Modern replay of historical colonial experience or new, more efficient forms of development aid?


by Anastasia Cojocaru

South-South cooperation has changed dramatically in the current global landscape and power appears to be shifting from the West to the East and South. North-South cooperation is seeing the emergence of South-South cooperation in the form of development aid and not only. South-South flows are growing quickly from a low base, but North-South flows retain their overarching importance. To understand the North-South divide, we need to be aware that the Global North includes the US, Canada, Western Europe, and developed parts of Asia, as well as Australia and New Zealand, which are not actually located in the geographical North but share similar economic and cultural characteristics with other northern countries. The Global South consists of Africa, Latin America, and developing Asia including the Middle East. The North is considered developed while the South is seen as developing, catching up.

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The history of South-South cooperation commenced with a conference held in Bandung, Indonesia in 1955, where Afro-Asian countries met and signalled the stringent need for promoting economic cooperation among themselves, this marking the beginning of a trend which was to have a profound influence on future international cooperation.

Countries such as the US, which have been in the spotlight for decades regarding development aid, are gradually losing their dominance imposed on countries in the South through the process of giving aid. It has long been proved and argued that North-South development aid is problematic. Economists like Jeoffrey Sachs argue that North-South cooperation in the form of development aid is efficient and has overall improved the situation in countries in the South. However, critics such as Dambisa Moyo and Jagdish Bhagwati argue that foreign aid can actually harm economies in the South if it is not implemented according to the specific needs of the country receiving it or if corruption in the receiving country affects the way in which aid is used. Moyo goes as far as arguing that development aid is a ‘debilitating drug’ in Africa because it makes governments become increasingly reliant on aid and prevents them from finding solutions to their problems themselves. These circumstances led to the emergence of a new type of development aid, South-South, which challenges the old North-South cooperation pattern. The novelty of the South-South cooperation in the form of development aid consists of aid being offered without imposing conditions. These new forms of development aid are needs-driven, as well as locally owned and managed.

A fund set up  between India, Brazil, and South Africa, called India-Brazil-South Africa (Ibsa) Fund for Poverty and Hunger Alleviation, shows how helping can happen from a standpoint where each country brings their own experience and cooperation takes place from equal to equal, without imposing something that worked for one of them to the other participant countries. This fresh approach to aid allows developing countries to take the opportunity to be in charge of managing the aid they receive according to their needs and, for the first time, experience how it feels to be in the ‘driver’s seat’.

South-South interactions should come as no real surprise considering the severe financial crisis that affected advanced industrialized economies in 2008 and the strong performance of emerging economies such as China in managing the fallout from global economic turbulence. China is often singled out as having a dominant role in South-South cooperation, especially in relation to trade, investment and aid flows. Thus, could the rise of BRICs, particularly China, represent a modern replay of the distressing historical colonial experience in Africa? Or is there a qualitative developmental difference about South-South cooperation?

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