The World Today for September 18, 2023

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The Power in Numbers


An economist from Goldman Sachs coined the term BRICS in 2001 as an acronym for Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. As the Library of Congress described it, these developing countries were becoming more important to the global economic order at the time.

Twenty-two years later, the BRICS club is adding six new countries – Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. But the jury is still out on whether those members of BRICS other than China have gained standing worldwide.

That doesn’t mean they aren’t trying, though.

As Washington Post columnist Ishaan Tharoor wrote, BRICS members are seeking to replace the US-dominated world order or at least increase their clout. From their perspective, they have little choice in the matter if they want to flourish.

The BRICS group’s agenda is not absurd, either, analysts added. Together, for instance, the 10 members’ gross domestic product surpasses that of the seven most advanced industrial democracies, noted geopolitical strategist Ian Bremmer in Nikkei Asia. The countries also have deeply interconnected economic and political links, added the New York Times.

However, some BRICS members – think Egypt and Saudi Arabia – also depend on the US economically and militarily. Furthermore, as CNBC reported, Russia has suffered mightily for challenging the West since invading Ukraine, suffering crippling sanctions and military setbacks due to American and European military support for the Ukrainians.

Debates within the BRICS group about dumping the American dollar for alternative currencies are representative of the hurdles that the organization faces. The widespread use of the US currency in world trade is a cornerstone of the world order. BRICS countries often use the greenback rather than their own currencies because dollars are more liquid than, say, the Ethiopian birr.

Doing so gives the US a strategic advantage worldwide, however. The US can print highly valuable dollars whenever it wants. The problem for BRICS members is that they are highly vulnerable to increases and decreases in the dollar’s value, interest rate hikes and cuts, and other policies with far-reaching consequences made in faraway Washington, DC.

India and the UAE recently decided to trade in Indian rupees rather than dollars to bypass this situation, for example, reported the Hindu.

It won’t be so easy to ditch the dollar, however, Al Jazeera warned. BRICS doesn’t have a single central bank nor do its members share legal or financial systems. Most importantly, it would be hard to create a new, widely used currency that isn’t tied to China, the largest BRICS economy. BRICS members don’t necessarily want to trade their dependence on the US for reliance on China.

Still, they are talking and thinking about it.


Shoring Up


Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger signed a mutual defense pact over the weekend, pledging to help each other against armed rebellions and external aggression in the wake of coups in each of the three countries, Al Jazeera reported.

Known as the Alliance of Sahel States, the pact binds the signatory parties – all three ruled by military governments – to assist each other in the event of an attack on any one of them.

Malian officials said the alliance will be “a combination of military and economic efforts” between them, adding that their top priority is to fight terrorism.

The security situation in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger is dismal: The Sahel region has been grappling with armed rebellions and Islamist insurgents for more than a decade.

All three states were members of the France-backed G5 Sahel Alliance Joint Force with Chad and Mauritania, launched in 2017 to tackle armed groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State groups.

But since 2020, the same three countries have suffered coups, with Niger the most recent to experience a military takeover.

The Economic Community of West African States regional bloc has warned it would intervene militarily in Niger if the military government doesn’t relinquish power.

Mali and Burkina Faso have warned that such intervention would amount to a “declaration of war” against them, too.

Meanwhile, relations between the three Sahel countries and France have deteriorated following the takeovers. France has withdrawn its troops from Mali and Burkina Faso, and currently remains in a tense standoff with Niger’s military government.

On Friday, French President Emmanuel Macron said France’s ambassador to Niger is “literally being held hostage at the French embassy,” CNN noted.

Following their July coup, Niger’s junta ordered France to withdraw its troops and its ambassador – although Paris has refused to recognize the new military authority.

Open and Shut


The Dominican Republic closed its bother with Haiti this week amid a dispute over access to a river shared between the neighboring Caribbean nations, a decision that could exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in Haiti, the New York Times reported.

Both countries have been recently embroiled in a row over construction in the Dajabón River, also known as the Massacre River, that traverses both countries.

Dominican Republic President Luis Abinader said the excavation of a canal on the river in Haiti would harm Dominican farmers. Last week, he froze Haitian visas and warned he would close the 224-mile border if the two sides did not reach an agreement.

Negotiations between representatives of both countries failed to resolve the issue last week, prompting Abinader to announce the shuttering of the border on Friday morning.

Following the failed talks and Abinader’s move, the Haitian government countered that it had “the full right” to access the Massacre River.

The river – named for a bloody battle between Spanish and French colonizers in the 18th century – has long been a source of tension between the two nations: It was the site of a 1937 massacre ordered by the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo that killed thousands of Haitians.

In 2021, both Haiti and the Dominican Republic recognized a 1929 agreement affirming their shared rights to access the river’s water.

The border closure comes as Haiti grapples with starvation and growing insecurity from armed gangs. Observers and United Nations officials cautioned that the move could worsen the economic turmoil in Haiti, which imports more than a quarter of its goods from the Dominican Republic.

Others noted that the closed border would also hurt the Dominican Republic, which relies on Haitian laborers and Haiti as an export market.

The Dominican Republic temporarily shut its border with Haiti after the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021. Since then, Abinader has occasionally closed sections of the border and has also initiated the construction of a border wall in response to rising violence in Haiti, in an effort to curb weapon smuggling and illegal border crossings.

Getting Loud


Thousands of supporters of a pro-Russian opposition party marched in the Czech capital Prague Saturday to protest the country’s center-right government over its handling of the economy and military support for Ukraine, Reuters reported.

The demonstrations were organized by the PRO movement, a group without parliamentary representation and that has adopted a nationalist stance, aligned with Moscow, and opposed Western influence in the country.

PRO leader Jindrich Raichl chided Prime Minister Petr Fiala and his cabinet for being “agents of foreign powers.”

Raichl also voiced support for Hungary’s populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban and former Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico – the latter having adopted a strong anti-Western stance ahead of Slovakia’s elections at the end of this month.

Protesters also complained about the Czech Republic’s economic woes, as the European Union member-state grapples with double-digit inflation.

Meanwhile, Raichl and PRO movement supporters called for the government to withdraw its support for Ukraine and veto any attempt for Ukraine to join NATO.

The current Czech government has been helping Ukraine, sending tanks, helicopters and other equipment to counter Russia’s invasion.


A Good Hair Day

Archaeologists recently discovered a nearly perfectly preserved 1,000-year-old mummy with long, brown hair in the Peruvian capital of Lima, Smithsonian Magazine reported.

The mummy is believed to have belonged to the Ychsma culture, an ancient civilization that inhabited the central coast of what is now Peru, before the rise of the Inca Empire.

While the gender of the mummy remains undetermined, researchers were surprised by its unique hairstyle: It appears to have long, braided locks.

The excavation team also uncovered a number of artifacts, including two ceramic vessels and a cloth wrapped around metal objects.

Researchers said the mummy was placed in a burial position with bent legs and crossed feet, which are all characteristic of Ychsma funerary practices. The mummy was buried beneath the Huaca Pucllana, an ancient adobe and clay pyramid.

Archaeologists explained that the pyramid was built around 500 CE by an earlier civilization known as the Lima culture. Over the centuries, the site was inhabited by other cultures, including the Ychmsa, before the Spanish arrived in the early 16th century.

Researchers explained that the find is significant as it contributes to the understanding of the Ychsma culture, which has been relatively less studied compared with the Inca civilization.

Meanwhile, Huaca Pucllana is considered a unique archaeological site, located right in the heart of modern-day Lima.

Lima is known for its wealth of archaeological treasures and ancient mummies: Earlier this year, researchers found a 3,000-year-old mummy from the Manchay culture, which populated the area between 1500 and 1000 BCE.

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