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South-South cooperation: first address the challenges
2 July 2014

There is an increasing demand for South-South cooperation (SSC), but it should not be romanticised. This was the outcome of a recent round table on SSC in post-conflict countries.

The discussion formed part of a larger conference on the role of emerging actors in SSC, which was hosted by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Turkish Development Agency (TIKA) on 19 and 20 June 2014.

What exactly is SSC? In 2010, the UN General Assembly referred to SSC as ‘a common endeavour of peoples and countries of the South, born out of shared experiences and sympathies, based on their common objectives and solidarity, and guided by the principles of respect for national sovereignty and ownership, free from conditionalities … a partnership among equals based on solidarity.’

The document emphasises the multi-stakeholder approach that characterises SSC, which includes civil society, the private sector, academia and non-governmental organisations. SSC also highlights the move away from the ‘post-colonial’ narrative of traditional overseas development assistance, and is predominantly demand driven rather than stemming from donor-country interests.

Emerging countries must also play a proactive role in advocating for such guidelines

This definition is extremely broad, ranging from capacity building to infrastructure development. Other than differentiating it from North-South engagement and emphasising shared experiences and solidarity, the definition does not further specify what these endeavours involve.

Should it include economic activities and trade, or be more specific in its focus? What is its advantage compared to North-South cooperation?

Demand-driven approaches are said to ensure greater ownership of the process, as assistance is aligned to country priorities – but it is questionable if this is necessarily the case.

Because countries emerging from conflict face shared development challenges, they may be better placed to engage in technical cooperation and knowledge sharing – but what does this imply for how activities should be carried out, and which activities should be undertaken? SSC is also praised as being practical and innovative, but within what guidelines?

The Turkey round table examined case studies of countries engaging in SSC. This included a presentation of previous research by the ISS, which gave examples of the South African experience. There is a clear demand for South African assistance. South Africa has predominantly assisted post-conflict countries in terms of capacity building and training, such as a trilateral arrangement with the University of South Africa (UNISA) and the government of South Sudan, whereby civil servants from South Sudan observed how South Africa reformed its civil service following its transition.

South-South cooperation can provide a useful complement to traditional forms of assistance

As an African country, South Africa is thought to have a better understanding of context and to be able to play the role of a ‘broker’ between southern and northern countries. However, research in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Burundi and South Sudan indicates that this understanding of context is sometimes lacking.

There is also a need for sustained, coordinated engagements with good monitoring and evaluation systems. South Africa needs to deepen its engagements and capitalise on its strengths, as well as bolster its engagements with civil society and academia.

The establishment of the South African Development Partnership Agency (SADPA) is a welcome vehicle to do so. Such examples are not restricted to South Africa and provide useful lessons learnt for other countries.

More generally, the Turkey round table noted that there is a need for learning and communication about emerging trends in SSC. It was pointed out that there is often not a clear enough expression of need from recipient countries, that the needs of recipient countries are often greater than what emerging countries can supply, that there is a timing mismatch between supplying capacity from the south and obtaining northern funding in the case of trilateral arrangements, and that legislative frameworks, or their absence, can hinder the process.

So, how are these challenges addressed? In addition, how does one ensure accountability on the part of the recipient and the provider in SSC? (Ensuring the accountability of providers is still an under-addressed area of debate.) Clearly these questions are only beginning to be asked and greater research is needed.

As in the case of South Africa, most SSC has occurred on a bilateral or trilateral level, but there are increasing attempts to develop wider and more inclusive collaborations. This raises the question of the role of multilaterals and where they fit into these new initiatives.

There are two interesting examples in this regard. The first of these relates to the African Solidarity Initiative (ASI) of the African Union (AU). This initiative, initiated in 2012, promotes in-kind technical assistance with the motto ‘Africa helping Africa’ and culminated in the African Solidarity Conference held in February this year. As noted by the ISS, this conference was under-attended and struggled to obtain financial contributions, in contrast to the Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA) conference held later that same day.

The ASI is currently outsourced, with the principal facilitator in Johannesburg – and there is not a clear understanding of how to proceed with the resources obtained. Multilaterals such as the UN can therefore assist these initiatives – not only in terms of funding, but also by playing a coordinating and/or facilitation role.

Another excellent example of new SSC initiatives comes from the India, Brazil South Africa (IBSA) fund. Although small (US$1 million contributed by each of its members), the fund is praised for making an impact. It allows for more risky projects, such as a feeding scheme for inmates in South Sudan, which aims to provide participants with greater agricultural knowledge and techniques. The IBSA fund is often described as a ‘laboratory’ and may serve as a useful model for future SSC, but how are these project risks balanced with ensuring successful outcomes? The role of the UN in the IBSA fund is one of technical guidance, fund management, facilitation and knowledge transfer; a successful example of a multilateral institution in the role of facilitator and coordinator.

As SSC continues to grow, it is vital that definitions and frameworks are formalised and that this is done by southern country providers; rather than enveloping these debates within traditional North-South systems. Emerging countries must also play a proactive role in advocating for such guidelines and in sharing their best practices based on their experience of SSC.

However, such discussions will only be really useful if they also share lessons learnt. There is a clear role that the UN (such as the UN’s Economic and Social Council Development Cooperation Forum and the UNDP) should continue to play in facilitating such discussions, especially given its alleged impartial stance – but are resources available? SSC can provide a useful complement to traditional forms of assistance, but it cannot afford to be idealised and its challenges must be addressed in a critical manner.

Amanda Lucey, Senior Researcher, Conflict Management and Peacebuilding Divison, ISS Pretoria

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