At the 15th BRICS Summit in South Africa, Algeria’s candidacy was not retained to join the 5-member grouping; six out of 23 candidates were chosen: Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. While politically, Algeria is the ideal candidate, its economic standing might not have been attractive enough, at least not yet. The pause before eventual membership in the BRICS at a later date should entice Algeria to accelerate long-overdue domestic reforms, reflect, innovate, and bolster efforts to position itself as an indisputable player on the global stage.
For decades, Algeria has supported the idea of transforming the world order so as to make it more just. In the 1970s, it was a strong advocate for a New International Economic Order (NIEO), whose main objectives were ending neocolonialism and establishing a more equitable international system. The NIEO Declaration of 1974 sought to institute a world “based on equity, sovereign equality, interdependence, common interest, and cooperation among all States, irrespective of their economic and social system…” These ideas continue to be debated within the Non-Aligned Movement’s forums and other groupings of the Global South (e.g., G77, UNCTAD). These NIEO dreams never materialized because the Global South was unable to counteract US hegemony, which has defended the institutions of the Bretton Woods system (World Bank, IMF…) and what some analysts dubbed the “diktat” of the US dollar in most global trade transactions. This was even more difficult with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the victory of the liberal system imposed by the United States and the European Union. Western domination did not end the search for alternatives to escape a financial system whose institutions enforced stringent political and economic conditionalities. For instance, in September 1989, 15 countries from Latin America, Africa (including Algeria), and Asia, known as the G15, promoted growth, prosperity, and cooperation among the Developing Countries to challenge the G7. Although the G15 failed in achieving it objectives, the idea it promoted of a “more equitable” and just world persisted.
The BRICS “encapsulates the rise of emerging markets around the world.” It highlights the necessity for emerging powers to gain a greater voice in global governance. This is a legitimate demand for the BRICS, which represents 43% of the global population. In 2014, the BRICS created the New Development Bank (NDB) and the Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA). The NDB provides loans for infrastructure and sustainable-development purposes in developing and emerging economies with more flexible conditions and as an alternative to the Bretton Woods institutions.
Since 2020, the government has sought to revitalize Algeria’s foreign policy and to introduce economic reforms to reduce the country’s dependency on hydrocarbons revenues. The vision overlapped with that of the BRICS. In November 2022, Algeria officially applied for membership in BRICS. In July 2023, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune announced that Algeria had also applied for membership in the NDB, offering to contribute $1.5 billion in initial capital. He explained that Algeria shares similar objectives with the BRICS and China regarding development, UN reform, fairness in international relations, and the establishment of a multipolar world; he also stated that the IMF and the World Bank, which require serious reform, no longer serve the interests of the poor and developing countries.
Algerian officials privately admit that the major obstacles for admission to the BRICS are domestic, like the out-of-date banking system, the existence of a strong informal economy, challenges posed by an entrenched and invasive bureaucracy, and pervasive corruption at most levels. These weaknesses are precisely what Algerians hope can be remedied through BRICS membership, a kind of an external validation and a potential instrument for internal reform. If affiliated with BRICS, Algeria would benefit from investments through entities like the NDB and CRA. This would also enable it to access the markets of the member states, enhance its infrastructure, and further its mineral resource initiatives.
Membership in the BRICS corresponds to Algeria’s approach to international relations, which are deeply rooted in a policy of nonalignment. According to this policy, Algeria maintains an equitable stance in its interactions with global powers, aspiring to pursue relations that best serve its national interests. It links this approach with the Non-Aligned Movement. Although it opposes Western hegemony, Algeria does not wish to become part of yet another clash between blocs, for “membership of this group [BRICS] would shield Algeria, a pioneer of non-alignment, from the tug-of-war between the two poles.” Like South Africa, Algeria considers Western countries as important partners in trade, security, and in numerous other areas. For Algeria, nonalignment implies good relations with all the players “ready to meet its needs...If it’s China, it’s China. If it’s Russia, it’s Russia. If it’s the United States, it’s the United States. The most important thing is our national interest.”
Algeria is a rich country. The United Nations Human Development Indexes rank it highly, but its Achilles Heel is the management of its economy. Although the BRICS have yet to enact a list of criteria for membership, it is obvious that Algeria must develop a stronger economy, independent of hydrocarbons, if it wishes to be accepted because it is economic performance that binds the five BRICS countries together, whose common currency reserve amounts to about US$ 4 trillion; collectively, they will account for 32.1 percent of global GDP by the end 2023, surpassing the G7. Trade within BRICS reached $762 billion in 2022. To achieve its economic potential, Algeria should adopt a multifaceted strategy. Firstly, modernising the banking sector and streamlining bureaucratic procedures could ease the path for foreign investments. Recently, Algeria has been actively upgrading its economic framework to attract both local and international capital, underscored by new laws like the Money and Credit Law and the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Law. These legislative changes align with the September 2021 Government Action Plan, which recommends pivoting toward private-sector-led development and job creation. To maintain this positive trajectory, Algeria should continue implementing reforms to build a favourable macroeconomic climate where the private sector can be the cornerstone of sustainable growth. Secondly, Algeria could initiate steps towards broader global integration by entering into targeted bilateral or multilateral agreements with BRICS nations, focusing particularly on areas such as agriculture, energy, and education. For instance, Algeria could add to the current BRICS contribution of about 40% of the world’s total grain output and over 50% of the global agricultural value. This offers a valuable opportunity for Algeria to learn from and collaborate with these agriculturally rich nations. By engaging in technology transfers and sharing expertise in contemporary farming methods, even in the Sahara, Algeria could significantly boost its agricultural productivity, ensuring a stable food supply and creating mutual benefits. Forming energy alliances with BRICS countries could fortify Algeria’s energy resilience and generate new export avenues. Lastly, collaboration in education, perhaps through the planned BRICS student exchange programmes or joint research initiatives, could have a twofold benefit: improving Algeria’s educational system and building a skilled workforce capable of driving innovation and growth. This is achievable especially since Tebboune came back from Russia and China with important economic agreements. The hope is that the multi-billion dollar investment he signed with China would considerably help the Algerian economy but would also strengthen Algeria’s status within the BRICS.
In October 2023, Tebboune declared that the “BRICS dossier is definitively closed.” It would be a serious mistake if by this he meant that Algeria would no longer seek membership. President Vladimir Putin stressed shortly afterwards that Algeria’s membership in the BRICS is very important. The path to the BRICS is widely open; Algeria’s inclusion in this important group would provide a unique opportunity for its development. With its specific strengths—abundant energy and mineral reserves, significant role as a regional and economic hub in Africa, and well-established diplomatic relations with existing BRICS nations—Algeria remains an inescapable candidate for BRICS membership.
However, Algeria should take a few steps to prepare for membership. In addition to initiating the essential economic reforms, it would be judicious that it establishes one or several centres for BRICS studies to conduct research on the BRICS members and ways in which the members cooperate with one another. The government should set up a lobby group to represent Algeria among BRICS members. The government should also encourage exchange programmes for scholars, students, artists, journalists, media specialists, and influencers to provide information about the country’s potential. For instance, Algeria can promote the idea of building a BRICS school with one or several member countries. Algeria could also suggest the establishment of a BRICS-Algeria free trade area or, better yet, a BRICS-African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), modelled on the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area, suggesting that payments among consenting states be made in local currencies. Algeria can also create a BRICS business council in one of its southern cities, where Algeria is developing desert agriculture, and promote the development of food sufficiency. With the completion of the Trans-Saharan Highway, Algeria is well positioned to develop BRICS-Sub-Saharan trade. The possibilities are immense, and their sponsorship would make Algeria a truly indispensable member of the BRICS.