Book review:”Brasil-Índia-África do Sul: Emergência do Sul Global” (Brazil- India- South Africa: The Emergence of the Global South) by Alexander Zhebit (ed.)


The rise of the ‘Global South’, a concept meant to encompass emerging powers such as Brazil, India, South Africa (and sometimes China), has been one of the dominant features of the international political debate over the past years. Many analysts in Europe and the United States wondered whether rising powers would integrate into the existing world order or whether they would seek to confront current structures, establishing alternative outfits meant to challenge the status quo. One of the more interesting details of the ‘Global South’ is that its members barely know each other. IBSA, a much-debated trilateral outfit between India, Brazil and South Africa, was created in 2003 and working groups and summits have taken place regularly since. Trade flows between them has grown at high rates, albeit from a slow base. Regarding other fields such as academia, they are still oceans apart, both literally and metaphorically, but things are beginning to change. The Fundação Getulio Vargas (FGV) in Brazil recently established a Chair of Indian Studies, and the University of Goa will organize a conference on Brazil- India relations in October.

In this context, publications such as this one, edited by Prof. Alexander Zhebit at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, are important contributions.

The book comprises an eclectic collection of essays that cover aspects such as philosophy, culture, strategic thought and foreign policy. In Chapter 1, Rubens Turci introduces the concept of Shraddhá (making frequent reference to the Bhagavad Gita, part of an ancient Hindu epic), and debates its significance for contemporary India. While interesting for experts of Indian philosophy, it seems too specific to be of relevance to the broader discussion on the ‘Global South’ and its impact on global structures. In Chapter 2, José Calvário dos Santos briefly discusses cultural and philosophical elements of both Brazilian and Indian society, and debates concepts such as ‘originality vs. modernity’, parts of which are repeated in Chapter 3 by the same author. In Chapter 4, Visentini sheds light on the geostrategic dimension of IBSA and mentions the common naval exercises organized in 2008, yet it remains somewhat unclear how “trilateral action” may translate into tangible strategy. In Chapter 5, Guimarães gives a general overview of India’s foreign policy since independence, describing what the calls a move from “idealism to realism”. While this analysis is adequate, it is important to point out that even Nehru’s thinking was influenced by realism (he expelled the Portuguese occupiers by force from Goa), and until this day Indian foreign policy carries idealist undertones.

In Chapter 6, Navy Admiral Gomes Garcia dos Reis rightly points out that the Indian Ocean will soon gain high strategic importance due to India’s and China’s energy needs. Unfortunately, the section on potential areas of military cooperation is very short, yet it would be in this field in particular that a practitioner’s point of view could provide valuable insights. In Chapter 7,  the best and most detailed of the book, Pio Penna Filho provides a historic account of relations between Brazil and South Africa, showing how Brazil’s complicity with Portugal, a colonial power, complicated ties between Brazil and African nations in general, and how the two nations are now slowly finding towards each other. In Chapter 8 (Brazil – South Africa relations: A new phase) the reader expects a detailed look into the future, based on the ideas developed in Chapter 7, but Gonçalves’ analysis, though interesting, concerns global politics and does not really deal with the bilateral ties between Brazil and South Africa.

In the final section of the book on trade issues, Fábio Martins Faria lays out the basic data in Chapter 9, showing that Brazil’s commercial ties with the other BRIC members have grown rapidly. The fact that the United States is still identified as Brazil’s principal trade partner in such a recent publication (China has recently taken the top spot) shows how quickly economic realities have changed. After Sharma, Director of the India Trade Promotion Organization in São Paulo, provides some very general information about opportunities for future bilateral trade and investment in Chapter 10, Suellen Borges de Lannes shows in Chapter 11 that there is potential for stronger commercial ties between the two nations. In Chapter 12, Ambassador Gilberto Fonseca Guimarães de Moura provides a general overview over IBSA, before Alexander Zhebit underlines the rationale behind stronger ties between the BRICs.

While the authors engage in some interesting debates, the reader can only speculate about what the authors think about the more fundamental questions behind the ‘Emergence of the South’. While it is easy to commit to a more democratic world order rhetorically, there is uncertainty about how exactly rising powers seek to reform existing institutions. How do they think, collectively, about power, international law, and the provision of global public goods? Do they see any role for themselves regarding the defense of human rights, or even democracy? In a more practical dimension, it would have been interested to attempt to develop more specific policy proposals about how to strengthen bilateral ties between Brazil, India, and South Africa, and offer possibilities of how IBSA can turn from a talking shop into an outfit that generates tangible results.

Read also:

Book review: “Brazil, the BRICS and the International Agenda”

Book review: “Africa, Partner of Atlantic Brazil” by José Flávio Sombra Saraiva

Book review: “The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers” by Richard McGregor