South-South Ties Reshape Aid Paradigm


Miriam Gathigah – Inter Press Service-IPS

When the G-8 countries, comprising the world’s largest industrialised nations, decided that improving Internet access to developing countries should be a priority, scores of leaders from developing world opposed the move.

While millions of women and children were dying from AIDS, malaria and other infectious diseases Internet did not seem a priority.

The prevalence of harmful cultural practices such as female genital mutilation and women and girls trekking miles in search of water and firewood seemed far removed from Internet technology.

Says Esther Suchia, an activist in Kenya, “This commitment to give developing countries aid to improve access to Internet was taken as an insult.”

“Millions of girls in Africa had no access to education or an opportunity to escape from early marriages and drudgery, so African leaders wondered whether it wasn’t more prudent to try and achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goals first.”

In its defence, the North said access to technology would allow the global South to leapfrog over the causes of extreme poverty that set the stage for a myriad of preventable diseases.

It has never been disputed that the South benefited from technology, development aid and even humanitarian aid such as when the West responded to the drought in the Horn of Africa when at least four million people were facing starvation.

But this humanitarian aid has not stopped the critics of North-South assistance. That includes delegates at the Nov. 26-28 Open Forum for Civil Society, timed ahead of the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness starting in this South Korean port city on Tuesday.

Many recalled that Theo-Ben Gurirab, Namibia’s former foreign minister and president of the United Nations General Assembly (1999 – 2000), questioned the North’s motives, given that they comprised former colonial powers.

It is this mistrust that is seen to be pushing the countries in the South to lean on each other in an initiative labelled the South-South Cooperation (SSC).

“SSC is about developing countries standing up for each other. These countries have to a large extent faced similar development challenges,” says Richard Ssewakiryanga, an expert on global aid. “It is certainly having an impact on traditional North-South cooperation.

“SSC is restructuring the way aid is delivered. The initiative is drawing in the private sector and this private sector involvement in aid is a new paradigm shift,” he adds.

Roselynn Musa of FEMNET, an expert on SSC, says that “global citizens are part of SSC without even knowing it. Even an exchange programme that takes an African student to India to gain expertise fits into this paradigm.”

Established in 1998, FEMNET, also called the African Women’s Development and Communication Network, promotes women’s development in Africa.

Although the SSC initiative has been seen as a necessary rebellion to the North-South arrangement, due to the obvious power imbalances, the initiative is now itself facing criticism.

Musa explains that “South-South aid should be aligned to policies on aid which unfortunately many developing countries are yet to develop.”

A study by FEMNET of five African countries, selected from diverse regions, revealed that only one of them had a policy on aid. “Egypt, Uganda and Zambia did not have any such policy, while Kenya has a draft in place. Only Zimbabwe has a policy on aid.”

Experts believe that a lack of policy opens the door for human rights violations when the state signs aid deals without guidelines, transparency and consequently, accountability.

“SSC may actually replicate the North-South arrangement when the powerful among the powerless emerges,” Ssewakiryanga said. “For example, the tied-aid given by China to African countries may improve infrastructure, but all the expertise, labour and material are shipped in from China,” he said.

Suchia agrees. “Currently, China is constructing state-of-the-art roads in Kenya and the Chinese are involved in every part of this construction, but what is Kenya learning from this development assistance? Little or nothing on how to build such roads.”

While the SSC and North-South co-operation continue to overlap, a triangular model is taking shape where the North joins the SSC because of respect for its development vision and mission.

Debates at the Civil Society Forum suggest that Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness will throw up better models of aid, regardless of whether it is South to South or North to South.

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