From BRICS to BRAICS..? ALBA as a ‘Rising Power’ in Development.


Last week, I attended a seminar at the Institute for Development Studies at the University of Sussex – “How are the BRICS changing development“?

Some interesting points were raised (though typically of a lot of academic sessions, it started late, spent the first half discussing the methodology, scope, people etc. and then ran out of time actually talking about the interesting stuff – the findings!), but it got me mulling over something I hadn’t considered before…

Rising Powers?
On the surface the identification of the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) is based entirely on their recent increases in economic growth, and therefore their newfound ability to give aid and/or invest in developing countries…  However, the less immediate but more interesting reason for focusing on this group is that they are new powers, rising powers, and powers which don’t necessarily play by the same rules as the existing hegemony of US/EC donors.

A missing player – ALBA?
Seen through this prism – as a potentially new paradigm of aid… Then there is one very apparent “rising power” missing from the analysis – ALBA (the “Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas”, led primarily by Venezuela, and including Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and many Caribbean island-countries).

Of course ALBA is a regional-grouping, not a country.  And the amount of “aid” provided through Venezuelan Oil is probably a drop in the ocean compared to the amount of money being invested by China, but in terms of rising powers and new paradigms, ALBA is far more interesting than the BRICS countries.

The most interesting point raised in the Rising Powers seminar was that, while the aid-giving approach of the BRICS countries appears at first to be based on a new paradigm; in fact it is a return to a very traditional Western approach to aid – aid tried to trade and investment, a focus on the national interest od the donor-country, a reliance on the power of the market and so on.

Genuinely new paradigms
Compared to this, aid/investment through ALBA is based around a genuinely new paradigm of mutual co-operation, bi-directional transfer of products, a recognition of the value of skills/knowledge (for example in a well-known ALBA deal, Cuba provide medical expertise in exchange for subsidised oil).

Despite this, research and writings on BRICS countries are abundant; research into ALBA is sparse to say the least.  Is this because the information is harder to find?  Is it less interesting?  Or does it pose a gehuine challenge to the status-quo and dominance of Western powers that means nobody will provide the funding for the research..?

I for one would like to see a lot more of it!  BRAICS could be the acronym for the new set of rising powers… 🙂

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