intra-African money transfers still remains high. In South Africa, the average cost of sending remittances was 8.14% in 2020 as against the global average remittance fee of 6.01%. Not only are billions lost to high transaction costs, but they also limit financial inclusion and aid to the vulnerable.

MFS Africa has been driving the next step in this revolution, addressing this pain point by bringing more possibilities, more connections and more interoperability to the mobile money user. The organisation’s full-service digital payments network now connects over 400 million mobile money wallets, over 200 million bank accounts and over 150,000 agents in Nigeria.

Harness technology to enhance the experience

“Solving the customer’s pain point is the foundation of a great customer experience. And experience is everything. We know that more consumers and business buyers are noting that the experience companies offer matters as much as their products.” says Zuko Mdwaba, Area Vice President Salesforce South Africa

This is all about meeting the customer where they are. Today, customers’ use of social media, knowledge bases, and live chat is near parity with phone and email. With the decline of in-person service since 2020 showing little sign of recovery, the use of mobile apps, online communities, and video support have seen massive expansion over the past two years.

Mdwaba continues that “Given the rising importance of digital channels, strengthening partnerships between service and IT departments is often key to breaking down data silos, saving on software cost, agent empowerment and resulting in faster time-to-market for new technology solutions.”

By investing in advanced technology, organisations can address customer pain points effectively to achieve greater customer satisfaction, which ultimately boosts engagement and revenue.

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AFRIGO: How The New Domestic Card By CBN Will Drive SME Growth

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AFRIGO

By Otori Emmanuel

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), in conjunction with the Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System Plc (NIBSS), recently introduced the card scheme known as AFRIGO.

In order to enable cardholders to use their payment cards to make purchases and access cash at businesses around the world, payment networks and financial institutions form a system known as a card scheme. The widely used card schemes are Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and Discover.

These schemes develop standards and processes for card issuance, authorization, and security, among other things, to ensure a simple and secure experience for both cardholders and merchants. AFRIGO was launched on January 26, 2023, to unify all banking technologies in one card, like UnionPay of China, RuPay of India, etc.

AFRIGO is believed to address the core difficulties by releasing foreign exchange reserves and promoting easy cross-border trade in the wake of the economic crisis in Nigeria.

AFRIGO will address the drawbacks of previous card systems like Mastercard. The central bank of Nigeria (CBN) anticipates that AFRIGO will lessen the costs connected with the existing card systems and the requirement for keeping multiple cards by paying with local currency.

The CBN believes that the data kept on each AFRIGO card will help to improve the economy by reducing laundering.

Furthermore, through data sovereignty, AFRIGO seeks to shield customers from the monopolistic regulations of international card schemes.

Nigeria’s AFRIGO card scheme seeks to give both consumers and businesses a safe and practical way to make payments. In order to provide a widely used and effective form of electronic payment in place of conventional cash transactions, this system was created. To accommodate varied consumers’ demands, the Afrigo card scheme offers a range of payment methods, including debit cards, credit cards, and prepaid cards.

Also, it makes it possible for users to transact both domestically and globally, which facilitates business operations and financial management for users. Afrigo’s overarching goal is to foster financial inclusion and spur economic development in Nigeria by offering a safe and convenient payment mechanism.

Ease of Commerce

The new domestic card initiative from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) aims to improve small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) access to financial services by providing them with a more straightforward and safe method of handling payments. Safe payment methods increase client loyalty and buy their faith, helping businesses expand.

Foreign Exchange Control

AFRIGO will help balance the fluctuations in the rate of exchange during a trade. This domestic card scheme will help in the seamless importation and exportation of products as well as prevent the continual increase in commodity prices brought on by fluctuations in foreign exchange rates. Customers’ perception that they are being exploited has made it difficult for SMEs over time to gain their loyalty.

Financial Inclusion

The CBN considers that because many Nigerians don’t hold cards, they haven’t kept up with financial improvements throughout time. AFRIGO would promote the adoption of many cards in a less expensive and cashless way. This can support the expansion of SMEs by lowering their dependency on cash transactions and increasing their capacity to participate in the formal economy.

In essence, the AFRIGO card scheme intends to reduce expenses, gain data sovereignty, and address foreign exchange problems, all of which, when implemented, have a triple positive impact on the growth of SMEs. The CBN has accomplished a great deal, and AFRIGO’s status as the continent’s first project of its kind is commendable. In general, the new domestic card from the CBN might give Nigerian SME growth a much-needed boost.

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Militarized PAP: Nengi and Suspended Students

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Alabo Nengi

By Jerome-Mario-Chijioke Utomi

If there is any action in recent weeks that glaringly confirm as true the words of Alabo Nengi, 2nd National Vice President, Ijaw National Congress (INC), that the Presidential Amnesty Program (PAP) is failing in its responsibilities because it was executed with militarization, rather than with civilization, it is the widely circulated statement signed by Mr Freston Akpor, Special Assistant on Media to the Interim Coordinator of PAP, Major-General Barry Ndiomu (Retd), announcing the suspension of two amnesty scholarship beneficiaries identified as Patrick Ipidei and Papems Peter Etolor.

The referenced statement said in part, “The Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) has suspended two students from its scholarship scheme over what it described as making spurious allegations against the leadership of the programme.

“We have received alarming reports of the horrendous activities of Messrs Patrick Ipidei and Papems Peter Etolor, two students under the ongoing PAP scholarship scheme.

“Ipidei and Etolo had over time cultivated the habit of spreading falsehood and making spurious allegations against the management of the PAP and its Interim Administrator, Barry Ndiomu.”

While the amnesty letter announcing the suspension of the two scholarship beneficiaries was circulated on Saturday, Nengi’s words on the marble were on its part, delivered on Tuesday, November 29, 2022, at BON Hotel, Warri, Delta state, where he presented a paper, during a Niger Delta Economic Discourse Series put together by the management of GbaramatuVoice Newspaper, Warri with the theme Presidential Amnesty Programme and Modular Refineries: Towards Sustainable Human Capital Development.

On that day, at that time and in that place, Nengi, among other things, stated that the amnesty program was a presidential policy that was executed with militarization rather than with civilianization. The program was poorly handled by military elements, which lacked the capacity for mediation.

Stakeholders were not given enough opportunities through the post-amnesty conference to discuss the best ways to implement the amnesty program. The presidential amnesty office lacks the personnel with the requisite skills set to manage the amnesty program.

Regrettably, the presidential amnesty proclamation, he continued, did not factor in mediation and conflict transformation. This is the sequel to the poor strategic conflict assessment of the Niger Delta struggle.

Amnesty is no instrument for conflict resolution or conflict management. Amnesty is a general pardon of offence by the government. It is a deliberate overlooking of offences against a government. It is a pardon to release criminally culpable persons from the just punishment of the law. This explains why Asari Dokubo refused the amnesty offer and challenged its constitutionality in an Abuja High Court on behalf of himself and members of the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force and People’s Salvation Front, respectively. Amnesty declaration without negotiation cannot deliver peace dynamics in a crisis situation, he concluded.

For me, when one juxtaposes Nengi’s words with the quoted portion of the suspension letter by PAP, it elicits the following questions; if not a militarized government, what stopped PAP leadership from telling the world spurious allegations against the leadership of the programme? If not a militarized environment, what else shall we call an agency that suspends students without a fair hearing? If not an environment that is devoid of legitimate and democratic ethos, how shall we address an institution that frowns at citizens’ freedom of expression and makes no provision for questioning by stakeholders?

Even if an answer(s) is provided to the above questions, this piece believes and still believes that it will not in any appreciable way erase the feeling among stakeholders that PAP has become an agency where issues, controversies, half-truths and inefficiencies have completely spread their wings.

There are particulars that support the above claims, and they are embedded in the remaining part of Mr Nengi’s paper as presented at the event.

First, he remarked that the PAP had failed to address the fundamentals of the Niger Delta struggle. The rapid development of the region, as promised, has proven to be a mere political slogan. The three pillars of the amnesty program: disarmament, rehabilitation and reintegration, are not faithfully, efficiently, and effectively implemented 13 years after the presidential proclamation. The beneficiaries of the amnesty program appear to be more victims of political deceit and manipulation.

Secondly, the disarmament phase of the amnesty program created a peaceful environment for the rapid development of the Niger Delta and the rehabilitation and reintegration of the amnesty beneficiaries.

But the federal government lacks the political will to implement the amnesty packages. There was no international guarantee of an independent mediator between the federal government and the people of the Niger Delta concerning the implementation of amnesty.

Thirdly, mediation, according to him, is a special form of negotiation in which a neutral third party has a role. Mediation is a veritable conflict management tool for the settlement of disputes and conflict situations. The amnesty proclamation had not culminated in conflict transformation. The poor implementation of the amnesty program is a “time bomb” that may explode if the program is terminated chaotically. The aim of conflict transformation is to change the parties, their relationship, and the conditions that created the conflict, he concluded.

Niger Delta politicians, activists and others of Ijaw extractions; should be guided by the provisions of the Kaiama Declaration of December 1998; and focus on the fundamentals of the struggle inherited from our revolutionary ancestry. The fundamentals of the struggle are resource control and ownership. The amnesty program offers us opportunities to re-strategize and negotiate with the federal government from a position of strength.

As to the way out of this present lock jam, Nengi offered PAP handlers some useful roadmaps.

Beginning with negotiation, he called for an urgent need to constitute a negotiation to negotiate with the federal government on how best to implement the marshal plan for the rapid development of the region. This, according to him, should be followed by a high-powered delegation which must be sent to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria: for the purpose of implementing the core recommendations of the Ledium Mitee Presidential Technical Committee on the Niger Delta

In addition to the above, he emphasized that the process for upward review of the derivation formula enshrined in section 162 (2) of the 1999 constitution, as amended, be pursued through a bipartisan approach from the Revenue mobilization, allocation and fiscal commission, to the presidency and all amnesty beneficiaries should be gainfully employed or adequately empowered, before the program be allowed to wind up.

While noting that the amnesty program had become a cesspool of corruption, he called for the rehabilitation and reintegration phase of the amnesty program, which should be approached with utmost seriousness and professionalism. The activists, pressure groups, political leaders etc., according to him, should convene post-amnesty conferences and issue communiqués. This will intellectualize the struggle and make it a national discourse for answers to the Niger Delta question.

He finally brought to the fore the fact that in some instances, monies for the boys are reduced to a very small amount of money; that is, from N65,000 to about N30,000 and N40,000, an act carried out in collaboration between banks and leaders of various camps, and, therefore, recommended that monies belonging to the boys should be paid directly to boys without short-changing the true owners who are bearing the said names.

This piece totally agrees with the following recommendations.

Utomi Jerome-Mario is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Policy) of Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He can be reached via jeromeutomi@yahoo.com/08032725374

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