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In this essay, the author argues that, for Africa and the global South, the BRICS countries offer a promising tangible alternative to the declining Western powers and their institutions of global economic and political governance. 

Uganda’s experience since independence

Uganda became “independent” in October 1962. In October 1969, President Obote announced the “Common Man’s Charter” as a set of “First Steps for Uganda to Move to the Left” – not, if I may add, “ultra-left” but “centre-left”.  Obote was a nationalist. He argued that the country’s resources were needed to develop the people of Uganda. In May 1970, he nationalised 85 private enterprises, including the three British banks, which, directly or indirectly, controlled some 80 percent of commercial assets in Uganda. Obote promised to compensate them. But this was not enough for the British Empire. On 25 January 1971, Obote was removed from power by a military coup engineered by Britain and Israel – a fact whose evidence is now available in public documents.

That was my first real-time experience of neo-colonial imperialism. I was then still a young radical nationalist … and naïve. I had helped Obote draft the “Common Man’s Charter”, and had imagined that political independence opened the doors to economic independence. It is possible that Obote, though a very astute and mature nationalist, had thought the same. We were both wrong. Britain and Israel took advantage of ethnic and historical divisions among the people and leadership of Uganda, carried out a “regime change” using Uganda’s army, and restored British control over Uganda’s resources and economy.

As for my family and I, we were forced out of Uganda by the military regime of Idi Amin. I joined the democratic struggle against Amin’s brutal regime. In 1979, eight years after Amin’s installation into power, he was ousted by the combined action of Tanzanian and Uganda guerrilla forces. I went back to Uganda, now as member of the Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF). In May 1980, there was yet another military coup – backed by underhand imperial forces – that ousted the UNLF government. I was forced into my second political exile.

I will not go further into this story. The point is made. Uganda is a small country, physically almost the same size as England. But England controlled the destiny of Uganda – of course not without resistance from the people of Uganda. But it is a struggle. After the Second World War, British imperialism was replaced by the collective imperialism of Europe over Africa. Europe has used the threat of trade sanctions to force on the East African Community an unequal treaty – the Economic Partnership Agreement – that would seriously damage East Africa’s prospect for industrialisation.

But now – to make a point to connect with the main thesis of this paper - the rise of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) gives Uganda and Africa options to attempt to decouple from the Anglo-American Empire.

Strategic distinction between primary and secondary contradictions

In the brief experience narrated above, one major theme comes to the fore. It is the distinction between primary and secondary contradictions. It is a strategic distinction. “Strategic”, because it relates a long term planning, which guides the immediate to short term “tactics” of the struggle. Africa’s principal contradiction is with the Anglo-American Empire. Russia and China might become “imperialist” in relation to Africa. They might; but for now they are “tactical” allies of Africa.

Africa’s struggle for political independence was a long struggle and was won mainly because people subordinated their inter-ethnic and inter-class “secondary” differences in order to fight the principal enemy – the European imperial powers. In this struggle – for some 30 years, and in the case of South Africa, nearly 50 years – the Soviet Union and China were “tactical” allies. They provided diplomatic support (for example, in the United Nations) as well as military support to Africa.

Did the working classes of Europe and America come to our support in Africa?  No, they did not. Coming to the present, the working classes in Europe and America are NOT our “tactical” (let alone “strategic”) allies in our struggle against Euro-American military and economic domination of the continent. The Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs), for example, benefit the working classes of Europe just as they benefit their corporations. Consciously or unconsciously, the workers and capitalists in Europe and the West are in cahoots to exploit African working classes, and oppress African nations as nations. (There is no space in this short paper to clarify the distinction between “exploitation” and “oppression”). 

Within the United Kingdom and France, the working classes are fighting against their capitalist exploiters. But when it comes to receiving “refugees” from Africa and the Middle East – victims of military interventions by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) – the working classes do not have an ounce of “proletarian consciousness” to open the doors to these victims of imperial invasions.  If anything, they are more likely to join neo-fascist populist political parties to shut the doors to the “migrants” and “refugees” that are trying to escape from the tyranny of imperial military interventions.

Whose capital, whose state?

There is much confusion on this important issue. Let us take two examples from Africa – Kenya and South Africa.

Let us look at Kenya’s industry first. Here are a few examples. [[i]]

  • CMC Motors Group Limited is in automobile business owned by CMC Holdings Limited. In 2014, it was acquired by the Al-Futtaim Group, which is a large conglomerate operating in the United Arab Emirates, and is now not only in automobiles, but also in property development
  • East African Breweries, whose majority shareowner is Diage Public Limited Company – a British multinational alcoholic beverages company, the world’s second largest distiller with headquarters in London.
  • Eveready East Africa is an affiliate of the American Eveready Battery Company. In addition to manufacturing and marketing batteries, it also distributes a wide range of products such as shaving razors, blades and accessories under brand name Schick and Clorox household products.
  • KenolKobil Limited is a downstream oil company, owned by Kobil Petroleum Limited, Delaware, USA. In 2008 Kenol acquired 100 percent shareholding of Kobil Petroleum Limited, hence the current company name KenolKobil. The group’s operations span seven countries across Eastern, Central and Southern Africa and encompass the supply, storage, distribution and retail of a wide range of petroleum products.
  • The Industrial and Commercial Development Corporation is a Kenya government-owned parastatal whose primary objective is to facilitate the investments in the economy and provide financing to businesses and manufacturers. However, you have to look at its sources of funds, for most of it is owned by foreign investors and banks.

Let us turn to South Africa.

In a piece I wrote for Pambazuka News on 31 August 2017, I argued:

“Briefly stated, my view is that it is not in the parliament or even in the ANC where the real problem (or its solution) lies. In other words, even if President Zuma were to leave (and replaced by say Cyril Ramaphosa), the country is nowhere near getting out of its political crisis.  Why not? It is because the problem lies, essentially, in the captured polity of the South African state and economy.  This has deep historical and systemic roots…”[[ii]].

In this piece I also referred to my debate in the 1970s with Joe Slovo – for a long time the leading Marxist theorist in the South African Communist Party. Joe maintained that the capital in South Africa was South African, owned by global capitalists but only temporarily.  Once apartheid was defeated, this capital would be nationalised. I agreed that the capital should be nationalised, but contended that this was not such an easy matter as Joe seemed to suggest, because that capital was not “South African”, as he contended, but imperial capital, owned and controlled mainly by British and American banking and industrial corporations.   

The liberation from apartheid was only the first step. The next step was to tackle the challenge of imperialism. The “independent” government inaugurated the Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) programme. Up to a point the imperialist capital played ball by offering shareholding (and even selling off minor assets) to Africans, including, for example, Cyril Ramaphosa. But the BEE is nowhere near creating “national” capital. In fact, according to my analysis, there is really very little “national capital” in South Africa.

Now that Ramaphosa has taken over from Zuma, as the President (as I anticipated in August 2017), let us see if he can tackle the imperialist capital. In my view he is seriously handicapped, precisely because he is now part of not “national” but global capital.  He partly “owns” McDonald’s South Africa, and on the board for MTN and Lonmin, formerly the mining division of Lonrho and listed on the London Stock Exchange. In other words, Ramaphosa has been “compradorialised”. [[iii]] His estimated net worth is over R6.4 billion (US $550 million) as of 2018. [[iv]]

I said that Ramaphosa is now part of not “national” but global capital. However, I would maintain that politically he is a “nationalist” and has always been. It is in the economic domain that he is compromised.  The question is: would his political identity overcome his compradorial identity?   On 20 December 2017, he guided the African National Congress (ANC) to adopt a resolution calling for the nationalisation of the central bank and land expropriation without compensation.  This is a blatant confrontation with imperial capital. Mugabe had succeeded in his nationalisation of land, but he lacked a strategy to follow through partly, I would suggest, because the ruling party – Zimbabwe African National Union – was never a vanguard party.

The ANC is also not a vanguard party. 

The question is: Can South Africa learn from the experience of China?  Can it find support from BRICS?

BRICS Summit in South Africa

Some comrades advocate “Bricks from below thrown at BRICS from above”. [[v]] But that is a gimmicky hyperbole, which lacks any understanding of strategy and tactics in the larger geopolitical context and contradictions. I have no wish to engage in this debate again. [[vi]]

Before we get to BRICS, there is an important issue that we must address – that of imperialism. Imperialism is a historical phenomenon created during the rise of capitalism and its by-product, colonialism. China and India traded with Africa for a thousand years but never colonised Africa. There are undoubtedly asymmetrical power relations between China and African countries, just as there are asymmetrical power relations between the US and Europe. But in terms of their relationship, the US does not have imperial relations with, for example, the United Kingdom. In the same vein, Chinese (and Russian and Indian) relations with Africa are not imperial, nor sub-imperial. 

To repeat a point made earlier, for some 30 years, and in the case of South Africa, nearly 50 years – the Soviet Union and China provided diplomatic as well as military support to Africa to fight against imperialism and apartheid. Western imperialism at all levels – political, economic and military – is still the principal enemy of the people of Africa.

The New Development Bank: An alternative to OECD and the World Bank

The theme of the 2018 BRICS Summit was “BRICS in Africa”. Perhaps the most important issue discussed was the BRICS New Development Bank (NDB) – a bank of the global South, one without the OECD members (OECD = Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). The OECD was founded in 1960 to stimulate development – in particular in the global South. The facts on the ground belie its promises. Let us be clear: the OECD is a Euro-American imperial instrument of domination and “underdevelopment”. [[vii]] The only members outside the Euro-American geographic sphere are Chile and Turkey. It is interesting to note that Turkey was the only OECD country present at the tenth BRICS Summit; Turkey may be aspiring to break from the OECD and also NATO, and join BRICS.  

The World Bank (the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) is one of the Bretton Woods institutions founded in 1944. It too is essentially a Euro-American imperial institution committed not to development but “underdevelopment” of the countries of the South. There are exceptions in the North such as Greece that has become a virtual colony of the “Troika” – namely, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Commission and the European Central Bank. [[viii]]

The BRICS NDB is based on a different set of principles than those of the OECD and the World Bank.  There is no space to go into this in detail, but a couple of points need to be mentioned.

The 1973–75 recession was a period of economic stagnation in much of the Western economies. By contrast Russia, China and India managed to survive; not only that but they also rapidly developed in the ensuing years. It is interesting that in 2014, BRICS made up for 21.2 percent of the world gross domestic product, but only 11.04 percent of the IMF’s voting rights. Ergo, BRICS was obliged to create its own development bank given the hostile environment of the Western-dominated global financial and development institutions.

BRICS NDB is founded on different principles from those of the WB and the IMF. Two of these principles are notable. One: unlike the WB/IMF, the NDB does not impose austerity measures on the borrowing countries. [[ix]] The NDB allows considerable policy autonomy to the borrowing countries. Two: unlike the IMF/WB, the NDB lends money to the borrowing countries of the South with a view to investing back in those countries for long-term development goals. [[x]]

Summary of the argument and conclusions

In order to properly understand the historic significance of the rise of BRICS, you need not only to locate the rise of BRICS in its proper geopolitical context, but also to challenge some of the basic analytical tools used by the “Ultra Left”. Their analytical tools are essentially unhistorical and Eurocentric.

In this paper, I drew upon my experience in Uganda since independence to show that the Western Empire remains the dominant player in the political-economy of African neo-colonies, and to make the strategic distinction between primary and secondary contradictions without which you cannot work out a long term strategy not short to immediate term tactics of the struggle.

Africa’s principal contradiction is with the Anglo-American Empire. Russia and China might become “imperialist” in relation to Africa. They might, but for now they are “tactical” allies of Africa. In this struggle – for some 30 years, and in the case of South Africa, nearly 50 years – the Soviet Union and China were “tactical” allies. They provided diplomatic as well as military support to Africa.

The working classes in Europe and America are NOT Africa’s allies in our struggle against Euro-American military and economic domination.  I gave the example of African peoples’ struggle against the EPAs, which benefit the working classes of Europe just as they benefit their corporations. If anything, the workers are more likely to join neo-fascist populist political parties to shut the doors to the “migrants” and “refugees” trying to escape from the tyranny of imperial military interventions. The workers and capitalists in the Empire are in cahoots to exploit African working classes, and oppress African nations as nations. The concept of the so-called “unity of the world proletariat” must be challenged, even – indeed especially – if you are a Marxist. Marxism is a living science, not a dead Eurocentric dogma.

On the section on “whose capital, whose state?” I drew on the examples of Kenya and South Africa to show that these are in essence neo-colonial states whose citizens do not own or control the resources of the country.  These are effectively owned and controlled by the financial and industrial imperial corporations. South Africa’s BEE programme did not lead to the creation of “national capital”.  Cyril Ramaphosa may hold a big pot of gold courtesy of the imperial capital, and is – at the economic level – compradorialised.  I do not know him too well, but in my few meetings with him, I know that he is – at the political level – a “nationalist”. Which particular identity – comprador or nationalist – will triumph is for the future to tell.

Coming to the 2018 BRICS summit in South Africa, I focused on BRICS NDB, and drew a sharp contrast between the principles of the NDB and those of the OECD and the Bretton Woods institutions. The NDB definitely offers a positive alternative to OECD and the World Bank.

People may hedge their bets between the US and China. The USA, though declining, is an economic – but more significantly military – powerhouse.  But as “little” North Korea has shown, the “giant” United States is a paper tiger. [[xi]] Most objective analysts of the global geopolitical shift know that with all the economic and military might, the US is a waning power and China a rising power.

I would conclude this essay by laying down my case that for Africa and the global South, BRICS offers a promising tangible alternative to the declining Western powers and their institutions of global economic and political governance. These have lost their credibility and legitimacy.

As for the “Ultra-Left” comrades, you may throw bricks at BRICS but these will land, surely, on your own feet.


* Professor Yash Tandon is from Uganda and has worked at many different levels as an academic, a teacher, a political thinker, a rural development worker, a civil society activist, and an institution builder.



[i] For a more extensive list both in agriculture as well as industry, see: Yash Tandon, “Reflections on Kenya: Whose capital, Whose State?” accessed on 6 August 2018

[iii] A comprador is a person who essentially works for global financial and industrial (i.e. imperial) capital.

[v] See: BRICS Politricks new subimperial power plays: A brics-from-below reader for the Johannesburg Teach-On 23-24 July 2018.

[vi] See my piece “On sub-imperialism and BRICS-bashing”, accessed on 6 August 2018

[vii] I put the word “underdevelopment” in inverted commas as a reference to the underdevelopment or “Dependency theory”. It is a theory argued by critics of the mainstream economic theory. They argue that resources flow from the “periphery” of poor and underdeveloped global South to the rich countries of the North, further enriching the latter at the expense of the former. Take note that this concept is absent from the vocabulary of the Ultra-Left.

[viii]  See: Yanis Varoufakis (2017), Adults in the Room: My Battle with the European My Battle With Europe’s Deep Establishment, London: Vintage

[ix] Austerity measures refer to the conditionalities the IMF and the World Bank impose on the borrowing countries – such as budget deficits through spending cuts, tax increases, privatisation of state-owned assets, and opening up the domestic market to external global corporations

[x] For further analysis of the BRICS’ NDB, see Riaz Tayob, Lecture on New Development Bank at the BRICS meeting, July 2018 accessed on 6 August 2018.

[xi] For a more detailed analysis, see: Yash Tandon, “Lessons Africa can learn from North Korea”. accessed on 6 August 2018


Comments (1)

  • gibson.ampaw's picture

    Professor its you who 8s the ultra leftist. What's your alternative ? More communism

    Aug 13, 2018