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AFRICA: South-South Cooperation Should Focus on Development

Tinus de Jager

JOHANNESBURG, Jun 16 2011 (IPS) - African states should be careful not to lose track of their own development plans when they enter into agreements with states outside the continent, despite apparent positive spin-offs.

Elizabeth Sidiropoulos, director of the South African Institute of International Affairs. Credit: Tinus de Jager/IPS

Elizabeth Sidiropoulos, director of the South African Institute of International Affairs. Credit: Tinus de Jager/IPS

Elizabeth Sidiropoulos, director of the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIA), says the concept of South-South cooperation (between developing countries as opposed to relationships between the developed world and the third world) has been around for a long time, but the “phenomenal growth” of China and India in the last few years has given it more weight.

“The growth of these two states has also raised the interest in the tools that they have used from states that are struggling to reach these levels.” SAIA, a think tank attached to the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, held a conference on Jun. 9-10 on the relations between India, South Africa and Africa.

Sidiropoulos says similar challenges in Africa and India, related to the regulatory environment and poverty, “makes for more meaningful exchanges in South-South relations”. But she cautions against one-sided gains while stressing that cooperation between India and Africa could see gains for both sides.

“Developing countries must play their own part. There are loads of tools available to stimulate economic growth, aid being only one. Africa is in need of infrastructure and skills development. Market access remains an issue. And in the background is always the question of benefiting from what you are selling to the developed world.”

Sidiropolous points out that the direct impact of increased trade between developing states is still difficult to determine. “But the fact is it has created new actors on the world’s trade stage. Africa has greater bargaining power, they have access to training, skills building and more in trade negotiations — not only in South-South trade, but also in trade with the first world.

“Foreign investors are investing in Africa. The key, however, is development cooperation between partners and African states. Aid must be more effective and that will give you South-South cooperation, rather than South-South trade.”

India has shown its willingness to help the continent by being involved in African initiatives such as the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).

New Delhi is also helping Africa bridge the digital divide and it is investing heavily in making an e- medicine system available on the continent, with online consultation supported by the Indian government. Added to that is the India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) fund which makes money available for small, innovative projects, such as a waste disposal project in tiny Guinea in West Africa.

“However, the impact of all these efforts can only be assessed once the projects have been implemented over a longer period of time,” Sidiropolous cautions.

To make cooperation work, Africa should however ensure that cooperation agreements take into account the existing plans of states.

Regional organisations, like the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), should be drawn into agreements. Efforts should be made to pool coordinators to lessen transaction costs. Careful monitoring and transparency of cooperation agreements is also important.

“South-South cooperation does not mean an end to North-South cooperation, but African states want a say in global affairs that concern them,” Sidiropolous adds. One definition of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness is that it is “the international community’s consensus on the direction for reforming aid delivery”.

Africa disagrees with this definition as most states insist that the declaration was made without enough consultation. “However, it is important that when the South cast aside such agreements, they do not throw away the baby with the bathwater. There are some good points being made and they should form part of new agreements.

“What is important is that priorities stay priorities and that the Millennium Development Goals should form part of the bigger plan,” concludes Sidiropolous.

Sunil Joshi, CEO of South Africa’s second national telecommunications operator, agrees that South- South interaction should be based on cooperation rather than trade. He predicts that Africa might soon have more to offer than natural resources.

“In 2009, 64 percent of India’s population was of working age. That figure is estimated to drop to 57 percent in 2020. The average age in India is 27 and in China the average worker is aged 37. Africa is much younger and the continent’s human resources will become a commodity in the future.

Joshi argues that, “economic growth is only one of the factors to consider when measuring progress. What must also be considered are the positive spin-offs for the people and culture”

“When South-South cooperation is considered, African states should be realistic. This kind of cooperation may be suitable for the stronger African states like South Africa; it might not be as suitable for weaker states, where aid would do more good. But South-South cooperation could be one of the foundation strategies for Africa’s growth stage.”

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