The Legacy of South-South Cooperation – Soul Searching For the Global South

Historically, the global south has officially and unofficially provided majority of resources and materials that have been used to develop and sustain the economies of the industrialised global north. The consequence of this being the global south remaining in an underdeveloped or developing state, while societal benefits go almost exclusively to countries in the northern hemisphere. It should be noted that these references (global north and south) are not exclusively geographic because of some stark contradictions. The Brandt line as proposed by West German statesman Willy Brandt in the 80s, sought to visually depict the developed north and the developing south. Australia, Singapore and New Zealand are included as countries in the global north while China, Mongolia and Mexico are of the global south according to the Brandt line. This inversion of reality draws into question that actual conditions through which a country is considered north or south.

The legacies of colonialism still have an overbearing influence on the economic decisions of countries in Africa, South America and South-East Asia. Countries in these regions may have the resources to create wealth and self-reliance, but lack the infrastructure to develop these resources. Major funding sources for such ambitions usually required rekindling unsavoury relationships with countries that conducted and benefited from colonial exploitation in the first place.

Defiance to the paradox of re-enslaving oneself for the chance at development inspired movements like the Non-Aligned-Movement, established in the early 60s, the Asian-African Conference and the South-American/African Cooperation. Pulling from important events like the Bandung Conference in 1955, the aim of groups such as these were to foster greater economic, technological and social ties between the countries of the global south. Other plans included joint investment for the development of energy infrastructure. A particular interest of the South-South Cooperation was to build financial institutions to address the challenge of funding that befell most countries of the global south, ultimately as an alternative to the IMF and World Bank.

What Went Wrong?

In a phrase, the current challenges afflicting countries in the global south can be attributed to bad governance. As most global south countries do not have or follow proper development plans, there is usually a wide policy and governing gap that will be filled by acts of corruption and cronyism. Examples include the fact that the Nigerian government has been unable to address multiple Sustainable Development Goals (3, 6, 11, 14, 15, and 16) because of inadequate industrial regulation, the tendency to prioritise short term profit over long term gain and the lack of sound economic strategies. Sticking to this example, corruption and cronyism are further demonstrated when one observes the ongoing scandal with the Niger Delta Development Commission whereby top officials of the organisation were recently investigated for the alleged misappropriation of over 5 billion Naira meant as a COVID-19 relief fund for the 9 states that make up the Niger Delta geopolitical zone. Furthermore, informal networks between political leaders and private interest groups operate practically without oversight leading to higher chances of bribery to secure lucrative contracts, deals and/or influence. The concept of coopération i.e. informal socio-economic, military and cultural ties maintained between France and its former colonies – is a reference for such dealings.

Zimbabwe is another instance where the effects of bad governance can be observed. Hundreds of families are being dispossessed of land awarded to them through the land reform laws enacted during the period of Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF. Currently, the Zimbabwean government has admitted the inability to compensate ($3.5bn) the white settler industrialist farmers, offering instead application for land reacquisition. On either end of the scale here, there are indigenous Africans (small scale subsistence farming) on one end and settler Europeans (industrial scale export based farming) on the other end, the government’s choice on who to cater and pander to, shows their priority. A lack of coherence and commitment to political objectives show the government’s loss of conviction and shared vision.

How About Debt, Can It Be Paid? Will It Be Paid?

A major problem the South-South Cooperation attempts to solve, is the matter of debt. As stated earlier, countries with under developed economies require funding to enact policies for development. They end up going to International financial bodies for lines of credit to fund such projects. These funding packages generally have conditions attached which include privatization of industries and economic sectors e.g. health and education sectors, in a bid to stimulate investment, adopting policies for debt repayment as prescribed by the World Bank/IMF e.g. the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative. Many of these countries will then be required to privatise access to the very resources that can be points for building a sustained wealth-creation base e.g. minerals, water ways, natural forests etc. this leads to a cycle where majority of the value created by the economy is used to service the interest on the loans provided.

According to a report by GlobalResearch, “In July 2019, according to the IMF, among low-income countries, 9 are over-indebted and 24 nearly are, which amounts to 39%. As evidence of the inability (and unwillingness) of international financial institutions (IFIs) to respond effectively and sustainably to over-indebtedness, half of these 31 countries had strictly implemented the adjustment policies of the HIPC initiative launched by the G7 in 1996. And according to a German NGO, 122 countries are in fact in a critical debt situation”. With data like this, countries of the global south via principles of South-South Cooperation, seek ways to engage in balanced trade using win-win principles.

The debt condition for the countries of the global south is a dire and complex issue, many citizens of concerned countries do not have a clear understanding on implications of such high debt levels. As ignorance can be a detriment to one’s interest, the media definitely takes advantage of the situation by inundating viewers and listeners with sensationalist headlines and content. As the political context desires, sympathetic media outlets could portray creditors as predatory lenders or economic saviours. The citizens concerned rarely have an objective view of the conditions they exist in because, high level interests are prioritised in most cases. Unless an individual takes conscious effort to educate themselves on the debt issue or researches for concerned interest groups, the media in a lot of cases, does more harm than good to the masses.

A Light at the End of the Tunnel? Or an Incoming Train…

As far as solutions are concerned, the top-down approach has been consistently unreliable. Out-of-touch ideas that do not resonate with local material conditions, and pre-set development frameworks that are not adaptable to various socio-cultural contexts, are some of the issues consistently faced by communities and countries that seek the same top-down approach practised by many popular NGOs and world governing bodies like the UN. Powerful interests groups and service providers almost always profit first from funding programs before the regular civilian understands the benefit to be obtained. Grassroots organizations, think tanks and action groups with intimate knowledge of and experience in the local conditions, can be the vanguards, providing research, data and action plans for the efficient implementation of sustainable solutions. Solutions should be preferably tailored to the needs of the masses in question and not what the organization itself thinks is best for the population. In such a situation, the larger funding bodies, if genuinely interested, should take the proverbial back-seat handing the reins to the indigenous groups who know exactly what their communities need.

Dedicated grassroots organizations should not be hampered and suffocated with excessive bureaucracy which has the effect of making advocates spend more time writing reports and filling forms, as opposed to being on the ground with the people. Programs and initiatives can serve to educate people on basic economic matters using accessible language, hence the need for unflinching support to local bodies who are dedicated to training and inculcating in the masses, a sense of confidence and self-reliance. Top-down solutions and the insatiable chase for short term profit will have to be eschewed for sustainable long term plans in the various economic sectors. Adherence to such plans has the knock-on effect of exposing those who benefit directly or indirectly from the current status-quo of unregulated mining, poor security, poor living standards and dismal education levels. It serves to know concretely the stumbling blocks and pitfalls on the path to sustainable economic recovery and development for the light at the end of the tunnel could be the exit out of darkness…or an approaching train.



Tiba, S., & Frikha, M. (2019). The controversy of the resource curse and the environment in the SDGs background: The African context. Resource Policy, 437-452. doi:

UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs; Sustainable Development

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