Will Italy take advantage of India’s efforts to lead the global south?

The XVth BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) summit has concluded with the long awaited expansion of the bloc with new members being announced. Effective 1st January 2024, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Ethiopia, Iran, Argentina, Egypt will join the BRICS bloc as new members. The expansion was controversial, with China trying to pack the grouping with its allies, including Venezuela and India rather contrary to a sudden expansion. The Indian Prime Minister almost canceled his in person participation for this summit in South Africa.

While the inclusion of Iran gives the group an anti-west tilt, the other new members balance out Iran’s inclusion and provide India strong support to continue as a member of the bloc without having to bow to China’s demands. Modi also has almost achieved African Union’s (AU) entry into the G20 during India’s Presidency with China’s supreme leader Xi Jinping expressing his support for the AU’s entry into the G20 at a bilateral meeting with Senegal’s President Mickey Sall.

China’s attempt so far had been to create a separate grouping of developing nations under the BRICS umbrella which would counter the G7 while India’s attempt was to pull the African Union into the G20 fold during its Presidency. Xi also left dissatisfied, instead of BRICS announcing its own currency to counter the US dollar, the bloc encouraged members to trade in their own and local currencies. Xi has been under fire recently at home, a financial crisis in China and a decelerating economy much attributed to Xi’s authoritarian stance have started to challenge Xi’s capacity and leadership.

On the sidelines of the BRICS summit Modi also met with his counterparts from Iran, Mozambique, South Africa, Ethiopia, Senegal among others for bilateral meetings. All leaders congratulated India on its moon landing, the first country to reach the south pole of the moon and the fourth to land on the moon’s surface, a huge achievement for India and the global south.

The leadership of the Global South

China has followed a strategy to seize leadership of the global south, while India has always maintained its role as a spokesperson for the global south advocating for the concerns of developing countries with western developed economies. China’s various strategies included obtaining the leadership of UN entities and now proposing BRICS as a direct alternative to the Group of 7 (G7) where it is not invited despite being the world’s second economy. India has been a regular guest at G7 meetings. The world’s most populous country, its largest democracy and fifth largest economy neither has a permanent seat in the UN security council, nor is a permanent part of the more informal G7 and continues participating as a guest of the Presidency.

In Africa, China and Russia’s intentions have come to the fore over years. In the past decades, between the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and development assistance, China’s supreme leader Xi Jinping has doled out billions of dollars in aid and loans. African leaders have discovered that most of these loans were to make their countries dependant on China or seize strategic assets such as ports and other infrastructure at default which China assumed would be a certainty.

Russia’s interference through the Wagner group and other private military companies in Libya, Mali and Niger Africa as well as its support to Syria in a bloody civil war has not gone unnoticed by African leaders.

Africa has a long-suffering relationship with colonialism and imperialism. African people and leaders have developed an aversion to European countries which have colonized and looted them for centuries. The EU continues to preach human rights and provide funds with impossible conditions, despite a lot of individual countries’ prosperity being due to their colonial abuse of Africa.

Despite being the beacon of western democracy, slavery was an important ingredient in prosperity of the United States of America. The US and the EU have continued to meddle in African politics until recently, replacing heads of state at their whim and blaming suffering and poverty in African countries on corruption and mismanagement.

Africa finds the same imperial vein in China and Russia, both rush to prove their leadership and in that rush impose their will and leaders on the African people often with the use of deceit and violence. India instead has never had imperial ambitions. It has been a beacon for the independence struggle of most African countries. Indian communities have settled in Africa for hundreds of years, some attracted by middle management opportunities offered by colonial Britain, France and Portugal, others dragged in indentured servitude by the colonial masters. Despite the reasons, India’s culture, cuisine, languages as well as Africans of Indian origin are now an indelible part of the continent. India understands the pain from colonial plunder and has developed into a global power within 75 years of its independence from Britain despite its “two centuries of humiliation”.

Despite money and muscle that China and Russia may possess, India will continue to be the voice of the global south-it understands colonialism, poverty and humiliation. The world’s largest democracy now has the muscle, credibility, the authority, and understanding of the developing world’s issues far beyond what a dictatorial China or an imperialist Russia ever can.

Italy’s G7: Countering China and Russia

Italy is one of the only European countries which has failed at a colonial project. Its flirtation as an imperial power in Ethiopia and Libya was short-lived. Prime Minister Meloni also understands the importance of Africa. Her “Mattei plan” which focuses on development and cooperation with Africa is the cornerstone of her international relations strategy. She will visit India in September 2023 for the G20 Heads of State, her second visit to Delhi this year. Meloni also understands and appreciates the rising importance of India in global geopolitics, especially as Italy is preparing to exit its Belt and Road Initiative MoU. Meloni and Modi have developed a strong relationship since her election and both have convergent strategies for Africa.

While many analysts have spoken of enlarging the G7 to counter China’s aggressive ambitions, Italy’s G7 should propose only two names for an expansion during its presidency in 2024: India as the 8th member and the African Union as a non-enumerated member as is the EU. As the world’s fifth economy, India has a right to be invited to the table, not having to wait for a larger reform or expansion of the G7. The gains India has made during its G20 Presidency and the effort it has put in ensuring that BRICS does not become a China led platform can be maximized with this invitation to the G7 during Italy’s Presidency to India and the AU. As former undersecretary for external affairs of Italy, Gianni Vernetti, summarizes in his opinion piece “The entry of India into the club of powerful nations (G7) would be of great benefit to the west”.

Such an invitation will be a clear signal to India and Africa of their importance to the world’s democracies and their place in global geopolitics. It will encourage African leaders to be stakeholders in democracy and development and empower India to be the bridge and voice between the global south and the world’s leading democracies. A non-confrontational, India-Italy partnership can continue to keep most of the global south in the corner of democracies without a direct confrontation with China.

The recent BRICS expansion should be a wake up call to western democracies. As Meloni heads to Delhi she has a historic opportunity to consolidate Italy’s role on the global stage in 2024.